Tanzania’s Tundu Lissu: ‘It’s naïve to think President Samia will agree to constitution reforms willingly’

By Abdul Halim

Posted on Monday, 21 February 2022 10:57
Exiled Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu
Exiled Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu is still in exile in Belgium where he sought asylum after 2020 presidential elections but his voice still resonates in Tanzania politics.

Recently he met with President Samia in Belgium. He explained to the president what his party, Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (Chadema) believes must be taken into consideration to heal what he called the divided nation. Some of them include allowing opposition rallies and demonstrations and reforming the constitution.

In an exclusive phone interview with The Africa Report from Belgium Lissu talked about issues like the Freeman Mbowe case, whether he believe President Samia is ready to change the constitution if the president spoke to him about taking on the role in the government and any progress he has seen since President Samia assumed office nearly one year ago.

After meeting with President Samia and asking Mbowe to be released, what do you feel about the court ruling?

Tundu Lissu: I am very disappointed by the ruling of the high court that Mr Mbowe and his security detail have a case to answer.

There is no doubt in my mind as there is doubt on the mind of many Tanzanians that this is a political vendetta against Mr Mbowe. This is the continued incarceration of Mr Mbowe that will result from the court ruling.

Are you ready to come back to Tanzania?

I will come to Tanzania. I made that very clear during my new year speech and I made it very clear to the president when I met her that I want to be able to come back home because I want a passport which I lost in Germany but I want to find a way to come back home very soon.

Did President Samia speak to you about taking a role in the government, would you consider that?

She is wise enough not to try that on me because I think she knows what I would have told her that is not for sale. She did not raise it wisely and that is not the kind of subject we should even waste a single minute on.

The president has been approached before to change the constitution and end draconian laws. Do you think this will happen?

Well, She will not change the laws, the constitution without pressure, she will not do that willingly. We will have to force her to agree to constitution reforms, to agree to democratic reforms. Thinking that she will do it willingly will be naïve.

You are sceptical of the reform priorities of the government?

She has not said that she intends to form the constitution, she has made it very clear that the constitution is not on her current agenda. She said that she is more interested in the economy now and these are words that are reminiscent of what Mwalimu (Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania) said even before independence when he negotiated for independence constitution with the British that we do not need human rights we need development, 60 years later our president is telling us we don’t need a constitution and democracy rather we need development. It’s as if we have made no changes. I don’t believe her.

When you met President Samia you told her to heal the nation, what did you mean by that?

I asked her to lead the effort in healing the nation. Our nation went through hell this past six years. Hundreds of people have lost their lives at the hands of security forces, the opposition has gone through hell at the hands of security forces at the hands of the Magufuli regime. We are still [suffering] the hands of President Samia’s government.

Our people have been treated so badly in the past six years, the nation is so divided, and the people are so hurt. Any progress we need for national healing must be first, it will need national reconciliation. My plea to the president when I met her was to help the nation heal to bind these roots that have been inflicted by her government and the government of her predecessor this past six years.

Nearly a year has passed since the President is in power, has enough progress been made?

There are areas where I think the president has done well. She is repairing the damage done by President Magufuli to our international diplomacy, she changed norms of the Covid 19 pandemic, she stopped some of the worst of Magufuli abuses but the truth of the matter is she hasn’t dealt with fundamental problems that were created by Magufuli such as this crackdown of democracy that’s why we are talking Mbowe completely facing a bogus case of terrorism, the opposition is still curtailed in its activities.

We are still targeted with bogus prosecution, we still cannot hold meetings and therefore while she is been made progress on certain areas in matters of democratization she is still under the toxic shadow of her predecessor.

Do you trust the security apparatus around President Samia?

It is not the question about trusting them, it is a question of them earning the trust of the people of Tanzania including myself.

The security forces have been involved in serious human rights abuses including killings, torture and disappearance of innocent people. The security forces have been part of some of the worst abuses that we have ever seen in our history. They have not earned our trust, they have not earned my trust. As a party of constitution reform, we need serious police reform and reforms of security forces.

Which reforms are you suggesting?

We must create a responsible security force that will act lawfully at all times, security forces that will be held accountable for their actions, security forces that will not be allowed to terrorize innocent people, security forces that will be subject to the laws and they will not operate above the laws

What do you think about seeking justice in your attempted assassination case?

My case of the attempted assassination is one of the clearest examples of what is wrong with our security forces, what is wrong with our government. I was shot multiple times by hired killers who followed me inside the government housing compound which is heavily guarded, to this day they have not made a single arrest, and they have not said they know any suspect, they have not interviewed anybody including me.

Our security forces acted in the most irresponsible manner, in the most incompetent manner in my case

What do you think might happen in Tanzania after the court ruling, some say the move by Chadema to demand constitution reforms is going nowhere?

The struggle will continue. We would not believe the court ruling will end the persecution that we have suffered. Mr Mbowe still has an opportunity to defend himself but whatever they (the authority) do to him and us the struggle for democracy will continue

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options