2020 Presidential Election

Tanzania, a nation at the crossroads

Tanzanian main opposition chief Tundu Lissu gestures from his wheelchair on January 5, 2018 in Nairobi, as he is wheeled by a supporter from a press conference to the hospital where he was admitted after being shot and critically injured at his home in September 2017.(Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

On 7 September 2017, Tundu Lissu, an opposition member of Parliament in Tanzania and outspoken critic of President John Magufuli, was gunned down and suffered multiple wounds in an assassination attempt. Now, he is announcing that he is running for president on 25 October 2020 and aims to use the democratic process to unseat Magufuli.

For the past five years, Tanzania has been under the iron fist of President John Magufuli and his Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. In that time Magufuli has brought the country to the brink of economic, political and diplomatic disaster. 

In the five years since he came to power, Magufuli has undermined the constitutional, political and administrative order of Tanzania. He and his security forces have torn to shreds the legal and constitutional protections of human rights and the rule of law.

Disappearances, abductions and torture of government critics and journalists; extrajudicial killings of the opponents of the government and the ruling party; and the extensive use of paramilitary security forces against the civilian population exercising their democratic rights, have all become the norm. Impunity has reigned supreme in Tanzania ya Magufuli. 

This year’s general elections on 25 October will determine whether the people of Tanzania are prepared to tolerate five more years of this government-orchestrated oppression, humiliation and violence, or whether they will be ready to throw off the intolerable yoke of this tyranny. 

War on the economy

Ever since Tanzania dropped its state interventionist policies in the mid-1980s, our national economy has been deeply integrated into global economic and financial systems. It is the private sector that has been the main driver of economic growth and investment in our economy.

Breaking with this progress, Magufuli has run the economy through State House orders and edicts issued at political rallies. Using the armed forces, the intelligence services and the Tanzania Revenue Authority, the president has launched a vicious war on the private sector, seizing accounts and other assets of foreign and local businesses. Even peasant farmers have not been spared. Last year the security forces went on a rampage to seize and confiscate tens of thousands of tons of cashew crops from peasant farmers in the southern regions of Tanzania.

To procure the funds to finance his pet infrastructure projects, Magufuli’s administration has imposed extortionist taxes on businesspeople, from the smallest proprietor to the largest magnate, irrespective of the state of their businesses or their earnings. These taxes have been collected with shocking brutality. Business owners have been blackmailed into paying exorbitant sums of money on pain of being arrested and imprisoned under the country’s draconian economic crimes laws.

Those unable to pay up or who resist this Mafia-style shakedown have faced arrest and imprisonment without bail in the country’s notorious maximum-security prisons; or they have had their assets seized and forfeited to the government. Some, like the former chairman of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF), have died in prison. 

The outcome of this economic warfare on the private sector is clear to all. The economy is on life-support; many businesspeople and investors have fled Tanzania with their capital, shifting their operations, jobs and tax revenues to safer havens in neighbouring countries. Inevitably, government takings from taxes have plummeted; and unemployment and consequent impoverishment, particularly among the youth, have skyrocketed. 

Today the economic plight of our people is far worse than at any time since before Magufuli assumed office in 2015. This year’s general elections will decide whether Magufuli gets another five years to continue his destruction of our national economy and impoverishment of our people, or whether we will get a fresh beginning by removing him and his party from office.

Tyrannical rule

Since Tanzania became a multiparty democracy in 1992, the democratic system has taken root and flourished, as evidenced by our repeated successful multiparty elections. Since assuming office, Magufuli has declared open war against multiparty democracy in Tanzania. The president himself declared on national television, on the 39th anniversary of his party CCM in February of 2016, that he would see to it that there are no opposition parties by 2020.

