KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan activist Bobi Wine has launched a new political party ahead of a presidential election in which he hopes to be the face of a united opposition against the country's long-time leader.
The popular singer and lawmaker, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has led a political pressure group known as People Power, which has captured the imagination of many Ugandans with its calls for President Yoweri Museveni's retirement.
Wine is calling his new party the National Unity Platform, with an umbrella as its emblem. He has been calling for a united opposition against Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security who has led this East African country since taking power by force in 1986. The 75-year-old Museveni is increasingly accused of relying on the armed forces to stay in power.
Wine has been arrested or detained many times, including over a treason charge that he denies. With political rallies now banned, presidential aspirants play cat-and-mouse with security forces seeking to break up anti-government gatherings.
Museveni accuses Wine and other opposition figures of encouraging young people into rioting.
"We have consistently said that we are a non-violent movement and we have no plans of establishing a military wing," Wine said in a statement. "What we are doing today is to launch a political wing of our movement so as to ensure that our mission to use the election as a strategy within the liberation struggle succeeds."
Wine won a seat in the national assembly in 2017 as an independent candidate not backed by any of major party. His popularity grew when he opposed divisive efforts to prolong Museveni's rule.
Museveni is eligible to seek another term next year after lawmakers removed constitutional age limits on the presidency.
This week attorneys for Museveni collected his presidential nomination papers, signaling he wants to run again. Museveni's party insists he remains its most popular member.
But opponents such as Wine, who is 38, say corruption is thriving and accuse Museveni of personalizing power through his firm grip on the military, the most powerful institution in Uganda.
The army has become even more influential amid the coronavirus pandemic as men in military uniform enforce lockdown measures, sometimes with brutal force.
Despite criticism by some that Wine is unprepared for national leadership, he remains popular among impoverished urban dwellers and his supporters urge him to test his popularity across the country.
"If Bobi Wine cannot lead Uganda but he is the politician voters want to lead them, I do not know what anyone can do about this. Abolish democracy? Change the constitution? Jump into Lake Victoria?" said analyst Musaazi Namiti, a columnist writing in the local Daily Monitor newspaper. "Now is the time for Bobi Wine to test his popularity. He should be the candidate."
If Wine is to credibly represent the major parties as the sole opposition candidate, he will need to strike a deal with Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential challenger who has not yet revealed his plans. Besigye and Wine announced what they called an alliance in June, although it remains unclear if one will stand down for the other to run.
Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962.