Venice Film Festival: Review of “Bobi Wine: Ghetto President” by Christopher Sharp and Moses Boayo (out of competition)

Venice Film Festival: Review of “Bobi Wine: Ghetto President” by Christopher Sharp and Moses Boayo (out of competition)

This documentary focuses on the political life of Ugandan musician known as Bobi Wine, who decided to contest the elections against the president of that country who has been ruling the country since 1986.

Since 1986, Uganda has had the same “democratic” president who won his country’s elections over and over again, although this involves fraud of all kinds, persecution and political assassinations, as well as amending the constitution to his liking. Yoweri Museveni does not seem ready to lose, and given the slightest possibility of a strong electoral contender, he will do everything in his power to stop him, let’s say, “legally”. Or at least within its very broad concept of what is legal.

But Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) is not a traditional contender. Thirty of the poorest neighborhoods of Kampala, the capital of the African nation, has become a local pop star thanks to its increasingly politicized mix of ballroom, reggae and hip-hop. His fame as a musician gives him – like many celebrity-turned political candidates – a different starting point when it comes to confronting Museveni, turning him into a sponsorship contender. And in this documentary that covers the last eight years of Wayne’s life, focusing more than anything else on the past four years, we see the efforts, problems, scandals, and dangers it brings for Bobby to confront such a powerful figure.

In a country with enormous pockets of poverty – like the ghetto in which Bobby grew up – the musician gradually begins to realize the potential power of his musical fame, simultaneously buoyed by his wife Barbie, a young woman from a wealthier family he met in college. Thus he became a congressman first, then began his campaign to face the president in the 2020 elections, an election that Museveni has not been able to run since the Ugandan constitution that bars those over 75 from running. Well, you can imagine what will happen with these “technical details” …

Changing the constitution would be the first to trick Museveni into staying in power. And those “tricks” will become even more severe, aggressive and violent against Wayne and her team of collaborators, even getting to the election themselves, which took place in the midst of a pandemic in very strange circumstances. The sequence of events that Bobi Wine has been a victim of over the past few years is one that has to be seen to be believed. And this documentary tells them in an effective and direct way, in a press record but that – except for a few moments – avoids the most cliched resources in the format.

While his political ideas are never elaborated upon in the movie (he talks about democracy, freedom, and “power for the people” but there’s nothing more real than that), Wayne uses the iconic 1970s revolutionary front of a president who’s well, almost a cliché of a Third World dictator, with his violent army. His sarcastic smile, his disregard for all kinds of rules and his shocking comments on almost any topic. Far from the fact that the documentary is festive and uncritical with its protagonist, the truth is that in the face of such a despicable subject, wine can seem only a spirited and exemplary young leader capable of rallying young people using the constitution as a flag and some classic and potent slogans.

ghetto president It begins as an almost sympathetic documentary, about a friendly pop star traveling through the country’s slums on a motorbike and speaker, but within a few years (minutes, on film) it becomes a violent international political story, with torture, deaths, assaults, persecution, and political scandals of all kinds that illustrates. Difficulties of changing things in third world countries. This does not only happen in Africa. There may be things more obvious and striking than in other places, but the basic mechanisms are quite similar everywhere.

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