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Oscar nomination gives Bobi Wine new hope of toppling Uganda’s regime

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Oscar nomination gives Bobi Wine new hope of toppling Uganda’s regime
Oscar nomination

After years of repression, a film about Bobi Wine’s heroic stand against Yoweri Museveni has given new life to the opposition

When the Ugandan musician turned politician Bobi Wine ran for president, his 2020 campaign was thwarted by violent crackdowns by Yoweri Museveni’s regime. Since the election, Bobi Wine – whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu – and his wife, Barbie, say that, from phone tapping to abductions of his supporters, things have been “pretty much the same” in many ways.

With one key difference: the release of the feature documentary Bobi Wine: The People’s President.

Shot over five years, the film is a profile of Wine’s rise in politics and his run for the presidency, during which he endures military detention, torture and the loss of people close to him. The film was nominated for a Bafta and is up for best documentary feature at the Oscars.

Now we know that – as much as it’s brutal – the regime knows the world is watching
Bobi Wine
Moses Bwayo, the co-director, says: “The morning the Oscars nomination was announced, Bobi and Barbie and their children had been under house arrest for over a week. But when the news came, the military and the police withdrew from their home.”

While the film was in production, Bwayo, like many other journalists covering Wine’s activism, was arrested, imprisoned and intimidated. In November 2020 he was shot in the face at close range with a rubber bullet in Kampala and there were two attempted kidnappings of his wife, before the couple fled the country for the US.

Wine says: “This film has given us another lease of life, because now we know that – as much as it’s brutal – the regime knows that the world is watching.” The documentary has caused the government to show “a little bit of restraint”, he believes.

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In September, when the opposition politician and former MP went on a national tour of Uganda, his supporters were not met with the teargas or bullets that had become the norm. Wine says he plans to run again for president in 2026.

Barbie adds that the international acclaim is “giving people courage” to get involved with opposition politics because they “know that they’re not suffering in darkness”.

Bwayo describes making the film as a “deep labour of love”. Excited by Wine’s journey from the ghetto to parliament, and the 42-year-old’s ability to inspire young people through his music, Bwayo says: “I had to tell the history of our country at this moment.”

Once a revolutionary freedom fighter, President Yoweri Museveni has led Uganda since 1986. His government is frequently criticised for corruption and human rights abuses, and in 2017 the parliament in Kampala passed a bill removing the cap on presidential age limits, enabling his rule to continue.

“The first day I become president is the day Uganda ceases to be an authoritarian military regime,” says Wine, adding that he will implement a separation of powers between Uganda’s executive, judiciary and parliament. “Education, healthcare and agriculture would be our priorities.”

Considering Uganda’s poor record of press freedom, and the censorship of Wine’s music on the airwaves, it is unsurprising that there has been little coverage of the film in the Ugandan media.

But Wine describes the film as “very well known, especially among the young people”. Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations, with 78% of people under 30; in the last election, more than 40% of voters were aged between 18 and 30.

This awareness is thanks to social media, which Wine says “taps into foreign news and brings it home and makes it mainstream news”. He adds that, ironically, the more restricted a piece of content is, the more people want to access it.

“I believe it is the most watched and sought-after film in Uganda in recent years,” says Wine, adding that his supporters screened the film at his party’s offices after it received the Oscar nomination, and streamed the event live on Facebook and TikTok.

But they paid a price for this act of resistance: Wine says three of his colleagues were abducted by the military during the screening and are still missing.

The US and UK have given many billions of dollars of development and military aid to Uganda in recent years, with Museveni long perceived as a key ally of the west in east Africa. But Wine is hopeful that the film will damage the reputation of Museveni’s government enough that foreign powers will reconsider this funding.

“If this aid has no conditions – moral conditions – then it’s a partnership in crime,” he says. “We know what that aid is doing to our people.

“What you saw in that documentary is not acted, it is real – and it is being facilitated by that aid.”

For Bwayo, the aim of the film is to shine a spotlight on the situation in Uganda, which the government has been “very smart at hiding from the world”.

The film-maker adds that the documentary is “a lifeline for Bobi and Barbie, and those close to them, and the Ugandan people who are fighting against this brutal, relentless military dictatorship”.

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