Bobi Wine: The new icon of music activism

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By Boniface Nyaga

Emboldened by the mobilising power of social media, the recent arrest of musician-cum-politician Bobi Wine has ignited a renaissance of Pan-African activism. Reminiscent of the campaign to free Nelson Mandela, artists and celebrities from all over Africa have played a major role in the #FreeBobiWine movement.

The courtroom drama has been a rollercoaster defined by arrests and rearrests amid claims of torture. As Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, faces charges ranging from illegal possession of firearms to treason, his colleagues in the music industry continue to demonstrate the power of music in bringing positive change in society.

Following news of his arrest, politicians, musicians, and people from all walks of life have added their voice to the #FreeBobiWine movement. So far, about 34 000 have signed an online petition demanding his unconditional release. About 80 artists have come out in support, including Sauti Sol, Jua Cali, Nyashinski, Holy Dave, Jose Chameleon, Irene Ntale, Chris Martin, Damon Albarn, Eddy Kenzo and Octopizzo. They are joined by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and ex-Fela Kuti manager Rikki Stein.

Stein wrote:

“Over the next couple of days I propose creating a letter to which will be appended the signatures of multiple distinguished individuals. Please forward names to me that can be appended to that list and meanwhile feel free to distribute news of this tragic situation as widely as possible.”

In solidarity with their fellow colleague, Ugandan DJs have vowed to play Bobi Wine songs every 15 minutes until his release. His song 'Freedom', which calls for young people to rise up and change the political situation in their country, has been heard in every corner of Uganda

On Wednesday, the Uganda Musicians Association organised a prayer service for Bobi Wine at a cathedral on what was his eighth day of military detention. The service was attended by key opposition figure Dr Kizza Besigye, several prominent political figures and notable Ugandan popstars such as Jose Chameleone.

On the same day in Kenya, Pawa 254 organised the Free Bobi Wine concert, and the Free Bobi Wine protest march the following day. The march attracted various celebrities and culminated at the Ugandan embassy in Nairobi. Similar protests were held at various Ugandan embassies around the world.

In the latest twist to the saga, Bobi Wine was released by the military court and all charges dropped on Thursday. Moments after his release he was rearrested and transferred to the magistrate's court in Gulu. Opposition leader Besigye was also arrested outside his home, when he came out to inquire why police had barricaded his estate.

The struggle for accountable and democratic leadership continues across Africa. South African artists such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba used their music to campaign against apartheid and eventually toppled the repressive regime. A new wave of music activism is now emerging in Africa and only history will judge its true effect.  – Music In Africa 

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