On Thursday last week, Ugandan police arrested the last members of National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine’s campaign team.
The 17 remaining members who had escaped were arrested at Kakoli Village in Budaka District, handcuffed and taken to Mbale Central Police Station.
A week earlier, police had waylaid and arrested 126 of Wine’s supporters in the islands of Kalangala District.
When they appeared in court after five days of detention, dozens of them appeared to be limping as they hopped out of the prison truck at Masaka Magistrate’s Court. They later displayed wounds on various parts of their bodies before the court as they pleaded for mercy, saying they had been tortured.
This has been one of the most remarkable changes on Wine’s campaign trail as he entered into the last lap of canvassing votes. After the arrest on Thursday, his head hung in the air in solitude as he went to campaign in Namayingo District.
When he set out for his campaigns on November 10, Wine had a caravan of more than 40 vehicles that moved ahead and behind him, forming long queues on both lanes of the roads they passed. Most times, they made the roads a one way.
As of Thursday, Wine also did not have any of his private guards, whom he always referred to as bouncers. Most of them have been arrested, knocked down by cars without registration plates believed to be used by security operatives, while some have been killed in unexplained circumstances.
Wine insists these have been state-managed incidents to let him remain alone on the trail, slow him down and weaken him further.
“Hundreds of my campaign team members have been arrested by the regime because they think when they take them away, we shall not get the support from people in those places we go to. The bad news to them is that the prisons are full, they can arrest 70,000 — the capacity of prisons in Uganda — but we shall remain more than 18 million voters out,” Wine said in an interview with Daily Monitor.
The musician-turned-politician has remained alone on the trail, save for Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, as it could be witnessed on Thursday evening.
During one of his online press conferences, Wine announced plans to petition the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged abuses by security forces.
Last year in November, even though he said the ICC had acknowledged receipt of their petition to try President Museveni on abuses against humanity in Uganda, four-time presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, called upon people who had more evidence that pins government officials to take it to their offices on Katonga Road in Kampala or to their regional or district commissioners.
NUP party Secretary-General David Lewis Rubongoya says the continued torture and arrest of their team members has affected their rhythm of canvassing votes across the country and that the international justice bodies have been informed about what is happening in the country.
“What happened yesterday [Thursday] shows that the country doesn’t care about anything happening to the people. These numerous torture cases cannot go unpunished because the international society is watching. We shall not cover up for what they are doing, they will always expose this regime because they expose themselves,” Rubongoya told Daily Monitor in an interview on Friday.
However, these incidents, according to sources within NUP, have demoralised most of the members, including Wine, who is believed to be shaken because of the absence of some of the people whom he takes as big stakeholders in his decision-making.
“The people who were arrested are key people in mobilisation but not the key people moving this campaign. If the principal is not seeing Nubian Li (fellow artiste Ali Bukeni), Dan Magic (Daniel Oyerwot – his music producer) and Eddie Mutwe (Edward Ssebufu, top private guard), he will not be fine. You can just see that his morale is low and that is what the State has always wanted to see in him,” a source told Daily Monitor.
Sources in NUP party also intimated that the killings that have persisted have scared many supporters, who would have loved to get closer to Wine, for fear that they are being targeted and could be killed any time.
“These arrests wouldn’t have been a problem because after sometime, you can come out, but the killing of supporters by the State has scared many supporters. We think they will be killed so they are trying to avoid that because most of their cars and properties are being impounded as well,” the source said on Friday.
More than seven vehicles which have been on Wine campaign trail have since been impounded and taken to various police stations across Uganda. They include a press car that had been transporting a group of journalists, especially those who have been working with Ghetto TV.
Mr Aloysius Mukasa, the NUP party parliamentary candidate for Rubaga South, who has been providing transport to most of the campaign team members, says his three cars are still under police custody after they were impounded.
“I am now concentrating on the constituency because we have to win the presidency and Parliament too. I had a drone and a number of ambulances on the trail but we will see how we can get those [in] police custody after this whole campaign,” Mr Mukasa says.
Sources also indicated that the party is looking at the situation of those who have been arrested and produced in court, mostly because they have to bail them out, something Mr Mukasa says requires a lot of money.
Mr Benjamin Katana, a NUP lawyer, says the party spends more than USh15 million every week on bail and that this has put them in a difficult financial situation.
“Many people come to our rescue but I know the State is trying to impoverish us and slow us down but we came to this knowing that all things would happen. So we are more prepared every day,” Mr Katana said.
NUP party Spokesman Joel Ssenyonyi says although their expenditure has gone up towards the end of the campaign period, the party is working around finishing the race strong.