Tag Archives: Uganda

Museveni: East Africa’s Longest-Serving Ruler

In Mbale, former Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi campaigned for Museveni's fourth term. Let's not forget that Museveni was one of the first presidents to congratulate Kibaki during the Kenyan 2008 elections.

Kenya’s excellent newspaper, the Daily Nation, ran a well-written, if depressing piece about Museveni that was initially published by their sister Ugandan paper, the Daily Monitor (where my colleague and Garden City bowling buddy Gerald Bareebe works).  I first came to Uganda in 2007, 21 years into Museveni’s regime, so I never really experienced the initial presidency that did so much for Uganda in the 1980s and 1990s.  Museveni’s regime turned 24 this year, and he surpassed former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi as East Africa’s longest-standing ruler.  But with oil profits on the horizon, and a penchant for overstaying, Museveni is currently running for his fourth term– and even Moi has been in Uganda this week, helping to campaign for Museveni.

When I first came to Uganda, newspapers affectionately referred to the country’s president as “M7.”  I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize what they were referring to– a fighter jet? A different version of LC1s and LC2s (local gov. officials)? Out of the blue, I finally realized that M7 was literally Museveni, and cracked up at myself for not realizing it sooner.

The Monitor piece describes the Museveni who first came into power, and I was practically gaping… anyone who has only known Museveni in the decade after 2000 would feel a similar sense of surprise.

“There was little to suggest that Mr Museveni had any ambitions beyond restoring security, establishing the rule of law, and breathing life into the economy. He openly mocked African leaders who flew to the United Nations in their private jets while their subjects walked around barefoot in stark poverty.

He chided previous regimes for importing expensive furniture and whiskies from European capitals and promised to buy his cutlery and furnish State House with cheap, locally-available goods. Having organised Resistance Councils in liberated areas, the left-wing revolutionary leader spoke of taking power and giving it back to the people to be exercised in a democratic fashion.

However, two decades later, President Museveni is still in power and planning to seek re-election in 2011 which would stretch his reign to 30 years. The revolutionary who argued, in ‘What is Africa’s Problem’, that one of the biggest challenges facing the continent was leaders who over-stayed in office, had the Constitution changed in 2005 to allow him stand for another term in office.

Many observers are now united in the reality that President Museveni has no intentions of handing over power on a silver platter, at least not in the near future. “He is a political survivor; he knows how to survive and is so determined such that if there is anything in his way he must get rid of it,” says Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University. “His ultimate goal has always been power and how to maintain it.”

Read on…

Latest Update on Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda

Before the holidays, I posted about the anti-gay bill that a Ugandan MP had introduced, and the American evangelical connections.  I was thrilled to get so many comments on the post, and to facilitate such a thoughtful discussion from people living in Uganda and the U.S. This bill was clearly huge — I saw the story (not always accurately!) everywhere, from the Guardian to the BBC, New York Times, various Ugandan publications, the Rachel Maddow Show, and many others.  I wanted to give you all the latest update on the bill, which proposed the death penalty for gay people living with HIV (a.k.a. “Aggravated homosexuality” ) and life in jail for gay people who are not HIV positive.  It looks like these parts of the bills may be scrapped, but we won’t know until Parliament begins debating the bill.

Gay activists demonstrating in Uganda. Uganda's anti-gay bill includes the death penalty for gay people living with HIV.

The international community. The reaction to this bill has been huge.  The international community has a lot of weight in Uganda– about a third of Uganda’s budget is donor-financed (European Union, individual European countries like Sweden, etc.) , and many Ugandans depend on the U.S. government for antiretroviral drugs through PEPFAR.  Museveni went to this year’s CHOGM and was criticized by Commonwealth leaders, a big deal if you remember all the money and time spent on promoting Uganda’s image at CHOGM in 2007, when the summit was held in Kampala.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the U.N.’s top human rights official, and some prominent American senators coordinating support of the Ugandan military in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army condemned Uganda.

