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‘Bobi Wine: The People’s President’ Review: A Pop Star Turns Politician


The pop-culture personage turned politician is not so novel a figure as it used to be. But the Ugandan pop singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine, has earned, by way of his courage and resilience, the special consideration this documentary affords him.

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President” opens by laying out the situation in Wine’s East African country: its leader, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, having seized power in 1986 (several years after the military strongman sank the country into civil war), has shown no inclination to give it up. Wine was vocal in his opposition to the regime, but after the 2015 election, when Museveni engineered an amendment to the Constitution rescinding the presidential age limit, the pop singer-turned-politician decided to run for office.

Wine the campaigner is cheerful and stylish. He and his cadre dress all in red. He cuts songs whose lyrics function as policy planks: “To free ghetto people we must educate/but education is expensive.”

By 2017, Wine is an elected member of Parliament and votes against Museveni’s scheme. The autocrat’s vindictive response is relentless, and lasts years. Wine is jailed, emerging sick and limping. He flies to the States in 2018 to seek treatment — he claims his jailers poisoned him — and gain publicity. When he runs for president against Museveni, in 2021, things really ramp up.

The directors Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp seem to have had intimate access to Wine and his family, and this, along with their clear admiration for the crusader, doesn’t always work in the movie’s favor. The documentary’s raw material arguably could have yielded a more powerful fit with a tighter edit. Nevertheless, this is a mostly engaging portrait.

Bobi Wine: The People’s President
Rated PG-13 for violence. In English and Swahili with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. In theaters.


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