We have all borne witness to the ruthless implementation of the president’s pledge to turn back the clock of history to the dark days of one-party rule. Magufuli’s security forces and intelligence services have waged an unrelenting struggle against leaders, activists and members of the opposition parties, particularly of Chadema and of ACT-Wazalendo in Zanzibar. As a result of this vicious war on the legitimate opposition, the fate of multiparty democracy in Tanzania hangs in the balance. This year’s general elections will decide whether Magufuli will bring his dream of a one-party Tanzania to fruition, or whether multiparty democracy shall endure and flourish in our country. 

A strong National Assembly and independent judiciary

Hand in hand with the assault on multiparty democracy, Magufuli has also prosecuted a brutal, but often insidious, war on the principle of separation of powers between the different arms of the government by systematically undermining and weakening the power, authority and prestige of the National Assembly and the judiciary. The history of our country’s Parliament from independence to the early 1990s is not a proud one. With the possible exception of the first few years after independence, the Parliament of that period became what an eminent constitutional scholar has described as “an empty shell with little power and even less a forum for public debate, scrutiny and criticism”. It was deaf, mute and blind to the rights and interests of the people of Tanzania it ostensibly represented. 

Our Parliament began to regain its voice and power following the reintroduction of the multiparty system in 1992 and, especially, after the first multiparty general elections in 1995. It has grown ever since. It is to the great credit of the former presidents of a multiparty Tanzania, especially President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, that under their watch our Parliament came of age and became a truly representative organ of the people with matching power, authority and prestige in the eyes of the people of Tanzania. 

It is also to the great credit of the speakers of the Parliament of the time, the late Samuel John Sitta and Mama Anna Semamba Makinda, that under their steady leadership, our Bunge (National Assembly) regained the voice to speak out against the iniquities of those in power; the ears to hear the desperate cries of the oppressed; the eyes to see the ugly face of impunity and the teeth to bite those who abused their public trust.

In Tanzania ya Magufuli, our Parliament, under the compromised leadership of Speaker Job Yustino Ndugai, has been subverted and made subservient to the needs of tyranny. Again, the parallels with the Bunge of the era of party supremacy between 1965 and 1985 are striking. The October 2020 general elections will determine whether we return to the era of an assertive and truly independent Parliament or whether we will have five more years of Parliament as an appendage of the government it is meant to oversee.

Magufuli has also attacked the independence and impartiality of our judiciary in a manner unprecedented in our entire history. He has publicly attacked, excoriated and humiliated the judges and justices of our superior courts. He has unceremoniously and unconstitutionally removed others from their tenured offices. He has interfered with their independence, directing them on how to judge criminal cases involving the victims of his misguided economic warfare, and promising monetary rewards and promotions to judges and magistrates who do his bidding. 

Predictably, the outcome of these practices has been a weakened and subservient judiciary at the beck and call of the imperial president. Rather than a bulwark “to protect the weak against the oppression or tyranny of the strong and the ruthless”, as one of our greatest chief justices said, our judiciary has become an instrument for the oppression of the weak by this ruthless tyranny. Rather than ensure that democracy in our country grows and our people enjoy the personal freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution, as Chief Justice Samatta implored, our courts have become the sharpest edge of the dagger pointed at the heart of our democracy and our fundamental rights and freedoms. These general elections must decide whether we will continue to have a compromised judiciary that is used as an instrument of terror and oppression, or whether we shall have a judiciary that is truly independent, impartial and worthy of a multiparty democracy and a free people.  

 ‘A skunk of the world’

From the earliest years of our independence, Tanzania has had a high standing in international diplomacy. For nearly a quarter-century of leadership, our Founding Father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, put Tanzania firmly on the global map. Under his principled leadership, we made steady friends and development partners on both sides of the Cold War. We built solidarity and close relations with our East African neighbours; we were on the frontline of the liberation struggles to end colonialism and racism in southern Africa, and became the standard-bearers of the solidarity of the peoples and nations of Africa and the Third World. 

We reaped the immense economic, social, political and diplomatic benefits that always flow from being good citizens of the world. That one of the daughters of the United Republic became the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations; and one of its sons the secretary-general of the African Union, bears witness to our country’s high standing in international diplomacy of years past. 

