Ahead of his return to Tanzania, President Samia Suluhu Hassan this month announced an end to a ban on political rallies in Tanzania.
Tanzanian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu faced cheering crowds on Wednesday as he returned home after more than two years in exile in Europe after the government lifted a ban on political rallies.
A former lawmaker and fierce critic of the government, Lissu initially left the country in 2017 to seek justice abroad after he was shot 16 times in a car by unknown gunmen in the administrative capital Dodoma, mostly in the lower abdomen. treat.
He had been arrested eight times in the year leading up to the attack.
Lisu was greeted by a large crowd of supporters at Julius Nyerere International Airport after flying from Brussels to speak at a rally in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam .
He was seen waving his Chadema party flag on top of a car to greet supporters who had gathered on the road and followed him on foot, cars and motorcycles.
The Lisu returned for a few months in 2020, challenging then-President John Magufuli in elections. Shortly after the election, however, he fled to the German ambassador’s residence after receiving death threats before leaving the country again.
His return comes as a courteous gesture to the opposition after President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced this month an end to a ban on political rallies imposed by his hardline predecessor Magufuli.
The Chadema party, led by its leader Freeman Mbowi, held its first mass rally in the lakeside city of Mwanza on Saturday since the ban was lifted in 2016.
The government’s move was cautiously welcomed by rights groups and the opposition as a boost for democracy, with Hassan overturning some of Magufuli’s authoritarian policies.
The last time the Lisu participated in elections in Tanzania was in late 2020, when Magufuli died just five months after winning a second term. The victory was disputed, with the opposition calling for protests. Lissu sought refuge with diplomats after his life was threatened before fleeing the country.
Under Magufuli, first elected in 2015 as an outspoken man of the people, political rallies have been banned, opposition leaders detained and the media intimidated.
Nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership style, Magufuli’s hardline policies and uncompromising style of governance have severely 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 the opposition has long demanded.
But hopes dimmed in July of that year, when Mbowe was arrested on “terrorism financing” charges. He was released seven months later, but some critics called Hassan a “dictator”.
In early 2022, she spoke face-to-face with the Lisu people in Brussels, rekindling hopes that change is at hand.
Earlier this week, Tanzania’s information minister said the government was planning to amend a media bill that critics say restricts free speech, but gave no details of the proposed changes.
“President Samia Suluhu Hassan has shown through her government and party that they are ready to embark on a new journey. We need to demonstrate that we are also ready for this,” Lissu said.
“I’m coming home for a new beginning for our country.”