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'Everywhere I am in chains,' says Uganda's Wine after home arrest lifted

By Reuters | January 26th 2021

Ugandan presidential candidate and singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as Bobi Wine addresses a news conference at his house in Magere neighbourhood of Kampala, Uganda, January 15, 2021. [File, Abubaker Lubowa, Reuters]

Uganda’s opposition leader Bobi Wine accused security forces on Tuesday of humiliating him, his family and staff as he was freed from house arrest in place since a disputed Jan. 14 election that he lost to long-serving President Yoweri Museveni.

Soldiers and police left the 38-year-old pop star’s large compound, in a leafy northern suburb of the capital Kampala, in compliance with a court order and under pressure from the United States and other Western countries.

“It has been an experience of isolation, of torture, of humiliation, having our compound turned into a military garrison,” Wine told Reuters from his garden, wearing a red beret with the words “People Power. Our Power”.

“Having our employees traumatised, beaten, an experience of hunger. We were not allowed to access our garden. But again, it has been a reminder that we can overcome any kind of stress.”

Blockaded at home since he voted, Wine has alleged that soldiers touched his wife’s breasts when she sought food in the garden, that his gardener was beaten, that food ran out, and there was no milk for an 18-month-old niece trapped with them.

Ugandan police officers refuse lawyers of Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, from meeting him at his house in Kampala, Uganda. [File, Reuters]

The government said security forces were there for Wine’s own protection, while police said food had been delivered by a motorcycle courier each day. The army denied his wife had been assaulted but has not responded to the allegation about the gardener.

With the vote behind him and fraud protests failing to gain significant traction, Museveni, 76, appears to be calculating that he can mollify pressure from Western allies to free his rival without significant risk to his power base.

‘Born free’

Former guerrilla leader Museveni has long been a Western ally, receiving copious aid and sending troops to fight Islamist militants. But foreign governments are increasingly frustrated over his crackdowns on foes and reluctance to cede power.

Having for years denounced corruption and nepotism in his songs, Wine rode a wave of youth disillusionment to challenge Museveni’s 34-year rule at the ballot box.

But the incumbent was declared winner with 59% of votes versus 35% for Wine. The opposition rejected the result, alleging fraud and unfair conditions, including pre-filled ballot sheets, result tallies showing impossibly high numbers of voters and harassment of opposition polling agents.

The government denied irregularities, casting Wine as a foreign puppet and troublemaker, with Museveni the sole guarantor of political stability and economic progress.

Despite the end of the siege, a helicopter circled low over Wine’s residence on Tuesday. Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Luke Owoyesigyire said that was normal surveillance.

“I was born free and I am free. Only that I am everywhere in chains. As you saw, while the court ordered the police to vacate our premises, you still have police and military helicopters, over us,” added Wine, looking tired and stressed.

“General Museveni is reading from the same script as all dictators.”

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