Reaction to the bill within Uganda. Most Ugandans didn’t seem to realize that homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, and thought the bill would forbid the practice.  Some thought the bill was meant to protect children from pedophiles.  Very few seemed to realize the bill would execute gay people with HIV.  When the Swedish government said it would no longer finance Uganda’s budget if they began executing gay people living with HIV, most Ugandans thought the Swedes said they would withdraw support to Uganda if Ugandans did not support homosexuality.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the Western world were forcing Ugandans to be gay or support gay people, blackmailing them with foreign aid.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the western world was imposing a gay lifestyle on them, then threatening to withdraw support for the neediest Ugandans if they didn’t comply.  Pastor Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist in Uganda who runs the Makerere Community Church, is planning a million-man march in Kampala to support the bill.  President Museveni has tried to assure donors quietly that the bill will not pass, but top Ugandan officials said Uganda can live without the foreign aid.  One American senator wanted to threaten Uganda’s AGOA trade status, a special status for Ugandan goods in the U.S that is supposed to make trader easier.

Pastor Ssempa said people attending the march could take a photo and send it as a postcard to Barack Obama.  He described the Western world as failed states for supporting homosexuality.  A few Ugandans have spoken out against the bill, such as prominent lawyer and academic Sylvia Tamale, who is writing a book on how homosexuality is conceptualized in African countries (Uganda? East Africa? other African countries as well? I’m not sure).  A muslim cleric called for special squads to hunt down gay people in Ugnda, adding his hateful voice to the mix.

And for the American evangelicals?

In the U.S., the American evangelicals who helped MP David Bahati draft the bill faced a considerable backlash, and were criticized for importing an American cultural war into East Africa.  Evangelicals like Scott Lively said they didn’t realize what was in the bill being drafted, and were just trying to protect Ugandan families.

Personally, I’m a bit exhausted of the story.  I hope the bill doesn’t pass, and wish Uganda was in the news for something other than anti-gay legislation.  The 2011 elections are next year, and I am concerned about the potential human rights abuse that could explode.  The underlying fear of course is that there could be violence a la Kenya, but Uganda has always been less ethnically divided in Kenya, despite the September riots (the Buganda kingdom’s clash with the central government).

There was a disturbing incident where opposition candidate Olara Otunnu’s car was run off the road by the presidential guard brigade, which has barely been covered in the local press, and not covered in the international press.  Hillary Clinton has said she will observe Uganda in the 2011 elections.  The opposition has largely united and plans to field a common candidate.  You can follow election coverage through Africa Connections here, which is updated daily with the latest bit of news about the elections.  50 female Ugandan political activists were arrested yesterday, for a demonstration calling for the Electoral Commission boss to step down.  You can read more about that here, on the Voice of America website.  The Daily Monitor and New Vision have also covered the story.

The First Decade: From Long Island to Kampala to Brooklyn

At the Source of the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda, where some of Gandhi's ashes are scattered.

Hey all, whether you are in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Uganda, or Kenya, I really wish you a blessed new year in 2010!

This year was one of the most challenging of my life– but also the most rewarding.  Many times I felt as if I had slammed my head
or fell over my feet (both metaphorically and in the real sense!), and other times I prayed for a crystal ball that would let me go back in time.
Do things differently.

I can’t say this enough- Hindsight is 20/20.  Hindsight is 20/20.  But mistakes offer the most powerful lessons of all.  In many ways, I entered 2010 with
a gigantic blindfold over my eyes, and had to let reality be my teacher.  I realized I was scrappier than I ever imagined, but simultaneously blessed
in more ways than I could fathom.

I enjoyed writing at New Vision this year.

