Tundu Lissu plans to return to Tanzania to fight President John Magufulis reign of terror after spending a year and a half in Kenya and Belgium recovering from a near-fatal attack. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)
Tundu Lissu is a Tanzanian MP and a member of Chadema, the main opposition party. In September 2017, two gunmen attacked him outside his house in Dodoma City, an attack he believes was orchestrated by the government. He received medical treatment abroad and now wants to go home. He spoke to Simon Allison
How is your recovery going?
I was shot 16 times. Broken legs, broken arms. They extracted eight bullets from my stomach. One is still lodged somewhere near my spine. But after 22 surgeries I feel much better. I can move about, I walk with crutches. I still have one more surgery to go. On the 20th of this month, I will go for surgery number 23.
If you survive 16 bullet hits, and you wake up after seven days and you come out of it alive, I think it strengthens you. It gives you the kind of perspective on life, it’s hard to imagine. I’m a survivor.
What do you remember about the day you were shot?
In the six weeks before I was shot, I was trailed everywhere by people that I knew were part of the intelligence and security apparatus. On the day of the attack, I remember I was the last to speak in the morning session [of Parliament], then we broke for lunch. I took my car with my driver, a short drive 15 minutes away. We were followed by a car all the way to my residence.
Because I serve as the opposition’s chief whip, I’m entitled to government housing, and therefore I live in a government housing compound, which is heavily guarded 24/7. That day the security on the perimeter of the compound as well as in individual blocks was absent. All the security guards had been taken out. We entered and this car was following behind. We went all the way to my driveway. They came and stopped behind my car. Two gunmen came out wielding submachine guns and all hell broke loose.
John Magufuli was hailed as a saviour at the beginning of his presidency. What’s changed?
In the three years of Tanzania under President Magufuli, a reign of terror has engulfed the country. As we speak the entire national leadership of the largest [opposition] political party in Tanzania, Chadema, is fighting for their freedom in the courts of law. As we speak, we are into the third year with political activity prohibited by presidential fear. We cannot hold public meetings. Internal meetings are equally difficult. We cannot meet our members anywhere.
It goes on and on. Only last week a law was rushed through Parliament [the amended Political Parties Act], which amends our parties’ legislation, and the impact is to enable the president and his party to decide who will be their opponents during the next general election next year.
The terror that has been visited on the opposition has equally been meted out against their own party, CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi]. The fusion between CCM and the Tanzanian state has been so complete over the past 50 years or so that you cannot distinguish between the two. Because of that fusion, power lies with the presidency, with the state.
The president has always been the CCM chairman as well. Magufuli is in a position where he simply cannot be challenged. Not just because of this fusion, but because he is very violent. [Even when dealing] with his own internal critics.
Is Tanzania’s democratic backsliding reflective of broader trends on the African continent?
Obviously there has been a fair amount of backsliding on democracy in recent years. Zambia was for many years the shining example of the movement away from one-party autocracy to a fairly workable democracy. What has happened in Zambia in recent years, what has happened in East and Central Africa in recent years, these are matters of grave concern to everyone interested in the future of our continent.
However, there are corners of hope: Ethiopia, the Gambia, Nigeria, even the Democratic Republic of Congo, in spite of the fraudulent declaration of Felix Tshisekedi as president, the fact is this [Joseph] Kabila junior is out of office. Whatever you might say, he wanted to stay on and he has not been able to stay on.
How do you feel about returning to Tanzania?
My two boys, I have 16-year-old twins, and they were shattered, everybody has been through hell. But people are also very strong. My children and my wife have been very, very strong, but you can only imagine what they must have gone through. I’ve been away since September 7 [2017, and am now] based in Belgium, where I have been receiving medical treatment. I’m going back once my doctors say yes. Magufuli has to be confronted. You don’t run away from [people like him]. You run away from them, they win. Is it dangerous? Yes. But living in a dictatorship anywhere in the world is a dangerous business.