Bobi Wine : Within my family there was this new realization that this was a collective responsibility. Not only my family but all the people around me, especially the friends around me. So we have literally been turned into freedom fighters.
J.R. Biersmith (open): From 2728 Pictures this is Just Droppin In, a show about the global influencers and creators who are reframing the lens on people, places and ideas.
On this episode, a look at the journey of Bobi Wine, a wildly popular Afro-pop star turned politician who is giving voice to a people power movement poised to unseat Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
At 72, Yoweri Museveni has been in power since Bobi Wine was four years old. With the recent fall of al-Bashir in Sudan and Bouteflika in Algeria I wanted to connect with Bobi and talk about his people power movement. At 37, he’s a married father of four, parliament member, wildly popular musician, and leading opposition candidate for president. It’s the later endeavor that is getting him attention outside the country. Never more so than August of last year – the details are murky but what’s beyond dispute is that Bobi’s driver, Yasin Kawuma was shot and killed by government forces:
(Uganda News Audio): Bobi Wine’s driver has been shot.
For days Bobi’s wife who we’ll here from later was unable to reach him. Once freed, Bobi came to the US for treatment and made his case to the media: appearing in multiple international outlets and penning an op-ed in the Washington Post. Here he is on NPR w/ Scott Simon:
(Audio NPR): After the campaigns I returned to my hotel room and that’s where we were attacked by the special forces command and before I knew it they all descended on me. They kicked me, beat me and did despicable things: squeezed my testicle , hit me with gun barrels, when I screamed, they wrapped my head again and hit me so hard until I was unconscious.
Then in October, Bobi announced he was going to hold a concert at Mandela stadium, a venue that could hold up to 40,000. He planned to perform his new hit song Kyarenga but as he might have expected President Museveni was prepared to squash yet another show. Bobi made the announcement on October 3rd, but by the 12th the commander of the Kampala Metropolitan Police said the show was off- he claimed the venue was already booked. It most definitely was not.
Meanwhile President Museveni was focused on another musician. None other than Kanye West was in town with his wife Kim Kardashian and daughter North.
Western media was all over it, so too was the Uganda press.
Just to refresh your pop culture memory a bit this was just after Kanye had made his visit to the White House and then appeared on SNL with a MAGA rant while wearing his Make America Great Again red hat. The backlash that followed caused him to take a social media sabbatical.
I don’t follow Kim or Kanye but a quick search back to Oct. 13, a day after Bobi’s show was cancelled by the Museveni, you can see that Kim and Kanye were thrilled to be in Uganda – it was a a bucket list trip according to E-onilne an and their inside sources.
Kim posted about elephants being in her backyard and Kanye’s social sabbatical ended after just two weeks. In a video that now has 1.2m views Kanye West started a broadcast on periscope – here’s what he said:
Yo. I just wanna talk about mind control, he says with his hand pressed to his forehead. When people try to influence you through social media and try to tell you what to do or if you post something positive on IG and it gets taken down because it’s not part of a bigger agenda. It’s mind control based on people trying to incentivize you. Based off you getting enough likes. It’s the social media poison that’s happening.
*Still massaging his forehead he continues:
“I just got back my IQ scores. They were Minsa level 133, 98th percentile, like straight up Sigmund Freud Tesla vibes. I feel like when people tell me what to do, I feel like they’re touching my brain. Like for a woman she wants to be in control of her body and choose who she gives it to….I feel like that with my mind.
I should mention that the comments on his video are as divided as US and Uganda politics :
As he’s talks about mind control and his music being the best on the planet comments are popping on the screen faster than you can read them:
You’re a genius that will go down in history as the most influential ever.
Man please, Stop. LAUGH
That’s booty WiFi. SMILING. PASSIVE. It is booty wife -it’s not good.
He goes on like this for nine more minutes.
I don’t know how many of the 1.2m that clicked on the broadcast that got the end but I couldn’t do it… I feared mind control.
The next day, Oct. 14th, Kanye was back on periscope again, this time in a tent, with an impromptu rap session. Again booti wi-if.
The quiet trip was very much public at this point.
The next day, the 15th, Kanye and Kim met with with President Museveni, the strongman who has ruled Uganda since 1986. In a meet and greet that was open to the press before going in a private helicopter to visit an orphanage they exchange some ideas:
Just to give you some visual context: Museveni is seated on the far left. And I don’t know what to make of the seating but Kanye is seated off to his right and then several feet from there is a couch with Kim and the First Lady of Uganda sitting on opposite ends of the couch. Most of the available clips are paired back but they all open with Kanye an Kim signing a pair of Yesi shoes- a gift for Museveni. Here’s Kanye:
(Audio Kanye West) When people try to influence you through social media and try to tell you what to do or if you post something positive on IG and it gets taken down because it’s not part of a bigger agenda. It’s mind control. That’s the echo chamber based on people trying to incentivize you. Based off you getting enough likes. It’s the social media poison that’s happening.
I just got back my IQ scores. They were Mensa level 133, 98th percentile, like straight up Sigmund Freud Tesla vibes. I feel like when people tell me what to do, I feel like they’re touching my brain. Like for a woman she wants to be in control of her body and choose who she gives it to….I feel like that with my mind.
J.R. Biersmith: He goes on like this for nine more minutes.
I don’t know how many of the 1.2m that clicked on the broadcast that got the end but I couldn’t. I feared mind control.
The next day, Oct. 14th, Kanye was back on periscope again, this time in a tent, with an impromptu rap session. The quiet trip was very much public at this point.