2009 was a year of writing for Women’s eNews, Saturday/New Vision, and the New York Post.  It was a year I began in Jackson Heights, Queens, shifted to Brooklyn, moved to Kampala, returned for respite in Long Island, and relocated back to Brooklyn.  It was my first year that I was not in school.  Where my interview subjects ranged from the president of the Kampala ghetto (with a cabinet, no less!) to Felix Kulayigye, Manhattan garage owners, NYPD officers, bicyclists, colon cleansing patients near the Old Taxi Park (I kid you not), and a woman who survived living with HIV, a white blood cell count of 0, poverty, and cancer– but now weighs 80 kilograms, runs a support group for discordant couples at Mulago Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unite, and has reunited with her husband.  Her name is Zam.

It was a year of launching the Ugandans Abroad website and social networking site, and making our first e-commerce store at our Africa Connections ebay website.  I used all sorts of proxy sites to access Facebook at New Vision, tweeted quite a bit, started this blog, and temped at Iconix.

I got horrific food poisoning at Shell Club, was cheated dramatically Abii Clinic in Wandegaya, and attacked by bugs in New York’s Central and Highbridge Park.  When I would cough in Uganda, people feared I had swine flu.  I began paying back my students loans in June.  I skyped a bit, but mainly used gmail chat
as my favorite form of communication.

My father gave me a red Blackberry Curve for Christmas, allowing me to file from the field.  It was definitely an upgrade from my kiboko phone.  Or is it a
kikumi phone? I can’t remember.

To go further back… I spent New Year’s 1998/9, ten years ago, in Sayville.  I was 13 years old, and went to an awful laser show with my then step-brothers.
I was in eight grade (S2 for my Ugandan readers!), and had glasses, stringy brown hair, and pants that were too short for my rapidly growing legs.  My favorite past times were chatting on AOL instant messenger, drinking Mountain Dew, playing Mario Kart and Sim City 2, as well as Grand Theft Auto.

In 2000, I moved back to Oyster Bay, where I enjoyed history lessons, diatribes about Hillary Clinton (haha well maybe not that part! My family and I are lifelong Democrats), and learning about ancient Greece & Rome from Mr. Levorchick.  During a world history moment on Africa (an afternoon’s worth of coverage in 4 years of high school), I nearly blew off the assignment, disinterested in ancient Mali.  I lived in Karen Court, and did spring track with Grace and Stephanie.  I was awful at the 200 meter, but at least I got in pretty good shape.  I took my first and only photography class with Mrs. Crowley, who was terrified of peanut butter but loved my photos and writing.  The key quote from her is- “Has anyone seen a lens cap?” It was when Mrs. DiMaggio was Mrs. Scudieri, and I tried to get through Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

My city of ruin...

In 2001, there was 9-11.  My biology teacher, Mr. Billelo (spelling?) told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and we turned on the radio.  I figured it was an awful accident, then saw my best friend Stephanie in the hall.  I told her, and she gave me a startled look.  Mr. Rose, our history teacher,

told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, and the White House was on fire, the Pentagon attacked.  We thought he was kidding.  Mark Mitchell burst into stunned laughter.  Classmates began calling their parents who worked in the New York City.  I came home to my teary father, who hugged me and paced around the living room, devastated.  We went with a friend of his he had been seeing to a temple the next day to grieve.  On September 12th, there was a terrible smell of decay.  Only a week before, my friends and I had attended a boat tour of the NYC skyline for my friend Lisa’s sweet 16– the last time we would ever see the city whole.  I was writing for my high school newspaper, and we debated what to put in the next issue.  What should be our focus? Our teachers refused to turn on the televisions to keep calm, but students went to computer labs that week to download images of the crumbled towers.

In 2002, I took the PSAT, AP exams, and had my first boyfriend (no comment, but tragically, he loved anime, a type of Japanese animation).  He fetishized East Asian women (I hate the idea of racial/ethnic fetishes- shudder!), and dumped me for a Korean girl, hoping she would be “submissive.”  Glad that relationship didn’t survive! I looked him up on facebook, and found him overweight with long, greasy brown hair to his waist, working in IT.

