Ugandan pop star and opposition figure Bobi Wine formally launched his presidential bid for the 2021 election on Wednesday, calling the country's longtime leader a dictator and urging him to hold credible polls.
“On behalf of the people of Uganda I am challenging you to free and fair elections,” Wine said to cheers of supporters, referring to President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power in the East African nation since 1986.
The singer, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, first revealed his plans to run during an interview with The Associated Press last week in which he said he was concerned for his safety. He has accused Ugandan security forces of torturing him in the past. Authorities deny it and in turn have charged him with treason and other offenses, which he rejects.
The 37-year-old lawmaker leads a popular movement known as “People Power” and has emerged as a political threat to one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, appealing to many among the country's booming young population who are frustrated with unemployment and the slow pace of change.
“President Museveni and his praise singers dismissed us as inconsequential. The people of Uganda ... continue to prove them wrong,” Wine said.
Police have repeatedly foiled the singer's efforts to hold rallies or stage concerts, saying their goal is to protect public order and accusing him of participating in what they call unlawful assemblies. The president accuses Wine and other opposition figures of trying to lure young people into deadly rioting.
The treason charge against Wine relates to his alleged role in an incident last August in which the presidential convoy was attacked with stones during a campaign event. The singer faces additional charges of annoying the president and disobeying statutory authority. He calls the allegations false.
Wine would be disqualified as a presidential candidate if he were to be convicted of a crime.
Museveni, who is 74 and remains popular among some Ugandans, is widely expected to run again in 2021 after the national assembly passed legislation removing a clause in the constitution that prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.
Museveni's party, which dominates the national assembly, has endorsed him as its sole candidate for the next election.