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Patronage, Repression, and Co-Optation: Bobi Wine and the Political Economy of Activist Musicians in Uganda

Julian Friesinger
Published: 28 June 2021

Abstract: In recent decades, musicians have figured prominently on Africa’s political stage. Popular Ugandan musician Bobi Wine moved beyond protest singer and ventured into politics by entering parliament in 2017 and challenging long-term President Yoweri Museveni at the presidential polls in 2021. To push for social change, Wine created the People Power movement and built an alliance with fellow musicians. This article studies Wine’s movement and his alliance with musicians by taking a political economy approach. I posit that the political activism of musicians reaches its limits when a sitting government can easily threaten the economic base of its oppositional challengers. Alliances become fragile once the government can demonstrate that challenging a ruling elite has severe consequences for one’s livelihood whereas aligning with the government ensures economic prosperity. The article uses ethnographic data, interviews, and newspaper articles to demonstrate this argument.
Keywords: Uganda / Bobi Wine / activist musicians / co-optation and repression / fragility of alliances / aktivistische Musikerinnen und Musiker / Kooptation und Repression / Fragilität von Allianzen

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