Since coming to office in 2015, Magufuli has damaged our standing in the world and undermined our international diplomacy. He has antagonised our friends and development partners. He has estranged us from our closest neighbours in the East African Community. He has driven a wedge between us and our historic comrades-in-arms of the Southern African Development Community, whose freedom and independence we paid for with our blood and treasure. 

He has cast doubt on our legitimate place in the African Union. He has put us at odds with international organisations such as the United Nations; and has cost our country our long-standing friends from the European Union, Scandinavia, North America and across the world.

Magufuli has transformed Tanzania from a beacon of hope and anchor of stability in a troubled region to an international pariah. Our country and its leaders have now become the subject of regular condemnation in the councils of the world and in the international press for its deplorable human rights record and malpractice in a variety of areas, ranging from the education of female children to the president’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

That Tanzania should be “locked out” by our partners and neighbours in the East African Community; that the leaders of the Southern African Development Community should proceed with their extraordinary summit without Magufuli, who is the incumbent chairman of the SADC, is testimony to the diplomatic depths we have fallen to under his watch. Our country has become what I said in Nairobi, Kenya, on 5 January 2018, shortly before I was transferred to Belgium for further treatment: “a skunk of the world”. 

Rather than step back from the brink of international isolation, Magufuli and his government have defiantly pressed on, insulting our long-term friends and development partners with such unedifying epithets as “imperialists”, and expelling or harassing their diplomatic representatives in Tanzania. This year’s general elections will answer the question whether our country will continue to ignore the global norms of international good behaviour, or whether we will mend our ways and return to the international fold as responsible members of the international community. 

The new Constitution

In 1978 Mwalimu Nyerere stated, in an interview with the BBC, that he had sufficient powers, under the Constitution and the laws of Tanzania, to be a dictator. The Constitution that the Father of the Nation referred to in that interview, is the current Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, enacted in 1977 during the heyday of one-party supremacy and its attendant authoritarianism. The draconian laws he spoke of are still in our statute books, and many more have been added to the vast arsenal of legal and extra-legal despotism that currently weighs down on our collective neck as a nation. 

Five years of iron-fisted rule by Magufuli have taught us an unforgettable lesson on the importance and the urgent necessity for a new democratic constitutional and legal order founded on justice, equality and humanity. This year’s general election is a crucial test of whether we have learnt this great lesson of irresponsible rule, are no longer prepared to live under a Constitution and laws that make dictators of our elected leaders, and therefore will return to the drawing boards for a new constitutional dispensation sabotaged and discontinued by the CCM government in 2014; or whether we will continue to tolerate, excuse or appease the dictatorial rulers who have found refuge under the current Constitution and the laws. 

These are some of the key issues and reasons that have always animated and informed my commitment to public service. They are the issues that drove me to contest the first multiparty elections in 1995 as a 27-year-old graduate student. They are the issues that spurred me to fight for the rural communities brutalised by the advent of the corporate mining industry in the goldfields of north-west Tanzania in the late 1990s and 2000s. They inspired my parliamentary work for seven years before it was cut short in a hail of machine-gun fire that fateful September day in 2017. And as I begin this perilous but exciting new journey to confront Magufuli and his record in the October showdown, these are the issues and reasons that will keep me going. 

I am now honoured to announce that I have formally submitted my intention to run for the position of the president of the United Republic of Tanzania during this year’s general elections on a Chadema platform.

Tanzania has become a land of people crippled – physically and psychologically – by the violence of the Magufuli government. That I make this announcement from the loneliness of a European exile, not in the land of my birth surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, bears witness to the horrors that have visited our country these past five years. 

So, I ask you all to join me in this challenging but exciting journey in the weeks and months ahead. Let us all join hands and bind the wounds of our nation; free the captives of this regime, bring justice and prosperity for all and set our nation on the road to greatness again. DM

Tundu Lissu is a Tanzanian lawyer, CHADEMA Member of Parliament and a candidate for the Presidency of Tanzania


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