A crowd of supporters was swelling around Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine during a rally late last month in the eastern Luuka district, when security forces in riot gear began firing tear gas, pepper spray and bullets into the crowd. The popular singer-turned-parliamentarian was bundled into a police van and thrown in jail, accused of violating COVID-19 guidelines. “Be nonviolent,” he shouted as he was arrested. “We want freedom.”
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is running against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking a sixth term in next month’s elections. At 38, Wine is half his opponent’s age, and he presents the most potent threat yet to Museveni’s 35-year hold on power. As a result, he and his supporters have faced a campaign of repression that seems to steadily escalate daily as the Jan. 14 polls approach.
When Wine emerged from prison last month, having been granted bail after two days without access to his doctor, lawyers or even his family, he discovered that scores of protesters had died in clashes with security forces as they demanded his release.