Bobi Wine, the Ugandan opposition lawmaker and pop star, returned home Thursday after seeking medical treatment in the United States for injuries he sustained during what he alleges was torture at the hands of Ugandan troops last month.
Wine was held by the Ugandan military in August after a scuffle at a political rally in the town of Arua. His driver was shot dead. While in custody, Wine said, soldiers beat him repeatedly and injected him with unknown substances.
He was eventually charged with treason but was released on bail and, despite resistance from the government, was cleared to travel abroad to seek medical treatment. He told The Washington Post earlier this month that he left Uganda with a bruised back and damaged kidney, among other injuries.
Wine’s attorneys feared that if he returned, he would be rearrested, injured or killed. Some advisers encouraged him not to go home at all. But Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, insisted he was ready to return to Uganda, where he is accused of treason and will stand trial early next month.
“Uganda is my home,” he said in an interview with The Post. “I will never seek asylum anywhere."
As Wine and his wife were en route back to Uganda, claims circulated on social media that Ugandan police were refusing to allow anyone but his immediate family to greet him at Entebbe International Airport and that his brother was detained en route to meet him there. On Twitter, Wine wrote during his layover in Amsterdam: “Am wondering why these police officers allow themselves to descend so low? They now want to decide who picks me and where I go upon arrival?”
Journalists in Uganda wrote that checkpoints were installed on the road from the capital to the airport, and Wine’s attorney Robert Amsterdam tweeted that Wine was “unlawfully detained by military officers upon his arrival.” The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan news outlet, published video it said showed “security officers … beating people gathered at the roadside” between the airport and the capital.
Ugandan police released a statement saying Wine was simply escorted home. “We urge all people to remain calm,” Ugandan police spokesman Emilian Kayima said in a statement. Kayima also said it was “not absolutely true” that “media personalities” were arrested Thursday.
Mull Ssebujja Katende, Uganda’s ambassador to the United States, told The Post that “the law and order was generally okay.”
“One of the problems we are dealing with is an orchestrated campaign through social media,” he said. “There are many things people are posting, even Photoshopping.”
Throngs of supporters greeted Wine, who is commonly known as “the ghetto president,” at his Kampala home, where he spoke to them as he stood on the roof of a car. But Amsterdam told The Post on Thursday that he still fears for Wine’s safety, because the Ugandan government has “no guiding mind.”
“There is the random behavior of special forces who feel empowered by the president,” Amsterdam said. “There’s not going to be a moment when there isn’t concern.”
Joseph Szlavik, an American who advises the Ugandan government said officials there are concerned that any further harm done to Wine will only widen scrutiny over what had already spiraled into an international news event. He said Uganda is planning to offer him security and will attempt to mitigate any threats against him, fearing that the country could destabilize if Wine’s safety is compromised.
“If he were killed or there’s an assassination attempt or anything to Bobi, you would have turmoil in the streets of Kampala,” said Szlavik.
Katende reiterated that the government is keen to promise Wine’s security. “Of course it is upon the government to keep him safe, because if anything happens to him the situation will be, ‘Oh, the government didn’t provide him with security,’ ” Katende said.
Wine still faces a fight against his treason charge, which his other attorney, Nicholas Opiyo, told The Post earlier this month was fabricated to inconvenience him.
“My desire was and is still to inspire Ugandans, and especially young people, to stand up and rise up to the occasion and liberate their country,” Wine told The Post. “That’s one of the reasons why the regime feels so threatened, because young people are the majority. We account for more than 80 percent of the population, and if you come together the way we come together, it is a threat to the oppressors.”