These days, many conversations with the Ugandan pop star turned legislator Bobi Wine begin with inquiries about his health. When we met, on a gray morning in the final days of a trip he made to the United States for medical treatment, I started with just such a question.
Barely a month after he was violently arrested along with fellow opposition activists, and having survived what he said was torture at the hands of security forces, he described his recovery as ongoing: “I am better today than I was yesterday,” he told me. I asked him how he was doing. He seemed optimistic. “Tomorrow I will be again better than today.”
Indeed, the man in front of me looked far stronger and healthier than the one who had appeared before a Ugandan court martial on August 23, frail and bruised, too weak to stand. Now, against the advice of doctors, supporters, and many in the Ugandan diaspora, he has returned to the country where he was brutalized. “Uganda is my home,” he told reporters. “I don’t have another home. I am Ugandan, and I’m going back home.”
Bobi Wine (born Robert Kyagulanyi) was already a musical celebrity in East Africa—with songs tackling corruption, poverty, and the failure of basic social services in Uganda —when he won a parliamentary seat in 2017. In one of the youngest countries on Earth, where 70 percent of the people have known no leader other than the current strongman, Yoweri Museveni, Wine, at 36, has sought to become the political voice of the demographic he has called “the grandchildren of the independence generation.” He has advocated for peaceful democratization in a country with a long history of military coups, civil war, and repressive dictatorship. The resulting “People Power” movement has become the single greatest political threat Museveni has faced since seizing power in 1986.