We Are Fighting for Freedom is the unofficial anthem of Kamwokya, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, where the musician-turned-politician Kyagulanyi Sentamu – whose stage name is Bobi Wine – grew up.
Kyagulanyi released the song to express his anger at attempts to amend the constitution to give President Yoweri Museveni yet another term in office, after 32 years in power. The song can be heard through torn curtains and across open sewers, mixing potently with the resolute words Free Bobi, which are sprayed across fragile walls.
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In August, he was arrested after his driver, Yasin Kawuma, was shot dead during a local election. The government had been restless over Kyagulanyi’s ability to turn the tide of an election. Every candidate he endorses wins. After his arrest a military court charged him with unlawful possession of firearms, and the military paraded guns and tried to convince Ugandans the weapons had been found in his hotel room. When it became clear the story didn’t add up, the charges were dropped and, emaciated and limping, he was released, after weeks in a military prison. He was handed over to police, charged with treason and held in a civil prison.His arrest won him international sympathy and put him in the ranks of young Africans challenging the old guard’s hold on power – alongside Rwanda’s Diane Rwigara, who at 38 has stood up to Paul Kagame’s presidency, as well as opposition leaders in South Africa and Zimbabwe. After pressure from social media activists, diplomatic missions and civil society organisations, Kyagulanyi was released on bail after nearly a month.
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Three-quarters of Uganda’s population are under 35. Kamwokya’s residents support 36-year-old Kyagulanyi because he is, like them, young, hungry and angry that the only president they have known is Museveni, 74. They realise the man they sang nursery rhymes in praise of is not indispensable, and that their poverty is not inevitable. Kyagulanyi’s journey from the ghetto to Magere – a middle-class area of Kampala – is an inspiration. Unlike previous opposition leaders, Kyagulanyi does not have links to the establishment or a military background. His wealth, unlike that of most of Uganda’s rich, is traceable. He was born in the ghetto: a life of crime and drugs beckoned. But, through music, he rose above it, made money and changed his life. So when he talks about transformation, his supporters believe he can do for the nation what he did for himself.