Joshing Around in College

In 2003, I proudly served as my school newspaper’s features editor, and applied to colleges, a mess of anxiety.  I was accepted early decision into Sarah Lawrence, and felt more dread than excitement about university life.  In 2004, I finished up my freshman year in a difficult semester, full of drama and disappointment.  I joined facebook– back when just a few universities could participate! That summer, I interned at the Anti-Violence Project, and was fired from IHOP for being a shitty waitress.  I handed out copies of my poetry chapbook to my office coworkers.

In 2005, I took economics, history, and had a difficult summer at home.  The following year, in 2006, I spent the summer interning at the U.N.  I lived in the Columbia dorms (hey- where Barack Obama went to college! yay), and hung out with my friends who lived nearby in International house.  In 2007, I traveled to Uganda and Rwanda for the first time for a study abroad program with Makerere University, living with Ugandan host families in Kampala (Kanyanya) and Busia.  My life has never been the same since then.

Studying Abroad in Uganda, 2007...

That fall, I began my master’s in journalism.  While I had been in Uganda, I debated whether to go into international relations, development studies or journalism after getting accepted into three different master’s programs.  My heart was in journalism, so for better or worse (I didn’t realize the extent of problems in the industry), I began my new, exciting life at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism– community board meetings in Queens, living at International House with Adeola, Nadia, and other amazing friends, and (not) doing ballroom dancing or salsa (I have two left feet, to put it mildly!).

24 and with a master's degree in journalism! Graduation- Me, Jeff Jarvis.

Through CUNY, I got a grant from the Knight Foundation to intern at New Vision, and ended up going back to the English daily to work after graduation.  I also got a grant from CUNY to start my Ugandans Abroad website and Africa Connections company, which launched at the end of November.

I have no idea what the next decade will bring.  Journalism? Marriage? East Africa? New York? Someplace entirely new? Children?

God, I am staying tuned… please love and protect me in these years ahead.
Surround me in your love, and help me to grow as a person, writer, journalist, daughter and friend.

Love,

Becky

Where I will be for my 25th birthday?

Happy Thanksgiving

The olden days, a.k.a. last summer in Kla

Hey everyone, how are you doing? Well, the site I am doing with Emmanuel is almost ready to go up, though our hosting site is being a bit difficult. Thanks for all your encouragement and support as we transition to our new web presence. This project was definitely a labor of love… and it will be live next Monday at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.

There has been all sorts of interesting/disturbing/fascinating stuff going on in Uganda and her neighbors…

-The U.N. released a damning report to some media houses (still haven’t been able to access the real thing) that said two Rwandan rebel groups, including the FDLR (composed largely of the former Interahamwe, which commited the Rwandan genocide), were recruiting in two refugees camps in Uganda– one of which I even visited in 2007, Nakivale, when I was with SIT. It also said that Uganda and Burundi were smuggling $1.2 billion in gold out of the DR Congo, purchasing gold from FDLR-controlled mines, and reselling it in the United Arab Emirates.
As a reporter, as sick it is, my first impulse was– whoa, what a story! I could imagine eight or nine follow-up stories coming from this report, and stories that would come from the follow-up story. Immediately, I began imagining commodity chains (it’s the Joshua Muldavin in me!). And this report had one hell of a commodity chain, from Spanish NGOs giving funds to the FDLR to recruiting in the camps that are repatriating their Rwandan refugees as we speak (I got to cover this for Women’s eNews!).  If you somehow can find a copy of this report, please let me know– I am dying to see it, and I don’t get why the UN leaked it so many press organizations, then didn’t share it with the public.

In eastern Congo, the mineral trade fuels and funds war-- at the expense of millions of people.

