Across the continent, many of Africa's long-serving presidents have met their match in the form of online protests which test the strength of their ability to retain power.

While countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda have constitutions that technically guarantee rights such as freedom of association, speech, and assembly, these rights are often violated. Today, galvanised by increased connectivity, youthful pan-African online communities are using social media to speak out against this repression and support younger candidates vying for office in countries where leaders have clung to power for decades.

The last few months have seen unprecedented online activism, with trending hashtags such as #FreeBobiWine (Uganda); #FreeJonesAbiri and #FreeSamuelOgundipe (Nigeria) and #FreeDianeRwigara (Rwanda) created by African netizens to create awareness, solidarity and put international pressure on their governments.

Uganda

#FreeBobiWine

In December 2017, 74-year-old Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president for the past 32 years, saw the constitutional amendment for which he’d campaigned strenuously signed into law. The amendment removed the age limit of 75 years for presidential candidates, paving the way for Museveni to extend his rule when his term expires in 2021. Most citizens favoured retention of the clause, and the Democratic Party ran a campaign called ‘Togikwatako’ (‘Hands Off’ in Luganda) to protect it.
During the age-limit debates, the young musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu—widely known as ‘Bobi Wine'—caught Museveni's attention with his growing following, both online and in rallies. Perhaps fearing Bobi Wine's influence, Museveni wrote a public letter on a wide range of governance issues and pushed even harder to remove the age-limit clause. In the aftermath of Togikwatako, the government imposed a social media tax to “stem gossip,” which led to major social protests with Bobi Wine at the forefront.
Bobi Wine has spurred political participation among young Ugandans who connect with his personal story and humble beginnings in the poor suburb of Kamwokya, where he built a music studio and launched a powerful career in the Uganda music scene. He went on to wage a successful parliamentary campaign that beat challengers from both the ruling National Resistance Movement and the opposition in the June 2017 by-election.
On August 13, 2018, Bobi Wine joined independent candidate Kassiano Wadri during a by-election in Arua to support Wadri’s campaign. Violence ensued after a presidential convoy was stoned and the state pointed a finger at Wadri's camp. Several parliamentarians and other people—including some who were nowhere near the scene—were arrested and brutally beaten.
During the fracas, Bobi Wine's driver was shot dead while sitting in a parked car. It was later revealed that Bobi Wine had been the intended target. According to his lawyers, Bobi Wine was tortured and held in a military detention centre. The trumped-up charges were dropped after ten days but Bobi Wine was
Bobi Wine's brutal arrest and detention were met with international condemnation, igniting the trending hashtags #FreeBobiWine, #FreeArua33 in addition to street protests throughout the world, with the largest one held in Nairobi.

Nigeria

#FreeJonesAbiri

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari's government has significantly repressed press freedoms in recent years. Between August 2015 and March 2018, about 17 Nigerian journalists and bloggers have been unlawfully arrested or detained by security forces. Buhari has openly expressed his aversion to a free press and freedom of speech. In a recent address to lawyers, he stated that “the Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.”
A number of hashtags have trended this year in response to the Buhari administration's intimidation journalists and citizens. One of them concerns Jones Abiri, publisher of Weekly Source, who was arrested on July 21, 2016, by state security (DSS) agents at his office in Yenagoa (Bayelsa State).
Derick BAKAH

Derick BAKAH

Bakah Derick is a Broadcast Presenter and Multimedia specialist with focus on sharing with the rest of the world the daily happenings in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. You can contact us on +237 675460750 or debakah2004@gmail.com.

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