Tundu Lissu: Why Tanzania's opposition fell out with Raila

Tanzania Opposition leader Tundu Lissu. [Courtesy]

Tanzania’s opposition leader, Tundu Lissu has explained why his friendship with his mentor Raila Odinga cooled off and why he believes Tanzania is 50 years behind  Kenya in terms of democracy and human rights.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard in Nairobi, the fiery opposition chief who leads Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo, (Party for Democracy and Progress), at the same time laughed off claims that investors are fleeing Kenya to invest in his country describing this as pure fantasy.

The 55-year-old lawyer almost paid with his life for trying to unseat John Magufuli who had him arrested six times and then shot 16 times in broad daylight in Dodoma outside his house in September 2017.

At the time of the shooting, he was the opposition chief whip in parliament and had to be flown to Nairobi where he underwent 20 operations and had to be later taken to Belgium for more specialised treatment.

Today, he cannot sit down without assistance and limps around surrounded by bodyguards but his tongue still cuts like a sharpened dagger as he eloquently dissects the ills that afflict his motherland and what needs to be done to cure them.

Apparently, this horrific attack is what his political mentor, Raila Odinga, whom he fondly refers to as Baba had warned him about when he complained about the mistreatment of opposition politicians in Tanzania. Raila had been detained and forced into exile by a  government that had placed his ageing father, Jaramogi Odinga under house arrest.

On his relations with Raila, Lissu explained that his party and Raila’s ODM had a long association, recalling how Raila had mentored them and prepared them for the rough ride that awaited them in the world of opposition politics.

Things changed in 2015 when “Raila met Magufuli and endorsed his candidacy as president. When Magufuli won, I travelled to Nairobi in 2019 to plead with Raila to talk to his friend to stop brutalising us. Magufuli was killing us and Raila agreed to talk to him but nothing changed.”

He added, “On the day the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was being signed, I came to see Baba. I told him that Mafuguli was killing us and he promised to talk to him. That is why in 2017, we supported President Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto against Raila.

But the ideological differences, Lissu added, have not cancelled out their friendship for he still refers to Raila as a great inspiration, a father figure who came to see him in Nairobi Hospital after he was shot. 

“I respect Baba and the role he has played in liberating Kenya. He is a great inspiration  and we have learnt a lot from him.”

 The opposition leader confesses his admiration of lawyers James Orengo, Gibson Kuria, Willy Mutunga and Paul Muite whose consistent agitation for Kenya’s second liberation and the introduction of multipartyism motivated him to pursue law.

“Kenya holds a special place in my heart and it has played a critical role in advancing democracy in East Africa. I am more at home airing my views in Kenya than in Tanzania where the press fears covering the opposition.”

The role played by the Law Society of Kenya, in fighting for the rights of Kenyans was commendable, compared to Tanganyika Law Society whose members preferred to concentrate on their work of defending clients as opposed to pushing for the rights of all. At the time of his shooting, he was also the president of the Law Society in Tanzania.

 The Chadema vice chairman said even though Kenyans were complaining about the high cost of living as well as unmanageable fuel prices, Kenya was way better off than Tanzania where an all-powerful government under ‘godlike’ leaders enjoyed immense powers and could snuff out an investment with the snap of a finger.

He said that any Kenyan who admired Magufuli and his successor should be ‘ashamed’ of themselves for worshipping violators of human rights and democracy.

 “I hear there are Kenyans said to be fleeing to Tanzania to invest. I am looking for a trader fleeing to Tanzania where the government can seize your money(assets) business and imprison you. I do not believe there are traders who have gone to Tanzania but once I go back, I will look for them. I will believe this when I see.”

According to the opposition chief, Tanzania is a very difficult business environment adding that although there could be Kenyans crossing the border to go to his country to buy fuel, this should not be mistaken for an exodus of investors.

Despite the relatively lower fuel prices in Tanzania, compared to Kenya, Lissu argued that his country’s prices were still far higher than Congo, Rwanda and Burundi which import their products through Dar-es-Salaam.

Kenya has opened its borders but in Tanzania, if a Kenyan go to Zanzibar, he will be charged for visa fee just like an American.  

According to Lissu who unsuccessfully contested the presidency against the late Magufuli, his country was half a century back politically, compared to Kenya, whose citizens enjoyed the freedom of electing their leaders in a multiparty system and the right to contest the results.

Tanzania is a place, Lissu argues, where Kenya was in 1969 when Jomo Kenyatta proscribed Jaramogi Oginga’s Kenya People’s Union and sent all MPs opposed to Kanu home.

“We are in a space where the ruling party in Tanzania, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has powers to decide who is elected by opposition parties.”

While comparing democratic practices in East Africa, Lissu said that his counterpart in Uganda, Bobi Wine had been brutalised just like opposition leaders in Tanzania while voices of dissent in Rwanda and Burundi were summarily silenced with either a bullet or long prison sentences.

 “Kenya is the only state in East Africa that has held democratic elections. If they are unhappy with the results, they go to the streets and they are listened to.”

He cited the case of the 2020 elections back home where many opposition candidates were struck off the ballot by the polls body for no justifiable reason, leaving the field to the ruling party’s candidates.

“Although the law stipulates that the presidential results be declared after elections, this has never happened. In Zanzibar, nobody knows what the presidential results were.”

The opposition in his country, Lissu explained, was in a dilemma because if they chose to boycott the next General Election, the ruling party and its incumbent Samia Suluhu would be shooed in unopposed. Alternately, if they participated there were no guarantees the results would be any different from those of 2020.

The current administration, he contended was no different from Magufuli’s as no policies or laws had been changed and the president was totally opposed to any constitutional reforms that would deepen multiparty politics and provide an environment for free and fair polls.

He strongly condemned the displacement of 120,000 Maasai pastoralists from Ngorongoro to Handeni, a distance of 527 kilometres from their homes so as to create a haven where tourists would have an undistracted view of wildlife.

The government has set aside 400,000 acres of land for the pastoralists. Lissu explains, “The same people who have been forced out of their homes now suffered a similar fate in 1959 under the colonial rule. They have been subjected to a lot of brutality from their government, which is supposed to be protecting them.”

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