Ugandan pop star and opposition politician Bobi Wine performed his first concert since he was charged with treason and jailed, a show of defiance Saturday punctuated by anti-government slogans and barbs aimed at the long-time president he is challenging.
Thousands of Ugandans attended the lakeside event held outside the capital, Kampala, many of them clad in red outfits symbolizing their allegiance to the “People Power” movement led by Wine, a rookie legislator whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
Ssentamu staged the show at his private beach after he was denied permission to hold the concert at the national stadium.
“Blocked three times by the state but on the (fourth) attempt there is a mammoth turnout,” his attorney Nicholas Opiyo said on Twitter.
The opening acts also played music protesting the government before Wine, putting on his trademark red beret, came onstage and electrified the crowd.
With a heavy deployment of security forces near the show venue, Wine thanked the police officers and men wearing military fatigues for their “unusual” services. Then he started singing the songs that made him a celebrity in Uganda long before he became a politician, with a loyal following among young people disenchanted by joblessness and rampant corruption.
“Tell Bosco,” the revelers sang, “that this Uganda belongs to us.”
Bosco is President Yoweri Museveni’s latest nickname, based on a clumsy character in a popular TV ad.
Ssentamu was arrested and charged with treason in August over an incident in which the president’s convoy was pelted with stones in the aftermath of a political rally. After he was released from detention, Ssentamu sought specialist care in the United States for injuries he said he sustained during alleged torture by state agents.
The government vehemently denies Ssentamu was tortured. He has said the criminal charges against him are false and politically motivated. Court proceedings in the case have not started.
Ssentamu won a seat in the national assembly last year as an independent candidate without the backing of a major political party. He now says he is fighting for freedom from oppression and wants Museveni to retire at the end of his fifth term.
He has refused to say if he will run for president in 2021, even as his supporters urge him to do so.
Museveni has accused opposition figures like Ssentamu of trying to lure young people into rioting.
Ssentamu’s arrest sparked riots by demonstrators demanding his release and a violent response by security forces to stop the protests in Kampala. Dozens of musicians from around the world condemned his treatment and the European Union parliament and some U.S. senators have urged Ugandan authorities to respect basic human rights.
Museveni, a key U.S. ally on regional security, took power by force in 1986. Although he has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry those gains are being eroded the longer he remains in office.