Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s leading opposition figure, returned home on Wednesday after more than two years in exile, in one of the strongest signs yet of the efforts of the country’s first female president. Africa aims to strengthen political freedom and protect the rights that are being exercised.
Mr. Lissu went to the port city of Dar es Salaam, following his party, Chadema. He left in 2020 in the midst of a contested electionwhich he and independent election observers say is ruined by fraud and irregularity. He said he had been detained and had received death threats.
Mr. Lissu said he was encouraged to return because of President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s decision this month to lift a year-long ban on political protests that some see as an attempt to weaken the opposition. Opposition. The move, he said, was a sign of the government’s commitment to political reform and offered hope for an end to the intimidation and prosecution of opposition figures. Mr. Lissu also survived an assassination attempt in 2017 and also left the country after that.
Mr. Lissu said in a phone interview before boarding a flight from Belgium, where he lives: “The lifting of the illegal and comprehensive ban on political gatherings and the release of prisoners gave me the decision to make my decision. plan to return to Tanzania.
He added: “I’m very happy and look forward to returning home.”
Ms. Hassan came to power in March 2021 following the death of her predecessor, John Magufuli. Mr. Magufuli, popularly known as “The Bulldozer,” was downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and has been accused of silencing the media, suppressing the opposition and enacting legislation that maintains the ruling party’s power.
Before and during the 2020 election, Mr. Magufuli’s government restricted social media access, detained opposition leaders and hampered Mr. Lissu’s campaign. have access to polling stations.
After the death of Mr. Magufuli, Mrs. Hassan, the country’s first female president, reversed some of his stances. She encouraged Covid vaccines, urged foreign investors to return and ended a controversial ban restricting pregnant girls from attending school.
But her government has been harshly criticized for its slow progress in ratifying promised changes and upholding some of her predecessor’s directives.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, she also dismissed threats against Mr Lissu during the election, saying they were “excessive exaggerations”.
Activists say lifting the ban on political rallies nearly two years after she came to power is too little and too late.
Maria Sarungi Tsehai, a Tanzanian activist, said: “What President Samia has tried to do is make it appear to back away from his draconian roadside statement banning political protests because her goodwill”.
“The reality is that the situation cannot be resolved because of great pressure from the people, civil society and religious groups that are pushing for a new constitution,” she said.
The Tanzanian constitution, ratified in 1977, grants many powers to the president. Attempts to modify it have failed in the past. Mr. Lissu said pushing for a new constitution would be his party’s main priority in the coming weeks and months.
“I have no illusions about the difficulties, dangers and work ahead, especially regarding the construction of a new democratic constitution,” Mr. Lissu said. “But I’ve decided that I won’t be forced to live abroad anymore.”