Tanzanian opposition leader Lissu returns from exile


His return follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement this month of the end of a ban on political gatherings in Tanzania.

Tanzanian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu returned home on Wednesday after more than two years of exile in Europe to a cheering crowd after the government lifted a ban on political gatherings.

A former lawmaker and fierce critic of the government, Lissu initially left the country to seek treatment abroad after being shot 16 times in 2017 in the administrative capital of Dodoma, mostly in the abdomen, in his car by unknown gunmen.

He had been arrested eight times in the year before the attack.

Lissu was welcomed by a large group of supporters at Julius Nyerere International Airport after flying in from Brussels before heading to a meeting in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam.

He was seen waving his Chadema party flag as he sat atop a car as he greeted supporters who had gathered along the roads and followed him on foot, cars and motorcycles.

Lissu had returned for a few months in 2020 to challenge then-President John Magufuli in an election. Shortly after the election, however, he fled after receiving death threats to the residence of the German ambassador and then left the country again.

His return follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement this month of the end of a ban on political gatherings imposed by her hardline predecessor Magufuli in a prelude to the opposition.

The Chadema party held its first mass meeting on Saturday since the ban was lifted in 2016, led by its leader Freeman Mbowe in the lakeside town of Mwanza.

The government’s decision has been cautiously welcomed by rights groups and the opposition as a boost to democracy, with Hassan reversing some of Magufuli’s authoritarian policies.

Lissu was last in Tanzania in late 2020 contesting the election against Magufuli, who died just five months after winning his second term. The victory was disputed and the opposition called for protests. Lissu sought refuge with diplomats after being threatened with his life, before fleeing the country.

Under Magufuli, who was first elected as an upright man of the people in 2015, political gatherings were banned, opposition leaders arrested and the media intimidated.

Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership style, had strict policies and an uncompromising style of governance that badly damaged Tanzania’s reputation as a stable democracy in the region.

Since Magufuli’s sudden death in March 2021, Hassan has reversed some of his most controversial policies and promised reforms long demanded by the opposition.

But hopes faded in July of that year when Mbowe was arrested on “terrorist financing” charges. He was released after seven months, but some critics labeled Hassan a “dictator”.

In early 2022, she sat face to face with Lissu in Brussels, once again giving hope that change could be on the horizon.

Earlier this week, Tanzania’s information minister said the government was planning to change a media law that critics say restricts freedom of expression, but did not provide details of the proposed changes.

“President Samia Suluhu Hassan has shown through her government and party that she is ready for a new journey. We have to show that we are ready for that too”, says Lissu.

“I’m coming home for our nation’s new beginning.”

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