The crackdown on Tanzanian’s opposition has intensified, barely a week after President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in for a fresh five-year term, forcing critics to flee the country.
Yesterday, the immediate former MP for Arusha Urban Constituency Godbless Lema, who had served for two terms, was arrested in Kajiado County after he and his family crossed over into Kenya through the Namanga border.
Lema had left his home in a taxi accompanied by his wife Neema Godbless, their three children and alighted at Namanga.
“My wife went to the immigration department but they refused to stamp the documents insisting that she had to call me. When I went, I told them I did not have my passport and that I was not accompanying her and the children because she was just going to look for an international school,” Lema said in an interview, yesterday.
The officials allowed the family to cross the border while Lema asked for permission to go and look for Kenyan currency to give to his wife.
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As soon as he crossed the border he slipped into his lawyer’s car. His lawyer George Luchiri Wajackoyah, who was monitoring the proceedings from the safety of the Kenya side, drove the fugitive MP out of the border town as soon as he and his family entered his car.
“Things are very bleak in Tanzania. I am the lawyer acting for Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema). I knew Lema was coming and wanted to hand him over to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) when he crossed," he said.
Lema, who told The Standard that he is seeking asylum, explained that when he reached the immigration department, he declined to hand over his passport because the officials would have detained him.
Apparently, as soon as the immigration officials realised that they had been outfoxed, they alerted the Kenyan authorities that a person had entered the country without presenting travel documents.
“The police pursued and intercepted us at Ilbisil, where they took us to the local police post. I did not want them to lock up Lema in Ilbisil, owing to its proximity to the Tanzanian border," said his lawyer.
Wajackoyah said as soon as the US embassy opens today, he will present Lema’s case as he has been in communication with the politician.
Wajackoyah and Tundu Lissu, who has been a thorn in Magufuli’s flesh for the last three years, were classmates at Warwick, in the United Kingdom.
In 2017, Lissu escaped death miraculously after he was shot more than 40 times by two assassins in broad daylight and sustained critical wounds after 16 bullets battered his body.
The 52-year-old lawyer and human rights activist challenged Magufuli for the presidency in the just concluded race, where Chadema was whitewashed with Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) claiming victory after garnering 94 per cent of the vote.
Even before the contested polls, there was widespread violence targeting opposition candidates and the few election observers concluded that the October 28 election was neither free nor fair.
According to Lema, Chadema’s presidential candidate Tundu Lissu is also on the run from the Tanzanian authorities.
“Lissu is staying at the residence of the German envoy in Dar es Salaam. Nobody is safe anymore in Tanzania. They want to arrest him and all prominent Chadema officials for protesting election rigging,” said Lema.
“A person fleeing from persecution, according to Article 2 of the UNHCR Statute of 1951, does not need to present travel documents. That is why I have booked him with the police as an asylum seeker so that he can be processed,” the lawyer explained.
There is growing anxiety in Tanzania that a majoritarian CCM, which controls the National Assembly, will soon change the constitution to allow Magufuli to run for a third term when his current tenure ends in 2025.
Shortly before Magufuli was sworn in, 10 presidential candidates held a joint press conference, disassociating themselves from the planned demonstrations called by Chadema.
Chadema has vowed to not recognise Magufuli’s win, dismissing the recent election as a mockery of democracy and subversion of the people’s will at the ballot.