Bobi Wine documentary maker forced to flee Uganda

Bwayo said the issues portrayed in the film stretch far beyond his country, “It’s a big problem that we’re seeing a lot of countries heading towards totalitarian regimes”

The co-director of a new documentary about the Ugandan popstar turned opposition leader Bobi Wine was forced to flee his home country ahead of the film’s release.

Ugandan filmmaker Moses Bwayo says he is seeking political asylum in the US because of his work on Bobi Wine: The People’s President. The film, which has been released in cinemas in the US and UK, looks at the run-up to Uganda’s highly disputed 2021 election.

Musician Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, inspired young Ugandans, across one of the world’s youngest countries, by running for president against Yoweri Museveni. The 79-year-old has been in power since seizing control in 1986.

The lead up to latest election was marred with mass opposition arrests and detentions, allegations of torture and the shooting of at least 54 people during protests.

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The film goes back further, covering Wine’s election as an MP in 2017 and his arrest and alleged torture the following year, when his driver was shot in what Wine said was an attempt to assassinate him. It also depicts his relationship with his wife, Barbie Kyagulanyi and their four children.

Bwayo (34) said it was amazing to see the enthusiasm for Wine’s campaign. “On the campaign trail, we drove through villages and saw people running from their gardens. You see pregnant women following the campaign trail. For me that was incredible and the story just surpassed everything else. This was a task worthy of completion. And that’s why, regardless of the court case, or being locked up in jail or interrogation, I had to show up again and carry on the task.”

While working on the years-long project, Bwayo says that his journalist accreditation was withdrawn, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned and he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

The Irish Times was present in court in Kampala, in March 2020, when Bwayo was brought in in handcuffs and charged with “unlawful assembly”, then released on bail. The case was eventually dropped months later.

“If journalists and the fourth estate – people who have to keep the government accountable – cannot work freely, it’s a sad situation. But again there is hope, like with this story what we tried to portray…is the fighting spirit of Ugandans and the resilience, the bravery of Bobi and his team and the people around them, and largely the Ugandan people,” says Bwayo now.

He believes he will only be able to return to Uganda “if there is a change in the regime…At this point, I don’t know when that will be. I hope that that will be soon.”

Some other people involved in making the film are still in Uganda, and thus couldn’t be credited, he said.

Amid widespread allegations of vote rigging, the internet was cut nationwide for days around the last Ugandan election.

Wine was also placed under house arrest, with Bwayo alongside him. “Over time we had realised that the cameras were kind of protection to him,” Bwayo explained. “I needed to be close to him around that time and I moved into his house…There was like a whole battalion of military, different sections of the army and military police…there was a chopper flying around the house every couple of minutes. There was also a surveillance plane. It was just a challenge.”

In the end, the filmmakers gathered 4,000 hours of footage and spent two years editing, said Bwayo’s co-director Christopher Sharp. Their documentary was released through National Geographic and is now available on Disney+.

Bwayo said the reaction has been “incredible” so far. He called it a “historical document” that captures “a time when…a large population of our country was dreaming of a different path.”

“At the end of every screening people come to us and they ask us what we would like them to do,” Bwayo added. Sharp said they tell viewers that Uganda is benefiting from foreign donor funds and that citizens in donor countries should be questioning whether their taxpayers’ money is enabling the current situation in some way. In Uganda, Sharp said, citizens “deserve to choose their leaders like we deserve to choose our leaders.”

Bwayo said the issues portrayed in the film stretch far beyond his country. “It’s a big problem that we’re seeing a lot of countries heading towards totalitarian regimes.”

In Uganda, he added, “people are still being picked up and locked up in jails. [Wine’s] supporters are still disappearing. It’s not that the situation has changed at all.” In October, Wine said he was placed under house arrest, after a video appeared to show him being led away by security officers from the plane he flew back from neighbouring Rwanda on. Uganda’s police force said its officers were simply escorting him home.

Wine, now 41, plans to run again in the next election, in 2026, according to Bwayo.

In an interview in Kenya last year, Wine told The Irish Times that he will continue to speak out despite “every effort [being made] to silence me”.