Bobi Wine (Screen capture via ABC News YouTube)
The U.K. has lifted a travel ban on Robert Kyagulanyi, a renowned Ugandan rapper known as Bobi Wine who has become the leader of the country’s opposition, over a 2014 song with homophobic lyrics.
Wine confirmed Nov. 5 the British government’s decision after about 10 years of being banned from his controversial anti-gay lyrics perceived to incite homophobic attacks against individuals he referred to as “battymen.”
“I am very glad to inform you that the ban against me from entering the U.K. has finally been overturned, and I will soon be visiting the U.K. after more than 10 years,” he said.
The homophobic lyrics the LGBTQ+ rights groups cited in petitioning the British government to ban him from traveling to the U.K. were: “Fire will burn the batty man. Burn all the batty man. All Ugandans get behind me and fight the batty man.”
LGBTQ+ rights activists in a petition they launched in July 2014 on Change.org demanded the British Home Office “immediately” deny Wine’s entry into the country and cancel his concerts in London and Birmingham.
The petitioners accused Wine of writing “blatant homophobic lyrics (that) call for gay people to be attacked or killed” and cited the U.K.’s 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act that criminalizes the incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation. The activists said that allowing Wine to proceed with his two concerts in August of the same year would “raise tensions” and prove “unacceptable” to the U.K., which “prides itself on tolerance and understanding.”
The petitioners not only wanted Wine banned from performing in the U.K., but also in the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Denmark and other European countries.
Wine at the time was unremorseful and stressed he would not be coerced into backing homosexuality by the cancellation of his performances to support the Ebonies, a Ugandan drama and music group.
“I am a Ugandan and not a Londoner and I’m following the Ugandan constitution,” Wine told a Ugandan media outlet. “I did not make the laws, I follow them.”
He also claimed his strong anti-gay position was a reflection of “99 percent of Ugandans” and mocked so-called proponents of homosexuality for priding themselves in “their liberalism and support for human rights.” He demanded they allow “me my right of expression,” even if they were not comfortable with his homophobic opinion.
Wine’s controversial anti-gay stand also included criticism of then-U.S. President Barack Obama over his support of LGBTQ+ rights in response to Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act that imposed a life sentence for gay people. The country’s Constitutional Court overturned it.
Wine in 2017 entered politics and won a seat in the Ugandan Parliament. He ran against incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who rules the country with an iron first, in 2021.
Wine, who is a member of the National Unity Platform, is currently Uganda’s opposition leader. He has been vocal in demanding the international community hold Museveni accountable for his government’s widespread human rights violations.
While acknowledging the British government’s move to lift his travel ban, Wine applauded his lawyers in England for the “relentless fight” and his political supporters, including those in the diaspora, for “constantly raising our voice through protests” and petitioning higher offices.
“Their main argument has been that it is unfair to open their doors for Gen. Museveni, a world-renowned tyrant, and yet continue to shut the door for me who, together with many others are trying to build a free and democratic country,” he said.
His sentiments are in response to Museveni’s democracy and human rights record, particularly his signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 into law in May.
Several Western nations have imposed sanctions on Uganda and several government officials behind the punitive law. The Biden-Harris administration last week announced plans to remove Kampala a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S.
The U.S. announcement came after increased pressure on Museveni to reverse the implementation of the law and meeting with several Ugandan human rights activists and exiled dissidents.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an award-winning Ugandan author who is exiled in Germany, has written books that are critical of Museveni’s governance. He applauded the U.S. decision and noted his and other activists’ visit to the State Department earlier this year.
“We, a few months ago visited the Department of State in the USA and explained how Uganda as a beneficiary of AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) would violate the American foreign policy on human rights,” said Rukirabashaija on his X account. “I’m glad that they listened. May you continue to listen to the cries of Ugandans.”
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