Which name do you prefer to go by – Bobi or honourable Kyagulanyi?
Bobi: I prefer Bobi because it’s born out of love and simplicity. My Christian name is Robert but I disliked it because I was named after Robert Mugabe. But I identify with Robert ‘Bob’ Marley. To make it fancier, my friends started calling me Bobi. Some people, especially the older ones, prefer to call me honourable Kyagulanyi.
How much has your upbringing influenced the man you are today?
Bobi: I grew up in the slums and poverty. I don’t regret it. It made me appreciate life, friendship and simplicity. It opened me up to the realities of the world and gave me reason to work hard, transform my life and those around me.
What was growing up in your family life like?
Bobi (Chuckles): I come from a huge, polygamous family; my father had over 35 children. My dad was a great guy. I lost him three years ago. My birth mother, who died in a road accident 15 years ago, had 10 children; nine boys and one girl. I was child number six. Within our entire family, I was child number 26.
Describe your childhood
Bobi: I was born in 1982 during the wartimes, but the first time I saw my father was when I was seven years old. My father was one of the Museveni rebels and my grandfather, the founder of the then opposition party, was also allied to Museveni’s fighting factions. Growing up, my family was disintegrated. My grandfather died when I was about five and many of my family members were arrested while others were exiled to Tanzania.
Does it feel like history is repeating itself?
Bobi: I never wanted to engage in politics. I hated it because my mother said we ended up in the ghetto because of it. My grandfather was fairly successful but my family lost everything in the mid-80’s because of the war. My father was jailed and my mother became more or less a single parent. I was only drawn into politics after my parents’ death when I realised that there was nobody left to fight for Uganda’s liberation but we. We had to be the leaders that we had always been waiting for.
Why wasn’t being a social/political conscious music artiste enough for you?
Bobi: I used to do bad boy kind of music; you know, songs on women and money. When young people started emulating only the negative side of me – smoking weed, violent club fights etc. I decided to do songs that I felt would challenge them to the line I thought was right such as avoiding risky sexual behaviour and so on.
So what changed?
Bobi: I bought a brand new Escalade in 2007, which I considered to be the epitome of my hard work. Shortly thereafter, a guy my age pulled me out of the car when I was heading to a club, publicly slapped me, put a gun on me and warned me not to show off because the country had owners. I’d always seen people violated but it didn’t seem important to me until then, so I went the politically conscious artiste way. In 2016, when the election was unclear and the military was unleashed on innocent Ugandans, I decided the time for talking was over. It was important, especially for young people in Uganda, to get actively involved in the way their country is governed and what better way to do it than to demonstrate that myself.
Was it an easy transition from the arts to politics?
Bobi: I look at myself as a leader, not a politician. In Uganda, a politician is more of a liar and a manipulator and that is not a line I want to tread. Be that as it may be, it was a tough decision to come to because I knew disagreeing with the regime would mean brutality and curtailing of my freedoms. The juice, however, has been worth the squeeze.
Was that your wife’s, Barbara’s (Barbie), conclusion as well?
Bobi: (Thoughtfully) My wife is a cautious person. She asked and still asks about our family, future and comfort. We spent a lot of our young days working and we promised each other that after the age of 35, we’d enjoy our remaining youthful years having fun. (Chuckling)Look where we landed ourselves?
Does the risk your stance poses to your wife and children bother you?
Bobi: (Pauses) My children ask why I don’t come home early. The only explanation I have is millions of other children need me as a father figure and I have to do what I have to do so that they can have a future worth looking forward to. I’m consoled that it is the same common people that raised my profile, put me out there and made it possible for my children to get food and go to good schools. It’s tough because like any other man, I’d like to spend time with my family, celebrate birthdays, sing lullabies to my little girl and teach them values.
How do you prepare your children for the fact that stepping out means you may never come back?
Bobi: (Pauses) We always start the discussion with my wife and fail to conclude because I don’t have the answer and neither does she. We both recognise how important my work is to continuously give people reason to hope and believe. I always think about it but I don’t know, honestly, I don’t know, (falters) I wish I knew.
What do you want to achieve with your style of leadership?
Bobi: To inspire young people in Uganda and around the world to believe in themselves and the power they have as citizens and to have a country that makes sense for every citizen, where they are sovereign and not the leaders. Equal opportunities for everyone regardless of tribe, connections or where one comes from and where, when you work hard, you can live a dignified life.
