Opposition figure Bobi Wine returns to Uganda scarred by torture. The state fails to keep him away from the people.
From the roof of his car, the exhausted Bobi Wine addresses a few words to the fans in front of his house Photo: Simone Schlindwein
Since early morning, police trucks, water cannons and army units have been lining the 40-kilometer route from Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport to the capital Kampala. Soldiers patrol the roads. The airport is widely cordoned off. Neither journalists nor cabs are allowed to pass.
In Kampala’s suburban district of Magere, almost 100 people have gathered at the same time in front of the house of rap star Bobi Wine, idol of Ugandan youth and the country’s youngest member of parliament. Most of them wear the typical outfits of Uganda’s opposition: red caps and red T-shirts with the inscription "FreeBobiWine". Many are drunk. "Our Power – People’s Power" they shout in chorus. Some sing rap lyrics of the music star.
"We are fed up with this old man," explains motorcycle taxi driver Hakim Kiiza, who has come all the way from Entebbe to greet his "president." By "old man," he means Uganda’s 74-year-old President Yoweri Museveni. Bobi Wine is 36, and his supporters call him the "ghetto president."
Seriously injured, Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was flown out of Uganda to the United States two weeks ago. He had been arrested in August and brutally tortured. A few days ago, he had officially announced his return home to continue "fighting for freedom."
Uganda’s government was highly alarmed. The police banned all meetings and demonstrations. Police spokesman Emilian Kayima announced that security forces would escort Bobi Wine from the airport directly home.
While changing planes in Nairobi at noon Thursday, he tweeted, "I am a free Ugandan with the right to move freely in my country." But when he finally lands in Entebbe, Bobi Wine is taken away and put in a car before he can even reach the immigration counter and show his passport.
It takes time for Bobi Wine to get out of the car. The police have taken away his crutch
A police convoy escorts the vehicle to Kampala. But that doesn’t stop the people who are following everything live on social media.
They flock to the garden in their thousands
When the convoy full of armed police officers reaches Bobi Wine’s residential district, hundreds of his fans on motorcycles are already rushing after the police officers. The convoy stops in front of the large entrance gate to his house. Wine is sitting in a white UN SUV with three police officers. It takes a long time until the police allow him to get out.
The problem: the policemen took away his wooden cane at the airport, which he uses as a crutch because he still can’t walk well after the torture. The policemen now can’t find his cane.
Meanwhile, his supporters flock by the thousands to the large garden of his two-story house. The car can only enter slowly. When the cane is finally found and Wine gets out of the car in pain, his fans lift him up.
Deeply moved, he stands on the roof of the car. His fans scream and cheer. Only after ten minutes does he manage to limp through the crowds to his front door.
In the living room, his three children greet him. Completely exhausted, close to tears, he sits with them on the couch, the two sons in his arms, the daughter dancing around in front of him.
"I wasn’t sure I was going to make it home today," Wine explains. He looks very exhausted. "So many rude police officers dragged me off the plane, took my passport away, and I haven’t gotten it back yet," he says. "But I’m really happy to finally be home now."
When asked if he will continue to fight, his voice does raise. "I have returned to pick up exactly where I left off," he asserts. "We need freedom. Or at least we need to die trying."