Other things that I have been paying attention to…

-If you want a good story, there’s always the General James Kazini murder saga (and see, this actually is a nice segway from the UN report, since Kazini spent a great deal of time looting minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo).  This famous general, who has led troops against all sorts of insurgencies in the Great Lakes region, was allegedly bludgeoned to death by his lover in Namuwongo, in one of the strangest stories I’ve heard in awhile.  Andrew Mwenda had a great take on it. Whether Lydia Draru, his 28-year-old lover, really killed this top general, I have no idea…

Continue reading

A New Life in an Old Place… Home

It’s funny, but all Ugandans seem to have this one phrase memorized. “East or West, home is best.” At so many different times, Ugandans from all walks of life have told me that.  In fact, my Ugandan mom tellls me that all the time.  I never knew what to make of that– was it a not-so-subtle hint for me to go home? Or, were they just right? Is home really the best? Americans always say “you can never go home again.” But that may not be accurate…

Thousands of miles away from Kampala, I’m in Brooklyn, an hour’s drive from my childhood home.  I’d still have to hop on a plane to visit my birthplace, but I grew up in New York.  So who is right– Ugandans? Or can you never go home again?

Well, my Ugandan friends and family weren’t kidding.  You can go home again, and it’s fantastic.  Uganda is my home in reverse, and where much of my heart lies, but there is no place that seems to fit me as well as New York.  The first few weeks I was here, I would just look around and burst into tears. Not because I was sad, but because I felt ecstatic.

All those small things that I missed while I was away are here… seeing my parents on the weekend (a train ride away on the LIRR), buying coffee at bodegas, my editors at Women’s eNews (I just feel good stepping into their office! What a fantastic place!), and of course, the subway! After being jostled and smacked around Kampala in the city’s taxis (their word for buses, or public transport), the MTA seems almost delightful.  And of course– the Gray Lady on my doorstep! Nothing like reading the newspaper on the train to feel like home.

The best part is that the next time I am in East Africa, I’ll feel just as good! I’ll trade in my cereal for rolex, a cup of wine for a tot of banana gin, and the NYT for some of my favorite Ugandan reporters.  Whether I am heading home or to Uganda, I feel like I am going home either way.  No matter the direction, I feel so safe and loved.  Blessed, in every sense.

And it all feels very Wizard & Oz to me.  “Now Dorothy, you knew how to get home, all along…” My life is intertwined with Uganda, my other home.  But for this moment in time, I am clicking my heels three times…

Royalty Free
The City of My Dreams: Home
vincent and becky
Vincent Kasozi and me, in my last day at New Vision

Life in New York  has been full of all sorts of pleasant surprises and moments.  I am doing a bunch of interesting things… first, I’ve been working on a website for the Ugandan diaspora (we go live on Nov. 30!) with the support of CUNY and the Ugandan Association of New York (UGAANY), and my fantastic business partner, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel and I have started a web company called Africa Connections, which finances independent journalism in our readers’ home countries through diaspora services.  We are starting off with Uganda as a model group for our project, which makes sense, given our backgrounds.  I’ve been to Uganda four times, most recently writing for New Vision, but for a variety of adventures/endeavors over the years, such as a four-month study abroad program in college, where I lived with an urban and rural host family in Kampala and Busia (an agricultural town on the Ugandan/Kenyan border).

Emmanuel is a Ugandan who seems to have lived my life in reverse.  He grew up in Busia, which is how we connected– I wrote a travel piece for New Vision about my time spent in eastern Uganda, and he was able to find my e-mail through this blog.  For college, he moved to Kampala, and studied at the same university where I did for study abroad.  (FYI: I was reading the Ugandan news today, and apparently Makerere University, one of the best on the African continent, can’t pay their light bill!)He did the social sciences (I did too, with a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence, and a concentration in Africana studies), then moved to NYC for a CUNY program, and lived at -yes- Ihouse!!

ihouse
Valentine’s Day at Ihouse: Min, Jackie and me

I also stayed at International House (its full name), a fantastic grad dorm where a thousand students from 100 different countries (Really!) live together for up to three years.  (I did one year there, at their historic building in Morningside Heights, for fall 2007-spring 2008.)  He went back to Uganda, then came back to study web design at John Hopkin’s University, and is now doing an MBA at the University of Maryland.

