Like a bad dream that returns to haunt every night, the return to Tanzania of firebrand politician Tundu Lissu is giving the incumbent John Pombe Magufuli terrible political nightmares.
On September 7 2017, the Magufuli administration thought they had done away with Lissu when unknown assailants sprayed 16 bullets into his body in his tightly guarded Dodoma compound. But alas! To everybody’s dismay, the former Singida East lawmaker survived the state-sanctioned hit and has made a full recovery.
The sight of a healthy Lissu waving and dancing with thousands of enthusiastic supporters upon his return to Dar Es Salaam on July 27 is what is driving Magufuli crazy, giving him sleepless nights.
The fact that Lissu was later unanimously elected as the presidential contender by the opposition party CHADEMA to fly the party’s flag against Magufuli in the upcoming October polls has not made things any better for the Tanzanian president.
When he was first elected in 2015, Magufuli had appeared to offer hope to his country by tackling corrupt officials through impromptu visits to government institutions and ordering instant sackings. However, power got into his head and human rights activists in the country started calling him out. Magufuli went on an aggressive, brutal campaign against perceived critics and within no time Tanzania was turned into a police state. He would go to petty levels like banning pregnant school girls from attending school and made it a crime to question official statistics.
In his quest to consolidate power, Magufuli tried to dismantle the opposition by luring his ageing 2015 presidential challenger, Edward Lowassa back to the ruling CCM party. While he may have succeeded at that, the president and his CCM power brokers forgot one aspect, that there is one thing that is stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.
The exit of Lowassa would see the emergence of young, bold leaders with a national appeal. Led by Lissu, others include Zitto Kabwe,Godbless Lema,Freeman Mbowe,Halima Mdee,Joseph Mbilinyi and Peter Msigwa. It was this rapid rise that got Magufuli concerned and he decided to act, first by taking out the man with the greatest potential, Tundu Lissu. In Magufuli’s own words “Ukitaka kumuua nyoka mgonge kichwani”.
Not only did Lissu survive, he is back to face Magufuli for the ultimate prize and in his usual dictatorial tendencies, the president has resorted to underhand tactics to intimidate the opposition as he feels the tide looks to turn against him in October. First, all media outlets were warned against giving Lissu live interviews. Any content about the opposition stalwart by media outlets was also banned since Magufuli considers the media an enemy. When the international media outlets highlighted this, Magufuli retreated but went ahead to resuscitate sedition charges against Lissu which were conveniently thrown out by the country’s high court.
In his maiden speech after receiving the CHADEMA endorsement, Lissu said that his main pillars are reforming the economy, defense and security systems as well as promoting multiparty democracy and bringing consensus with other East African states. This has got Magufuli concerned since his regime has eroded all the national values that had been entrenched in the country since the days of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
In the current political climate, barely a week passes without Magufuli’s brazen displays of arbitrary power. So the question has been, who will put him in check lest Tanzania slides into another Zaire under Mobutu?
The answer is simple. It is Tundu Antiphas Lissu . The prevailing depressing economic situation in the country is the right opportunity for the opposition to capitalize on Magufuli’s shortcomings and win elections in Tanzania for the first time since the country gained independence in 1961.