By mid-2017, Wine would be running a campaign of his own, standing as an independent candidate in a by-election for the parliamentary seat of his home county. His efforts would yield a sweeping victory against both the ruling party candidate and a more established member of the opposition. And once in office, Bobi Wine would not hesitate to plunge into the roiling deep end of Uganda’s politics.
Earlier in the evening that Wine went silent, crowds that had gathered to cheer him on and to confront the convoy of President Museveni—himself drawn to Arua by the parliamentary election in a bid to bolster the prospects of his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. A stone pelted by one of the demonstrators allegedly damaged a car in the president’s entourage, and although Museveni reached his helicopter unscathed, his security forces doubled back into Arua and unleashed a wave of spectacular violence against the opposition politicians assembled in the town.
Amid the ensuing chaos, facts would be hard to come by. By the next morning, though, Ugandans would gradually learn that 35 members of the opposition had been violently arrested and numerous journalists beaten (with at least two jailed overnight). News later spread that an opposition MP named Francis Zaake had been tortured. Photos of his battered face circulated on social media on August 15, and it would eventually emerge that his injuries were so drastic as to land him temporarily on life support.
But at that point, Bobi Wine’s fate remained a desperate mystery. It was not until Thursday that his exact whereabouts would become clear—when despite never having served in the military, Wine was produced before a court martial in the northern town of Gulu. Charged with treason and the possession of illegal firearms (a staple accusation in cases against government critics, and one Wine’s team vehemently denies), he was finally allowed contact with his lawyers. The press, however—and Wine’s entire family—were kept away.
Following a brief interaction in court, Wine’s lawyers reported that their client had been brutalized. His face was swollen; he had sustained multiple fractures; and he had been so badly beaten that he couldn’t sit, stand, or walk. His injuries were so grave, they said, that for much of the hearing he had not even been fully conscious.
In the face of this account, Ugandans at home and abroad are bracing for a new, more drastic sort of political crackdown in their country, where intimidation and harassment of political activists has been the norm for decades. Many are convinced that President Museveni—whose government receives over $800 million per year in American aid as the U.S.’s foremost military ally on the African continent—wants Bobi Wine dead.
When Wine was sworn in to Parliament in July 2017, a constitutional debate was rapidly escalating in Uganda. It concerned Article 102b of the Ugandan Constitution, which required that all presidential candidates be between the ages of 35 and 75. In a turbulent political climate that had long since seen the abolition of term limits, this article stood as the last remaining constitutional barrier to a lifetime presidency for Yoweri Museveni, who will turn 75 in September 2019. And early last year, Museveni’s NRM party began pushing to excise the article from the Constitution.