Ugandan byelection pits musician Bobi Wine against long-standing president

Tensions rise as both men back opposing candidates in election in west of country

Ugandans went to the polls in the country's west on Thursday in a byelection which saw popstar-turned-opposition politician Bobi Wine go head to head with long-standing president Yoweri Museveni.

On Tuesday, Mr Wine (37), whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, travelled to the town of Hoima to campaign. He drove through the streets surrounded by hundreds of supporters, making his way to a rally where he addressed thousands of people, despite his route being repeatedly blocked by military and police.

Mr Museveni also addressed a similar sized crowd the same day, though the supporters of both politicians were kept separate by a heavy military and police presence around the town.

The two men backed opposing candidates. Mr Museveni backed his National Resistance Movement party's Harriet Businge Mugenyi, while Mr Wine backed Asinansi Nyakato, of the Forum for Democratic Change party.


On Thursday, polling stations were stationed outside around Hoima, with some tables positioned underneath mango trees, in a bid to promote transparency.

Despite this, the opposition alleges the vote could be rigged, and said their organisers had been intimidated in the lead-up to the election. Local media reported that 12 opposition supporters had been arrested, accused of bribing voters and threatening to "cause chaos", though opposition say this is an attempt to distract from the ruling party rigging the election.

The last time Mr Museveni and Mr Wine campaigned in the same byelection was 13 months ago, in Arua, Uganda's north. Mr Wine's driver was shot and killed with a bullet the musician says was targeting him, and Mr Wine was later arrested and tortured.

In July, the popular musician declared his intention to run for president in the 2021 elections, challenging Mr Museveni, who has been in power since the 1980s. On Tuesday, Mr Wine, who became an MP in 2017, told The Irish Times he sees all byelections as a chance to mobilise new supporters and encourage them to challenge the status quo.

Mostly calm

Despite fears that the situation in Hoima could turn violent, residents say things have stayed mostly calm.

“On Tuesday you could hear a lot of activity,” said Peter McGettrick, an Irish lawyer based in Hoima.

“Everything seems quiet enough now today, a lot of people have taken a day off work to allow people to vote. It has a sort of Sunday feel about it to be honest.”

He said Hoima’s people feel excluded and isolated, and see this byelection as important.

“They have a hard life and feel they are being left behind by any progress made nationally. There was hope around the Albertine region when they discovered oil here but to date, bar the improvement of the road network, there’s very little tangible benefit reaching the people on the ground, in what is a poor region.”

Mr McGettrick said people are looking for change from whoever wins.

“At the same time there is a resignation that things are slow to change. Given systematic corruption, locals have stated that whoever is elected will forget about the people fairly quickly.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa