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Ugandans Use Character From TV Ad To Criticize President Museveni


Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for more than three decades. He is an authoritarian leader who is widely feared. But Ugandans have a sly way to show their disdain. It comes in the form of a TV ad featuring a character called Bosco. NPR's Eyder Peralta explains.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The commercial is for cell provider MTN's mobile payment platform.


PERALTA: And it tells the story of this country bumpkin who makes his way to the big city. He tries to pass through a metal detector with a bicycle. He can't quite figure out escalators. But suddenly, he discovers he can pay for everything using his phone, and he becomes a big man.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: With a big smile and a hat, the old man goes on a joyous spending spree. And it reminded Ugandans of someone they've known for a long time.

FRANCIS: (Laughter) People translated it to a political advert referring to our beloved president.

PERALTA: That nervous laugh you hear at the beginning, it's because everyone knows who Bosco reminds them of. But in Uganda, talking about the president can land you in serious trouble. So Francis, a university student, decides he'll talk about President Yoweri Museveni if I only use his first name.

FRANCIS: The way he came into power was like Bosco and how he spends the money.

PERALTA: So while Bosco in the commercial buys a cake with his electronic cash and then sits on it, he views Museveni as ravaging the country's coffers, buying helicopters and warplanes, all the while wearing a sun hat and riding his bicycle everywhere, including to care for his longhorns on his sprawling country ranch.

FRANCIS: People are suffering, but someone who would have worked to help people out using the resources available - you find that people in power are misusing the money for their own.

PERALTA: The president himself certainly knows about his new nickname. The other day, he came to oversee a murder investigation. In the middle of the night, he showed up in a cream-colored jacket and a matching broad-brimmed hat. And then the president was heckled.



PERALTA: Dear Jeanne is a political journalist. She says this ad has given Ugandans an opening to talk about Museveni. That song is even played at nightclubs, and sometimes police will crash the party and make them stop.

DEAR JEANNE: I actually think the comical part of it is the story it tells about who we are.

PERALTA: In part, she says, the ad works because nearly everyone sees themselves in Bosco. They remember what it's like coming from the country and trying to figure out an elevator or online bill pay.

JEANNE: They attach that line of events that, you see; this is how he was when he came - the first time swearing in. And this is how he is getting out of a chopper, dozing (laughter) in a conference and holding bags of money, you know (laughter)?

PERALTA: So there is a certain affection toward Bosco or Museveni. But the thing is, she says, that many Ugandans feel they are way past their country days. If that's the case, I asked Dear Jeanne, are Ugandans laughing with or at Bosco?

JEANNE: If they're thinking of him as let's say the president, I think they're laughing at him. They just feel he's at the top there from where he was, and he still doesn't understand what's going on. Yeah.

PERALTA: As for Museveni, he is unbothered. He spent this weekend in a hat and boots tending to his house cows.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: With MTN MoMo, things are better.

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Kampala.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOMO'S "HOURGLASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.