Under Museveni, Uganda has been a staunch Western ally and it provides the biggest contingent of the African Union force fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia. Uganda found major oil reserves over a decade ago but has yet to produce any crude and it relies on foreign aid for a quarter of its budget.
Last month, the government banned election rallies saying they could spread COVID-19 but Wine and other candidates argue that has prevented a free and fair election because government allies control most of the media outlets.
Electoral Commission spokesman Paul Bukenya told Reuters rallies could become coronavirus superspreader events and candidates had many ways to disseminate their messages including flyers, banners, billboards, brochures and social media.
Bobi Wine, a slim but sturdy figure, grew up in a Kampala slum, the 20th child in a polygamous family of 33 children.
He said his music – and his politics – was inspired by the struggles his mother faced as she hawked street food to educate and feed her children.
Wine’s musical career took off in the early 2000s with songs decrying urban poverty and political oppression, backed by catchy, feel-good beats. In 2017, he won a parliamentary by-election as an independent by a landslide and then last year he became leader of the opposition National Unity Platform party.
He has been detained multiple times since entering politics, including on the day he filed his nomination papers, and has taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest, as well as his helmet.
“If I didn’t have it I don’t know what would have happened to me. Every one, six people whom I move with in the car, have all been hit,” Wine said. “(It’s) more or less a war zone.”
Wine says he has been targeted with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Police say his campaign is breaking laws governing public order and COVID-19 restrictions.
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At least 54 people died in protests that erupted when Wine was detained in one incident in November. In another, an injured protester died in his campaign ambulance after police blocked its path, Wine said.
“Some days you start eating tear gas as early as seven in the morning. Others you start much later. You start a day with 20 people and by the end of the day half of them are in prison.”