KAMPALA: Ugandan police on Monday arrested singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine and sprayed tear gas to disperse his supporters as he sought to kick off public meetings ahead of presidential elections next year.
Wine, a popular figure among young Ugandans, announced last year he would challenge President Yoweri Museveni in the 2021 elections, and on Monday was scheduled to begin a week-long series of consultations ahead of the vote.
But the first event at a Catholic Church in his constituency in Kampala could not proceed as police deployed before dawn to the site, prompting protests by his supporters, a reporter saw.
Protesters set alight car tyres and blocked roads, while police backed by firefighters, armoured cars and water cannon used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that Wine and members of his entourage had been arrested.
“We are temporarily holding them in our police station in Kasangati. We shall have to release them at some later stage but we are looking at charges of holding an unlawful assembly and disobedience of lawful orders,” Enanga told AFP.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has already been detained a number of times.
He has had numerous attempts to hold concerts blocked since he was elected as an MP in 2017.
Enanga said Wine planned to exceed what is allowed under Uganda’s election laws by “going early and conducting campaigns” as opposed to holding “consultations.”
Under Uganda’s 2000 election law presidential “aspirants” may carry out “nationwide consultation” in the 12 months ahead of their official nomination as candidates.
The law requires aspirants to “introduce” themselves to the Electoral Commission (EC) and notify local authorities of events planned in their area.
On December 3 Wine sent a letter to the EC officially introducing himself and outlining his plans, which he published on social media.
In the past, the police have warned opposition politicians that all events must also comply with the Public Order Management Act 2013.
Human Rights Watch has criticised that law as granting the police “wide discretionary powers over the content and management of public meetings.”
Wine has built a sizeable following among Uganda’s booming urban youth population, many of whom say they are tired of Museveni’s long rule.
Museveni seized power at the head of a rebel army in 1986 and many observers say they doubt he will ever give up power through democratic elections.
Veteran opposition leader Kizza Besigye may also run for the fifth consecutive time.
In previous election rounds, police routinely blocked Besigye from holding political events.
The authorities have charged both opposition leaders with various criminal offences which are entangled in Uganda’s judicial system.