Then the following day, the 15th, Kanye and Kim met with with President Museveni, the strongman who has ruled Uganda since 1986. In a meet and greet that was open to the press before going in a private helicopter to visit an orphanage they exchange some ideas.
Just to give you some visual context: Museveni is seated on the far left. And I don’t know what to make of the seating but Kanye is several feat away to his left and then further over on a couch is Kim and the first lady.
(Audio Kanye West) – I’d like to know what other industries are besides tourism…
If you didn’t catch that he’s asking what other industries there are there besides tourism that would make the country thrive, like to make it a Wakanda. He want’s to built a Jurassic Park- but has to explain to Museveni that’s dinosaurs.
After this meeting, Kim, Kanye and the strongman who just changed the constitution to allow him to run again after 75, headed off to the orphanage. The photo op included handing out a couple dozen Yesi’s to kids.
Bobi Wine’s freedom concert the following weekend did not happen.
(Bobi Wine Music)
J.R. Biersmith: When I first caught up with Bobi it was late in the evening in the capital city of Kampala. He was in a car on the way to meet some friends. Earlier that day he had a bull horn in hand to help amplify his message to property owners that they indeed had rights.
(Bobi Wine Audio) Today, I am calling upon all of you to hold all of us leaders accountable.
J.R. Biersmith: Bobi grew up attached to his mother’s hip. She was a working woman who had to share her husband with his two other wives and dozens of children, so it was mom who shaped him. You can hear his reverence for her in his song Superwoman:
(Bobi Wine – Superwoman Song)
J.R. Biersmith: In 1997, when he was just 15, Bobi’s mother died in car accident leaving him with siblings to care for, one of which was just a year old.
I recorded the audio on that first call and it’s not great but I want you to hear from him how he describes those years between his mom’s passing and the first time he met Barbara Itungo who cast opposite him in the lead role of a controversial play during his senior year at university.
Bobi Wine: I was unruly and I thought I was also an alpha male. I was too opinionated and indeed I was crazy. I was violent and I used to drink quite a lot and I was an outlaw.
J.R. Biersmith: Did you fall for her right away?
Bobi Wine: No I didn’t like her right away. In fact I disliked her right away.
J.R. Biersmith: Why?
Bobi Wine: Because she was too opinionated.
J.R. Biersmith: We spoke a lot about those early days and when the call ended I had so many questions about the evolution of Bobi Wine and so much pointed to these polar opposites attracting.
Over the coming weeks, Barbara, who Bobi affectionally refers to as Barbie, and I exchanged messages on WhatsApp.
I quickly learned that they were both complete opposites: she was the church girl who had to work hard to learn her lines.
He thought she had an attitude and was opinionated but really he just thought she was too go for him so he stayed detached from the group.
That was until they all showed up early one day to rehearsal and the theater was closed- Bobi had no choice but to talk to the group. Soon the two leads: a cat and one a mouse who become president and first leads developed a friendship. Here’s Barbie
Barbara Kyagulani: We were very different. We still are different but we have a common ground. We fought so much. We fought about religion. We fought about his company. We fought about my going to church often. We fought about what my family and friends thought about him. We fought about so many things.
Barbie had no idea when she first Robert Kyagulani, aka Bobi Wine, that he was a budding music star.
He had been in and out of studios as a hobby since he was 15, but it was in 2002, coincidentally the the same year Kanye burst on to the scene with through the wire, that his dancehall hit Akukuma made him famous.
(Bobi Wine Music)
The first time Barbie went to a concert she realized that Bobi and his firebase grew were not just famous but she loved the music.
(Bobi Wine Music)
J.R. Biersmith: She also realized this guy who she had become friends with was rich in spirit.
Barbara Kyagulani: When we were walking I asked him why he was taking a different direction than he did every day before. He told me he was buying ice cream for the younger brothers. So I asked him if he had younger brothers and he said he had several of them and that he supported them and he was more like their father. So what I meant when I said that I realized I was dealing with something different, I realized that what he looked like was actually different from what he was. He put up an act. He lived the Bobi Wine. He was the superstar. He gave the attitude of an artist and he did not allow most people to know exactly who he was, the Kyagulani, the normal him. So that was the beginning. That was the beginning of me wanting to know much much more about him. That’s when I proposed that I think I should visit him at his house to see how he fathers these children. I brought it up as a joke but I was serious. Definitely the days that went by I visited his ghetto house and seeing his brothers all living in the same place. Because he had been raised by his brother it was now his duty to raise his younger brothers. So I was interested in knowing more about him and as time went by I realized I was becoming friends with the most responsible boy I had ever met of our time.
J.R. Biersmith: After seven months together they decided they wanted to marry but there was one small problem. Bobi was not yet in a position to offer a pride price. As was custom he needed to offer the family money, cows or goods before he could get married.
In 2015, the Uganda Supreme Court began chipping away at the constitutionality of this practice but then he needed to present something. Here’s Bobi:
Bobi Wine: “I had to go get some money and you know pay for her bride price.” And then we had to plan how to build a life together and I also I wanted to plan to finally make an occasion that is befitting as someone as amazing as that.”
J.R. Biersmith: Over the next decade and a half, Bobi would dominate the music landscape producing more than 70 songs. Then in April 2017 he decided to make a run for parliament and that’s when everything changed. Back to Barbie and what she thought about his move to parliament.
Barbara Kyagulani: I had seen it coming. Actually my first expression was this is the right time. I think you’re called to be a leader. I think you’re called to serve.