We became friends when I was in Uganda through one of my potent addictions: gmail! (Coffee and gmail run my life.  Or do I run them? It’s a toss-up.) While I battled homesickness and work stress (writing for a Ugandan daily was like boot camp, except for the fact that staff served us ginger tea every 2-3 hours), Emmanuel would encourage me, laugh at the way Ugandan sub-editors would ‘Ugandanize’ my copy and writing style, and generally cheer me on.  We met up in Baltimore where he lives, and decided to go into business together.

So, look out for our website on Nov. 30. ! It will go live at http://www.ugandansabroad.org.  Ugandans Abroad (the parent companyis AfricaConnections) will feature a ton of content (most written by me!), bloggers, video, loads of thoughtful news aggregation so you can get your latest Ugandafix, and helpful diaspora services.  These include a store to get Ugandan products, a wire transfer service cheaper than Western Union and Money Gram to send cash to Kampala, and a delivery service to sends gifts to relatives in Uganda using pay pal.

You can follow us on twitter and facebook, and this will help me stay in touch with you (the audience that lifted me up when I was abroad).  Friend UgandansAbroad, or check out some of our twitter feeds at: BugandaKingdom (latest tweets about Buganda), HealthyUganda (latest health news, such as the recent plague threat in Nebbi, and a cancer that interacts with malaria, killing Ugandan kids), and UgandaBusiness.

Suggestions and ideas? Let me know.  E-mail me at rebecca.jane.harshbarger@gmail.com.

Riots After Kabaka Blocked from Visiting Kayunga

bata

Hi everybody.  This is your favorite munnamawulire (journalist), checking in with you from Uganda.   Yesterday and today have been pure chaos in Kampala.  Yesterday and today, riots killed as many as ten people, including a teenage boy, and the city was a mess of tear gas and bullets as the Ugandan military and police tried to quell the rioters

New Vision

New Vision

Yesterday’s riots began after an advance team for the Kabaka, the king of the Buganda kingdom, was blocked from entering Kayunga district.  The Ugandan government feared the visit would incite violence because the Banyala say they have seceded from the Buganda kingdom, and see the Kabaka’s visit as an affront.  President Museveni said the Kabaka cannot visit Kayunga unless Mengo officials, Banyala leaders opposing the visit, and the Internal Affairs minister meet.

The riots eventually spread to seven Kampala suburbs, with mobs angry that the Kabaka was blocked from visiting Kayunga, which is an area in central Uganda.  Five radio stations, including CBS, have been taken off the air/suspended for allegedly inciting violence.  You know my thoughts about CBS after they began inciting violence against the NV company & its reporters after our controversial Bulange story

I write features stories for Saturday Vision so I wasn’t affected, just working on some health and business stories, but the news desk and photo team were on the front lines, making our paper proud with their bravery and teamwork.  One of my friends taking photographs showed me two bullets he picked up lying on the ground.  I’ve been safe and sound, though, as a features reporter, and will probably spend the weekend most indoors, since public transport in the main part of town is blocked off, as are many of the streets.

I’ve been relying on facebook to get news updates from my friends scattered all over Kampala, posting the latest thing they’ve seen or heard on their facebook status pages.

According to New Vision, 64 people are currently being held by the police for taking part in the riots.  Also, some rioters have begun attacking Indian merchants, using it as an opportunity to loot their stores.

The President of the Ugandan Ghetto

Bobi Wine, one of Uganda's top artists, self-proclaimed president of the Ghetto

Bobi Wine, one of Uganda's top artists, self-proclaimed president of the Ghetto

 

Interviewing the president of the ghetto is no easy task.  Although I arrived at Bobi Wine’s office around 11 am, I didn’t leave until 5 pm.  When I finished, I was so worn out I needed 2 cups of coffee to get back to office.  I had little expectations of the man before I went to see him—though he said he was a man of the people, I had an open mind.  His actions would show me, rather than his words.  I came by boda to his office, which were a few rooms in an incomplete, under-construction building in Bukoto. Waiting for him, surrounded by dusty buildings, people living on what looked like less than a dollar a day, I saw a shiny black Ford Mustang drive up very quickly.  Inside, was the president of the Ghetto.  

