The Uganda government has designated the red beret as official military clothing that could land members of the public who wear them in jail, a move that essentially bans the uniform of leading opposition leader Bobi Wine and his supporters.
Bobi Wine, a pop star turned politician who has announced he is running for president against longtime leader Yoweri Museveni in 2021, has made the red beret his signature, calling it a “symbol of resistance”.
However, the beret, also worn by some soldiers, was included in Uganda’s first-ever gazette of all military clothing, which states that any member of the public found in possession of the items “is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life”, under section 160 of the 2005 UPDF Act.
“The dress code for the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Force) has been gazetted. The action was endorsed by the top organs of the army which also commended the dress committee for concluding the task assigned to it years back,” army spokesman Richard Karemire said in a statement on Monday quoted by Aljazeera.
“It manifests the commitment to define identity and outlook of a professional army as well as adhering to the EAC (East African Community) protocols,” he added.
According to the gazette dated September 18, the sale or wearing of any attire which resembles the army uniform is also banned.
Prohibited items, besides the red beret, include side caps, bush hats, ceremonial forage caps and camouflaged baseball caps.
“It is prohibited to wear or use any decoration supplied or authorised for use by any member of the defence forces or any decoration so nearly resembling that decoration and likely to deceive the public,” the gazette said.
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Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has not yet commented on the new rules.
He formally declared his presidential bid in July at an event in the capital, Kampala.
Wearing a red tie and red beret, a look copied by dozens of his supporters at the event, he said: “On behalf of the people of Uganda, I am challenging you (Museveni) to a free and fair election in 2021.”
Reacting to the new rules, a leading figure in his “People Power” movement – which he has yet to register as a political party – said they would not stop wearing it, Aljazeera reported.
“We shall continue to wear the revolutionary red berets,” said youth leader Ivan Boowe.