Are you then a lone wolf in the Ugandan parliament?
Bobi: I’ve had many conversations with members of the opposition, independent candidates and even members of the ruling party. Many members believe in what I believe in but feel enslaved and few are able to risk it all. Others have been compromised.
Do you want to be president of Uganda?
Bobi: Originally, I was just an artiste raising voices through music. I decided to take it to Parliament. From Parliament, I take it to anyone who’ll listen to our plight. Whichever bridge we reach, we’ll figure out how to cross it when we reach it.
Are you worried that your people power movement is unsustainable and may fizzle out?
Bobi: No. It’s no longer about me and it has never been about me. I’m encouraged by the energy that keeps rising up. For instance, when I was incarcerated, I wasn’t able to communicate with anybody but people from different zones just rose up. I’m trying to maximise whatever opportunity and time I’m presented with to inspire as many others.
Power corrupts. How do you ground yourself?
Bobi: By learning from the past. We believed in liberators and the same liberators turned into oppressors. I’m not presenting myself as a savior. All we need is ourselves. We should focus on re-establishing and re-empowering institutions because they outlive individuals and their greed.
Is Bobi the artiste fading as Bobi the leader emerges?
Bobi: (Jamaican accent) Nah man! Music is my first, second, third and last love. I’m just an artiste who is conscious enough to raise awareness which I believe a doctor, farmer, bricklayer or a boda boda operator should also be doing. I pray that one day when we are liberated, I can comfortably go back and do my music proudly, as one of the gallant sons of Uganda and Africa.
Who do you look up to?
Bobi: I used to look up to president Yoweri Museveni. When he was my age and fighting to liberate Uganda, he eloquently said Africa’s problem is not the people but the leaders who overstay in power. It’s a disappointment that he betrayed the values he stood for. I’m also inspired by Dedan Kimathi, Nelson Mandela, Julius Malema, Thomas Sankara, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X among others.
A lot of your freedoms have been curtailed owing to your criticism of the current government. What has been the hardest thing to live without?
Bobi: As a ghetto child, I feel at home going back to the ghetto to interact with those who watched me come up. I’m always inspired by them. These days I’m not allowed to meet a group of people. My shows have also been blocked. Bobi Wine is allowed to perform but honourable Kyagulanyi isn’t allowed to step on the stage. Who of the two doesn’t have fundamental human rights or the right to earn a living? I’m sad because music is my main source of income and happiness. My wife and my children always feel unsafe and it’s hard for them to keep up with the pressure at school and everywhere they go.
Have you considered moving them out of Uganda?
Bobi: I’ve thought about it but the long arm of the government can flush me out from wherever. There’s only so much I can do.
What is the one thing you never used to do but find yourself doing now and how do you disconnect from all the political ongoings?
Bobi: I never used to pray but I pray a lot now. After prayers I try to remain ‘normal.’ I unwind by hanging around my boys in the ghetto chilling, jamming a little, but it’s not as nice as it used to be. Watching young activists sprouting and speaking against injustices keeps me going.
Has Barbie made the journey easier?
Bobi: I think God gave me Barbie to keep me strong and alive. I’d be weak if I didn’t have her. She’s been a wife, friend, mother and a partner.
What about her do you love the most?
Bobi: (Pauses) Man…I don’t know. Where do I start, from her feet or from her head? She’s one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met. She’s patient with me. She helped me transition from my young days to the man I am. I could write a book about her. She’s a serious disciplinarian not just to the kids but to me as well.
Does she tell you off when you go off the rails?
Bobi: No. She politely guides me and I believe I do the same. We complement each other and help each other grow.
What are your guiding principles as a couple?
Bobi: Love between ourselves and those around us. We want to utilise our prime days to bring positive change and make a difference.
Being an artiste and a leader means Bobi belongs to the world. How do you make sure you still belong to Barbie?
Bobi: My best time is when we switch off our phones and it’s just us. We don’t have much of that anymore. Before all the mess started, I’d carry her to my shows and steal a few days where nobody knew us to just chill, play around and be young again.
Are you good partners to each other?
Bobi: (Chuckling) I know I’ve been a good husband but I could be better. Barbie’s been an amazing wife and I can’t hold a candle to her. I have a feeling I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to her.
