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World

Ugandan Singer-Turned-Politician Says Government Continues To Harass Him

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The last time we spoke with Bobi Wine, he was in the United States seeking treatment after he'd been badly beaten by his country's military. But he still returned to Uganda, his home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BOBI WINE: It's dangerous to go back. But as one person, I cannot leave 40 million people in danger. If my life is a sacrifice that has to be taken for the redemption of our country, so be it.

SIMON: That was in September. The singer and opposition figure remains in the crosshairs of the Ugandan government. This week, they forced the cancellation of all of his shows, and Bobi Wine says they arrested and beat up part of his entourage.

NPR's Eyder Peralta has been following this story from the beginning and joins us from Nairobi. Eyder, thanks so much for being with us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And why would the government of Uganda be so intent on silencing a singer?

PERALTA: So he is the country's most popular singer. But last year, he ran for Parliament. And no one thought he could win, and he has really just shaken up Ugandan politics. More importantly, he is now President Yoweri Museveni's biggest rival. And what he's done is he's managed to get people on the streets. And he's fought some of the president's biggest initiatives, and he scored some real wins. And President Yoweri Museveni doesn't like that. He has been in power for 32 years, and he has a long history of shutting down any dissent violently.

As you mentioned, the world came to know Bobi Wine after one of these confrontations. He went to the president's stronghold for a political rally, and he pulled thousands of people. And he drew a much bigger crowd than the president. So after the rally, the military arrested him, and they beat him and other members of the opposition really badly.

SIMON: What kind of danger does he seem to be in now?

PERALTA: So he says that the government continues to harass him. I spoke to him by phone earlier. And this is what he describes.

WINE: The last time I went to church - and the service did not end because the police tear-gassed the church. I also went to my sister's wedding, and I found my father's house surrounded by the police. And the police said I am a national threat.

PERALTA: So this week, he tried to hold a concert in a city just east of the capital. And there were similar images - him coming into the city flanked by thousands of people. And then night fell, and the concert was canceled because police fired tear gas. Bobi Wine says that they came after him, but he managed to escape with the help of his fans.

SIMON: Eyder, you mentioned that Bobi Wine has turned people out into the streets. And, of course, people have also died in protest when the military arrested Bobi Wine earlier this year. How menacing a situation is it for everyday Ugandans who may not support the government?

PERALTA: So things have calmed down a bit in Uganda, but it's still tense. One big difference is that the president, Yoweri Museveni - he's called for dialogue. He says - and I quote him - that he's been "dying to talk to people who think differently from him." But those talks have been rejected by prominent opposition leaders.

Kizza Besigye, who used to be the big opposition leader before Bobi Wine came around - he said that the only thing they want to talk to Yoweri Museveni about is how he leaves power. I asked Bobi Wine why he won't talk to Museveni, and he was much more diplomatic with his answer.

WINE: Nelson Mandela told it to us that only free people negotiate with free people. We can only negotiate when we are free.

PERALTA: He says the constitution gives him the right to sing and the right to speak his mind. And how and when he does that is not up for negotiation.

SIMON: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.