The world is watching as Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s former chief whip of the main opposition party Chadema, returns home on Monday after having been shot by unidentified gunmen 16 times outside his parliamentary residence in 2017.
It took 24 surgeries in Kenya and Belgium to recover from the attack, and now Lissu is coming home to contest against President John Magufuli in the presidential elections in October.
“Two hours before I was shot multiple times President Magufuli made a televised speech saying that those who betray the country when it is waging an economic war do not deserve to survive,” Lissu told Independent Media on the eve of his return to Tanzania.
The attack came just weeks after Lissu publicly declared that certain people instructed by the head of National Intelligence had been stalking him for weeks.
“Given that I had been the main critic of the president’s economic policies and government corruption, and was seen as a traitor by those surrounding the president, it was widely understood that the president was referring to me. Within two hours of his televised statement I was fighting for my life,” Lissu said.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union based in Geneva has expressed its deep concern about Lissu’s safety on his return to Tanzania, and is closely monitoring the situation.
Allegations have been made that the assassination attempt was carried out with the support of the authorities, which had previously brought a slew of criminal charges against him. In the year prior to the shooting, Lissu says he was arrested eight times and charged with sedition six times. He was accused of insulting the president and disturbing the public order. At the time he was shot he was out on bail.
“Since the shooting there has been no investigation carried out by the Tanzanian authorities, and no suspect named. The government’s official position is that they could not investigate because I was not in the country.
“I have received numerous threats that I will be arrested on arrival, but that would be uncalled for as the magistrate’s court has not changed the bail terms.
“It is the responsibility of the government of Tanzania to guarantee my safety and security – it is their legal and moral responsibility,” Lissu told Independent Media.
Ever since Lissu declared his intention to return to Tanzania earlier this year, he has received death threats on social media and in the press. Last year Lissu was stripped of his parliamentary mandate due to “absenteeism”, at a time when he was still recovering from his injuries.
“I do not feel comfortable at all returning home – it is dangerous, but it has to be done otherwise the others will have won. I hope to galvanise the majority of Tanzanians who are appalled by what happened to me,” Lissu said.
Lissu has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as the Chair of the African Union, asking him to intervene.
“The South African president should use his leverage with the president of Tanzania and seek guarantees for my safety and security, as well as my freedom of movement,” Lissu said.
Lissu’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, has published an open letter addressed to Tanzanian law enforcement and security officials, copied to the UN secretary-general, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President Ramaphosa, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, and a number of other high-profile personalities, asking that the government’s conduct be closely monitored and any potential acts of harassment, interference or violence result in consequences.
The Tanzanian police issued a public notice in Swahili on Saturday saying that nobody should go to the airport to welcome Lissu, and that the media should not cover the issue.