Barbara Kyagulanyi Itungo or Barbie as she’s popularly referred to, is a social worker, an author, a columnist and entrepreneur. She’s also the executive director of a non-governmental organisation – Caring Hearts Uganda. Barbara and Bobi have been together for over 17 years. Here’s her take on politics, love and family.
How has marriage to Bobi Wine, the artiste and politician been like?
Barbie: When I married Bobi, he was an actor and musician. His life has been a ladder but one that’s always climbing upwards. Initially, we lived a life of no meals and no specific place to stay. He then started having hits, became a star and finally started singing politically and socially conscious songs and now he’s in Parliament. It’s been a rollercoaster, always aiming for bigger things on every single stage. We haven’t breathed.
What was your reaction when he told you he wanted to go into politics?
Barbie: I felt like it was the right time. I even told him he’d taken too long but Bobi likes to take his time on things and think them through so I just supported him. I knew he’d do something political, something that would help him serve the people directly; I just didn’t know which specific role. It’s been fun because it was a chance to showcase the Kyagulanyi people didn’t know. It was time for him to open his petals and show us his true colours.
What did you think your role was in the ‘People Power Movement’ and how has it morphed over time?
Barbara: Initially, I didn’t think I had much of a role, particularly in public. I thought I’d stay behind and run our businesses. But I realised I couldn’t stay in the background and keep watching. I began asking him about his plans, meetings and giving my opinions. With time, I was being consulted on a lot of the things he did and he and his team would choose whether to run with them or not.
You stepped out in August 2018 after Bobi was arrested and became his voice. How had you envisioned this moment, if at all?
Barbara: That experience came too early. I didn’t think I was ready. When Bobi was arrested, I learnt that one has to be ready anytime, for the things they think they may face in future. It forced me to unleash a Barbara that many people here did not know. I had to step on fear, overcome it and give my view as long as I knew what I was saying was right. I was ready to pay for the truth and I didn’t think I was an exception because at the time, everybody was paying for speaking the truth.
Bobi was incarcerated and here you were risking your life, ready to pay the price. How did you break it down to your children?
Barbara: By then, we at least had had a year to show the kids that daddy’s new job was no piece of cake. They’d seen this happen during elections; police would come and take him from home anytime, and so on. My children have visited the ghetto and we remind them that is how their father grew up. We always made sure they understood that Bobi speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves. They still have their lives to live and people out there will give them different stories so we give them the plain truth. It’s a hard topic.
So you had no fear?
Barbara: (Chuckling) I wasn’t doing this to send us to death, but to save us from death. I had to fight for Bobi, for people to know his situation and what to demand for. I wasn’t poking death in the nose. Even when you prepare, I’m not sure if anyone is ever truly ready for death. You always remember that one thing you’ve not done or something you need more time to fix.
Do people want you to speak on women’s power in politics?
Barbara: I’ve been contacted by women rights activists, universities, academicians, and embassies to talk about the influence of women in politics, governance and raising women to be leaders. (Laughing) Others just want to chat over coffee.
Considering some of your freedoms have been curtailed, what do you miss the most?
Barbara: Going to restaurants without being scared. Going to public places at night. I don’t attend late engagements or stay late, for instance at weddings. I miss sending my children freely to places with their cousins without peppering them with questions. I miss phone conversations without fearing someone is listening in and I miss silly conversations with my girlfriends.
Are you able to disconnect from the politics?
Barbara: We have a big family that helps to keep us busy. We still get involved in family activities such as birthdays, weddings and try to show our children life is still going on, though with caution. Sometimes disconnecting at a personal level is hard. I’ve had to relearn what’s important, what to think about and drop and having some fun time without losing connection with the real world.
What are your guiding principles as a couple?
Barbara: We don’t have a manual that we apply. We are, however, best friends and that overshadows everything. We like to laugh about issues before thinking seriously around them. We are also very protective of our reputation and are keen on treating everyone equally.
What do you love most about Bobi?
Barbara: Bobi’s funny. He only sees the funny things in situations, even when he’s in trouble. It’s his way of absorbing things and trying to figure out how to deal with them. He’s friendly, listens and learns from mistakes. He’s open as well which makes him easy to live with. He’s a great confidant and dad. On the reverse, I think I’ve been a good wife as well