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

Wine wore a large black studded cowboy hat, a black shirt with a white one underneath, black pants, a huge belt with a silver star, and large silver rings.  He wore a huge metallic ring that looked like a small boulder on his pinky finger.  His hair was dreaded, and there was a large black chain that hung from his belt, dangling off his hips.  I didn’t know that I would have to wait for an interview from him for almost 90 minutes.  I was led with another reporter from Sunday Vision, Moses Opobo, to plastic black chairs outside his studio to watch Pink and Mariah Carey videos.  Bobi Wine chatted with a reporter from the Red Pepper for over an hour, and then two men from his village in Mpigi came with a proposal to ask him for money.  Young kids, who looked like they belonged in primary school, walked around his office in metallic hip-hop gear.

The problem with getting an interview with Bobi Wine is that his mind can drift within ten seconds—one minute he might be reliving a moment from his time in exile as a child in Tanzania, the next minute he is thinking about ghetto youth who use ganja.  Eventually, Opobo just wandered into his office, and Wine remembered that we were there.  Come on in, he said.

Bobi Wine’s favorite president Wine’s office was tiny and plain, but decorated with some mementos.  On his black desk was a snow globe of Dubai, a small flag of the Buganda kingdom, and the Ugandan flag.  A huge painting of him, his son Solomon Kampala, and his wife Barbie hung on the wall, with a medium photograph of Ida Amin tucked inside, though he had no photo of President Museveni.  Stickers for the Ghetto Republic decorated his door and refrigerator. The interview was not easy. 

Wine has a warm, easy repertoire with Opobo, but with me, he seemed uneasy and skeptical of my motives.  We started off the interview with the basics- what was he up to? Wine said he was working on an album for next year, and trying to sensitize the police about treating youth who use ganja with respect.  “I support the use of ganja, but not the abuse,” said Wine seriously.  “I want to work on the relationship between the police and the community, and the criminalization of youth who use ganja.”  Wine said he was starting a foundation for ghetto youth, and working with Barbie on her campaign to promote healthy minds.        

We then began to talk about Wine’s upbringing.  “I have forty-three brothers and sisters,” he said.  “My father was the richest man in his county, and he had seven wives.”  Frowning, Wine then told me that his father was still producing at 69, and had a child that was younger than Wine’s kids.  I asked Wine if he planned to have more than three kids.  He looked at me in shock.  “I am a strong. African.  Man,” he said emphatically, pausing between words.  “If I still have wealth, of course I will have more children.”Wine told me that although his father was a very wealthy man, he lost everything when Obote 2 took over.  Under Amin, his dad prospered, but lost everything when the regimes switched. 

Bobi Wine's favorite president

“Do you know Idi Amin?” he asked, raising his hand to the photo of Amin he displayed in his office.  “She’s heard of him, she knows of him,” Opobo told him. “Idi Amin was the greatest president Uganda ever had,” he said, gesturing towards the photograph.  Wine said that his family went into exile in Tanzania before he was born, and kept returning to Uganda, then going back.  His mom raised him in Kamwokya, and he told me that he was still traumatized by the scars of his experiences there.

“I don’t hate poverty,” Wine said, as if the word hate was not strong enough.  “I.  Fear.  It.”  The words seemed to tremble in his mouth.  We then spoke about Wine’s death.  According to our Kamwokya leader, he died at the age of eleven years.  “I was reading Milton Obote’s writing, and he said it’s good to die a bit,” he said softly.  “So you live longer.  There was a time…when I never existed.  I died—in poverty.  I didn’t have slippers, breakfast or lunch.  I had no hope.” 

