The self-styled ‘Ghetto President’, has been forced to cancel gigs in the UK after being accused of pushing an anti-gay agenda. Will it damage his image, or just make him more popular at home? This is Africa reports
Popular Ugandan artist Bobi Wine has been denied a visa to visit the UK this month after gay rights campaigners accused him of inciting homophobic attacks in his song lyrics, according to local media reports.
Gay rights campaigners voiced objections when Wine’s shows were announced. A change.org petition said: “Ugandan artist Bobi Wine writes songs with blatant homophobic lyrics and calls for gay people to be attacked, or killed… allowing such an artist to appear in public is clearly going to raise tensions”Advertisement
The petition also questioned the use of the lyrics such as: “Burn all the batty man. All Ugandans get behind me and fight the batty man.”
The UK Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 forbids inciting hatred on the ground of sexual orientation. When asked about Wine’s claims, the UK Home Office they said they were unable to comment on individual cases.
Before the visa decision was reported, Wine outlined his position on homosexuality and freedom of speech in the Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor.
“I am personally not out to threaten the life of any individual based on their sexual orientation, I just do not agree with them [homosexuals]”, he said. “This is my opinion and happens to be that of 99 per cent of Ugandans”, he claimed.
“I hope that the proponents of homosexuality who pride themselves in their liberalism and support for human rights, will allow me my right of expression much as they may not be comfortable with my opinion,” he added.
Just a few days later Uganda’s Constitutional court overturned a ruling that would have seen homosexuals face life imprisonment. The judgement was seen as a victory for gay rights activists, though homosexuality remains illegal in the country.
Wine’s opinions on homosexuality have been widely publicised. When he took to Facebook to criticise US President Barack Obama’s stance on gay rights, the post was later removed but not before Ugandan gay rights blogger Seba had a chance to respond, accusing him of disregarding loyal fans who may be gay, or have friends who are gay.
Wine made a name for himself through socially-conscious songs for the people. Raised in the slums of Kamwokya, Kampala, his Twitter bio describes him as “one Ghetto child that has something to say through Music”. On Instagram he goes by the moniker “H.E Ghetto President”.
In 2012 his song Ghetto took on the authorities of Kampala, warning that he wouldn’t stop until they started to address the needs of the people. The song was banned from the radio, but it earned him a loyal following of fans from less privileged walks of life.
He also took aim at city director Jennifer Musisi, through the track Tugambile Ku Jennifer, accusing her policies of being tailored for the upper and middle classes. It was also banned, strengthening his fan base further.
Less than a year later, Musisi endorsed Wine as a Kampala City Carnival celebrity, and commissioned him to produce commercials and jingles for the celebrations. Ugandan gossip website BigEye.ug reported that some of his fans felt let down, accusing Wine of favouring performance fees over the people.
Anti-gay sentiments have gained traction in Uganda, where a tabloid once published photographs of gay people with the headline words “hang them”. Wine’s critics have accused him of populism in pushing this agenda.
To date, his lyrics haven’t quite mirrored his public statements. Those flagged in the Change.org petition come from the a song yet to be released, that he was filmed writing during a Kardashian-style reality TV show of his life, says music analyst Dan Atuhaire. The only other lyrics that come close to inciting homophobia are in a dis-track By Far, where he mocks his rival Bebe Cool for wearing women’s clothes.
Wine has built his image as the champion of the lower classes. He has had numerous commercial endorsements and has acted as a patron for the government and for charities, advocating for everything from drug-safety to environmental protection.
Will his anti-gay agenda damage this image, or make him more popular in Uganda? The jury is still out.
A version of this article first appeared on This is Africa on the guardian .com