MBARARA, UGANDA - Singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, has seen his campaign almost turned into a battlefield, with gunshots, heavy use of tear gas and beatings of his supporters by police.
Now Wine, leader of the opposition National Unity Platform party, wears a bulletproof vest. He says that after three attempts on his life, it is clear the government wants to kill him.
"A grenade was thrown at me in Kayunga," he said. "Our car was shot at, all tires flattened, and another shot came through the windscreen. And just two days ago again, our car was shot at by the police in uniform. In Jinja it was the military; two days ago it was by the police.”
Police and military officials say they are enforcing standard operating procedures to protect the public from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and that Wine has failed to observe the guidelines.
Flavia Byekwaso, the Uganda People’s Defense spokesperson, says Wine does not understand the pandemic has gone beyond controllable levels.
“The security forces are not sabotaging Kyagulanyi," Byekwaso said. "They are only implementing the SOPs [standard operating procedures] to make sure that we do not have this pandemic or COVID-19 spreading to the population beyond the capacity that we can manage.”
Wine accuses Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of having double standards, since he, too, has been holding rallies with large crowds. Wine says he has no control over who comes to see him.
“Every time I show up for a campaign meeting, droves and droves of people show up to show solidarity to us," he said. "These people line the sides of the road; we don’t have control over them. And all I do is stand on my car and wave to them. Now, that has been turned into a crime.”
On the campaign trail, Wine has about 12 police pickup trucks trailing him. He says the presence of the security teams causes delays and cuts him off from supporters.
Wine has met with Uganda’s electoral commission to ask that the security forces be withdrawn.
The military says its deployment is backed by law.
“It says where the police feel that they are going to be overwhelmed, they will always come for the military for support," Byekwaso said. "So, we are doing this within the ambits of law. We are doing this because the police cannot adequately dominate the entire country at the same time.”
Despite the pressure, Wine continues to campaign. Ugandans head to the polls January 14 to elect the next president.