He told me that most kids in schools who are bright are the one with the best backgrounds—the children of prominent doctors or lawyers.  “I was the brightest kid in my school,” he said.  “God gave me brains.”  The bright kids stuck together, but Wine felt so much pain.  He had to stay around school late in the hopes of getting free food, while his friends “moved around in cars.”  Speaking about it, Wine shuddered, as if feeling that feeling of death again.

“It is better to be dead than to be poor,” said Wine emphatically.  “A dead man doesn’t have to beg.  A dead man can’t feel hunger.”  He told me then not only did he die in poverty, but he was resurrected in poverty, when he began to work to feed his sisters and family.  “I began to rise up through singing,” he said. 

We talked about his relationship with Bebe Cool and Chameleon.  Wine said he would have never built him and Barbie a mansion if it wasn’t for Chameleon’s teasing and boasting.  “You see, if I began teasing that small man, Chameleon, for his size, do you know what he would he do?” he said.  “He would begin eating a lot of food! Well, Chameleon kept teasing me about where I lived, so I had to build a huge mansion for me and Barbie.  Now I don’t know what to do with it.  Me, I’m comfortable with cheap things.  The food I like is cheap.  The cars I own? They are for Barbie, so that she, this daughter of a rich man, can have this image that she is married to a superstar.”

The interview was intense.  At times, Wine would get up and move around.  His face was filled with emotion.  Sometimes it would crumble in agony, and then he would begin laughing like a boy.  When he smiled, his grin seemed to take up half his face.  But mostly, his mood was dark.  His phone rang constantly; he took over twenty calls during the interview.  He offered me lunch, and a waitress came to the office to take our orders.  I tried to order chicken and posho, but the waitress then refused to take our orders and left his offices angrily.  Apparently, Wine had racked up a large bill at her small restaurant that they didn’t want to serve him and his crew anymore, before they cleared it.  He didn’t want to give her cash, so the waitress stormed off. 

My stomach growling, I went to use the bathroom before I ventured to Bukoto on a food expedition.  There was a pool of urine on the floor, and the bathroom had a bad scent. I chatted for a bit with Wine before leaving, but it was clear his mood was terrible.  He invited me to the beach the next day, but everything I said seemed foul to him, judging by his expression. 

“Have you met Barack Obama?” he asked me, and I shook my head.  “What about Arnold Schwarzenegger?” “No,” I said.  “I haven’t met the governor of California.  America has 300 million people.” 

Shocked, his eyebrows furrowing, Wine asked me if I had ever seen Chris Rock.  “No,” I said.  “I could probably pay a $50 entrance fee and go to one of his shows, but I’d rather just download them onto my laptop, and watch from there.”

“You live in America,” Wine said, as if I was a four-year-old child.  “And you’ve never met Obama, Schwarzenegger, or Chris Rock?” Annoyed that Wine seemed to think the U.S. was a place where you could walk your dog and stumble upon Will Smith (there are eight million people who live in New York City alone), I changed the subject and asked him when he would visit me there, since I was heading back to New York soon.

“I go to New York all the time,” he said.  “I like being anonymous.  In Uganda, everyone knows who I am, but no one in New York, except the Ugandans there, who make too big a deal out of me.”

“Do you visit the parks or museums?” I asked.  “See our culture?”

“No,” he said snarkily.  “I like to shop there.  When I want to go shopping, I fly to New York.”  He then asked me how long I had been with New Vision, and in Uganda.  I told him I originally came to Uganda in 2007 as a student, and he cut me off with disgust.

“So you’re here illegally?” he asked me snottily, and then looked away.

Feeling irritated, I went to get some lunch next to his office with the reporter, relying on our own cash, and then said goodbye to the ghetto president.  His mood seemed warmer, and I could hear him laughing as he watched music videos on TV.  He invited me to his beach, One Love, the following day, and I caught a taxi back to town.  Although I had grown to adore Wine’s music, which seemed to capture the literal heart of Kampala, the man himself seemed emotional and troubled.