Police block Bobi Wine from leaving home, arrest about 100 supporters
Uganda’s opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, is being blocked from leaving his home in what police argue is to stop him from mobilising for a march.
Wine, leader of the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party, on Thursday was whisked away from the airport in Entebbe and driven away bypassing the local immigration authorities.
By Friday, he was still blocked in his home, while dozens of his supporters were arrested.
Kampala Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango told The EastAfrican that police were holding dozens of Bobi Wine supporters, arresting more and charging them in courts of law. He said the supporters will be charged with inciting violence and planning to hold an illegal procession from the airport up to Kampala, a busy 43-kilometre route.
Read: Police crackdown rattles Uganda opposition bases
Although Onyango could not confirm whether Bobi Wine was under house arrest or preventive arrest, he says the operations targeted to stop planned ‘One Million march’ the opposition leader supposedly plotted upon return to Uganda. Bobi had flown out last month after police banned his national rallies, accusing him of sectarian speeches.
When he landed at Entebbe on Thursday morning, police pounced on him just as he disembarked from the aircraft, they drove him out to his home, bypassing the normal immigration clearance for all passengers arriving from outside the country.
On Friday, Bobi wrote on X that he was technically not in Uganda.
Security agents have used preventive arrest over the years to block or keep leading opposition politicians from leaving home, sometimes holding them for several days.
On Bobi Wine being forced to skip the immigration desk, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Vianney Luggya said immigration services can be rendered anywhere that is deemed necessary. He said an immigration officer could offer the services anywhere and does not necessarily have to be at the airport, adding that it was not the first time someone was picked from the airport tarmac before the immigration desk.
Immigration spokesperson Simon Mundeyi says security in such a situation takes precedence.
“We had information that his supporters were planning to overwhelm the airport security and meet him at the runway, where it would not be easy to disperse them,” he said, adding that when the situation settles, the immigration department will pick his passport and register him to have returned to the country.
He says many people sometimes are forced to bypass the immigration protocol, especially when they are very sick.
“You first save the life and come back to the procedures,” he said.
Four-time presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye was a victim of such an arrangement for several weeks after the 2016 elections in which he emerged second to President Yoweri Museveni in an election the opposition termed as fraudulent and not meeting the expected standards.
Read: Bobi Wine: Museveni’s fall is ‘coming’
“I cannot tell when we shall stop the operation. That’s up to intelligence. If they tell us the threat has gone, we shall stop the operation,” Onyango said, confirming that between 40 and 100 people were in custody, while more were still being arrested since Thursday.
However, NUP says over 300 of their supporters are in detention.
Charles Matovu, a member of parliament for Busiro South constituency in Central Uganda, is among those who were by Friday afternoon still under detention, as the party’s legal teams tried to secure their release.
According to the police, those arrested were found with megaphone speakers, red berets, and t-shirts with writings “Kunga Uganda” loosely translated as ‘mobilise Uganda’, which security says was meant to rally people for a procession.
Onyango had earlier said Bobi Wine was picked up from the airport and driven straight to his home in Magere, Wakiso District, on the outskirts of Kampala city; to stop a procession that had been anticipated would paralyse travel on the 43-kilometre Kampala- Entebbe route.
“We wish to inform the public that the NUP President Hon Kyagulanyi Robert was successfully escorted by our security team from Entebbe to his home in Magere. He reached his home around 11.20 am, and is with his family and friends,” he said.
The pop star-turned-politician was bundled from the plane to a waiting vehicle at the airport by security operatives who dressed like airport staff.
At home, there was a heavy security presence around his house and in his compound. He says they manhandled his guard and blocked his party members from accessing his home, dispersing many of them using teargas.
Bobi Wine was returning from a tour that took him to several countries including Canada and South Africa.
Read: Bobi Wine in rallies to activate support
“Our president was picked up by regime operatives as soon as he landed at the airport,” David Lewis Rubongoya, the secretary general of NUP, tweeted.
Uganda Police had warned supporters not to line up and form processions to receive him after plans had been announced in what they called a One million match, to receive their leader.
“The organisers of this welcome back event are advised to stop mobilising and the public are also advised not to participate in an illegality. Security agencies will make sure that no one engages in illegal procession and whoever will be arrested will be taken to courts of law,” said Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson, a day before Bobi Wine returned.
“Such a procession has the potential to disrupt the normal flow of traffic, the movement of individuals, and the operations of businesses along the Entebbe–Gayaza highway. It may also attract criminal activities, posing risks to bystanders, motorists, passengers, and businesses through acts of theft or other criminal activities,” he added.
However, his supporters had insisted they would organise the procession despite police warning.
“Welcoming our president is an initiative of the people and as party leaders, we are in total support of the arrangements,” deputy party spokesperson Waiswa Mafumbiro said.
The police had last month banned rallies arranged by the NUP leader after he was accused of making statements that were deemed to have been sectarian as well as threatening the peace and unity of Ugandans. While on one of the tours in Luweero, Central Uganda, Bobi Wine told his listeners at a rally to take note of the injustices and the tribes that are behind them with a view of seeking revenge.
Although Bobi Wine, who contested against President Yoweri Museveni in the 2021 general elections, coming second with 35 percent of the 59 percent Ugandans who voted, had insisted he would go ahead with the rallies and nationwide tours, the first after he lost elections, he quickly flew abroad.