Ugandan popstar-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi discusses his detention and alleged torture.
Kyagulanyi has built a large youth following through his criticism of Uganda’s long-time leader President Yoweri Museveni – who has been in power for 32 years – both in parliament and through his music.
The 36-year-old’s message of freedom and inclusivity, encourages young people to “stand up” and take over the East African country from what he calls the government’s failed leadership.
But Kyagulanyi’s rise to prominence has not been without difficulties.
His appeal is considered a threat to Museveni’s hold on power, which is waning because of public anger over deteriorating public services, corruption and human rights abuses.
On August 14, Kyagulanyi was arrested and charged with treason for allegedly throwing stones at Museveni’s presidential motorcade during a by-election campaign in August.
“In my opinion, it was more persecution than prosecution,” says Kyagulanyi, who claims he was tortured by Ugandan security forces while in detention.
“I feel humbled that my brutalisation attracted attention of friends across the world, but at the same time, I feel indebted to the men and women who have endured similar torture over the years, in particular, the people that were arrested together with me,” he says.
After being released on bail nearly two weeks later, Kyagulanyi was rearrested last week while trying to leave the country to seek medical treatment in the United States for his injuries.
Eventually, Kyagulanyi was released and allowed to travel to Washington, DC, to be treated in hospital.
In an exclusive interview – his first for television since leaving hospital – Kyagulanyi discusses his detention, alleged torture by Ugandan security forces and what’s next for Uganda with Al Jazeera.
“We’ve always wanted a free Uganda, but that Uganda should not come at the cost of torture, it should not come at the cost of murder or illegal executions, it should be got freely because our generation feels like the price has already been paid,” he says.
“I believe what can be done is not just to be done by me. What I have is the voice to raise the plight of Ugandans but I continue to call upon Ugandans, especially the young Ugandans to speak up. The more we unite, the stronger we become.
“Today, the regime seems to be shaking, simply because Ugandans are more united and I continue to call upon Ugandans to stand, to be resilient and to continuously demand for the dignity that they deserve”.
Editor’s note: These comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.