The Museveni Military Monarchy: Is Bebe Cool Uganda's Rasputin?

Bebe Cool
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Bebe Cool. Photo: Twitter.

[View From Uganda]

Does Uganda have a Rasputin problem in the form of musician Bebe Cool? 

The Russian was known as the “mad monk”. Grigori Rasputin (1869–1916) was widely blamed by royalist for the collapse of Tsar Nicholas II’s empire. However this man couldn’t be pigeonholed as a mere crazy. He was something more and had tremendous sway over the Russian imperial family, Nicholas II, and Empress Alexandra.

Rasputin, which means “demented one,” gained access to the Russian imperial family because Nicholas and Alexandra’s youngest child, Alexei, had hemophilia and Rasputin seemed to be able to alleviate his condition. Alexei was heir to the Russian throne and Empress Alexandra believed Rasputin was the only person who could keep their son alive.

“Alexei was the center of this united family, the focus of all its hopes and affections. His sisters worshipped him. He was his parents’ pride and joy. When he was well, the palace was transformed. Everyone and everything in it seemed bathed in sunshine,” said Pierre Gilliard, French tutor to the Romanov children, in his 1921 memoir. 

However Rasputin’s help to the imperial family went beyond alleviating Alexei’s condition, he started meddling in the affairs of state. He thereby made the Romanovs even more unpopular than they already were when harsh economic conditions struck Russia. The emperors had always been targets of anti-monarchists, and his grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, had been assassinated. 

In the end, the Russian Revolution happened and many believe that Lenin and the Bolsheviks might’ve allowed the Tsar to abdicate and leave the country had Rasputin not made their positions untenable. 

At the heart of Rasputin’s control of the family was Nicholas's and Alexandra’s fatal error in allowing their son’s future to take precedence over the better interests of their people.

Here in Uganda, we may have a similar history evolving. Gen. Yoweri Museveni has already declared to Ugandans I’m working for myself…I’m working for my grandchildren, for my children.” His imperial family has developed deep trust in musician Bebe Cool as a counterweight to the ever-growing power of Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine whose presidential campaign has upended the system and signaled the arrival of a change-maker. 

Bebe Cool, one of the top musicians in Uganda, has been roundly condemned for lending his gruff vocals to Museveni’s imperial presidency. In fact, many fans have boycotted his music because they feel he’s sold his soul to Rwakitura’s finest—Rwakitura being the farm estate of Museveni.

Sure, Bebe has a right to freedom regarding of association, as long as who he associates with is not the cause for the limitation of other Ugandans’ freedom of association. Again, Bebe has the right to free expression, as long what he says doesn’t impinge upon the free expression of others. 

On both counts, Bebe Cool fails miserably. 

Bebe has vowed to “crush” Bobi Wine—presumably at the behest of Gen. Museveni—claiming that he is the only person who is fit to the challenge of doing so. Museveni believes Bebe Cool can stop Bobi Wine and the clamor for change. This is much in the same way that Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra thought they could preserve the monarchy by enlisting Rasputin’s help to keep their son alive. 

In Museveni’s mind, if Bebe Cool stops Bobi Wine, then his son Gen. Muhoozi—Uganda’s Alexei—will not have any serious contender to his cakewalk to the throne. He already has been installed as commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC), Uganda’s Praetorian guard. Hence, the state’s massive militarized battle against Bobi Wine, is a succession battle for who replaces Museveni when the inevitable change of guard occurs. 

You can see this unfolding in the way the state has prohibited Bobi Wine’s music shows. He could be permitted as “Bobi Wine” to perform a show—but when he tries to get on stage, he’d be denied and told the permit was for Robert Kyagulanyi, not Bobi Wine. This ridiculous thought process could be the brainchild of Bebe Cool, whispering schemes into Museveni’s ear on how to contain, curtail, and cauterize the Bobi Wine threat. 

Museveni’s reliance on Bebe has turned the latter into a latter day Rasputin, and the results are likely to be the same here as they were in Russia. Bebe, like Rasputin, has zero knowledge of statecraft. 

Moreover, stopping Bobi Wine at this stage is well-nigh impossible. There are some, including in the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who accuse Bobi Wine of being a “Museveni Project.”

For the sake of argument, let’s take the position that they’re right. This would not be the first time a government propped up its mortal opponent. Again, we can look to revolutionary Russia. Robert Service, in his brilliant book on the Russian Revolution writes about how the Russian government under Tsar Nicholas II secretly facilitated Lenin. He thereby inspired Lenin with the lesson, “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.”

The Romanovs, through their secret police the Okhrana, thought Lenin would never ascend to power. Along with that, they believed he could be used as a “splitter,” someone who nobody in the opposition could work with. Therefore, by secretly helping him, they believed they would ultimately destroy the opposition to the Tsarist monarchy. 

They were very wrong.

In January 1917, Tsar Nicholas II seemed firmly in the saddle. He ignored the festering call for change in the country when the signs were everywhere.  At this time, Lenin still lived in exile. By October, the revolution had reversed their roles. Lenin was in power and the former Tsar and his family were imprisoned.  

In the end, Lenin’s Bolsheviks lined up the whole royal family—including the royal dog—against the wall inside a house, and had them shot by soldiers. 

So even if Bobi Wine is being used, he will grow too big for Museveni to contain. The clamor for change in Uganda is far bigger than Bobi Wine, in the same way that the Russian Revolution in Russia was never about Lenin. 

So if Museveni is using Bobi, he is playing a game he may lose badly.

He need only look at Bebe Cool’s own history. He took  Bobi Wine as a rookie entertainer under his wings. He let the fox into the hen-house. There was bones and feathers everywhere, belonging to Bebe Cool.

The columnist can be reached via 

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