Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu briefly arrested on day of planned election protest

Voters queue at Garagala polling station in Stone Town, Zanzibar, 28 October 2020 during voting in the Tanzanian general elections. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Anthony Siame)

Days after Tanzania’s governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party scored a landslide election victory, opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu was taken in for questioning after seeking refuge at a building housing a number of European embassies.

Monday would have marked a day of protests for Tanzanian opposition activists over the results of last Wednesday’s elections, which saw incumbent President John Magufuli claim a landslide victory with 84% of the poll, after only half of the 29 million who registered turned out to cast their votes. But the protests failed to materialise after the arrest of several opposition activists, accompanied by warnings of stern action by the police against anyone who tried to protest. Tanzania’s Constitution does not provide for any legal recourse to dispute an election outcome.

Despite questions over the legitimacy of results, President Cyril Rampahosa in a statement on Monday night congratulated Magufuli on his win, and said he “commends the people of Tanzania for upholding democratic principles and holding peaceful elections”.

Police officers deploy before Tanzania’s general elections in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania, on 27 October 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Anthony Siame)

Ramaphosa said he “looks forward to working with Dr Magufuli to strengthen the strong and cordial bilateral relations that exist between South Africa and Tanzania, as well as in matters of mutual interest in the Southern African Development Community region, the African continent and the world”.

While the observation mission from the East African Community gave the elections the thumbs up as free and fair, the observation team from the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa noted in their preliminary report that “the political environment in which the 2020 elections took place was less open and less tolerant than previous elections in Tanzania, including the limitation of political campaigning, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of expression”.

Opposition party Chadema’s presidential candidate Tundu Lissu was among those arrested on Monday afternoon after activists said he had been “effectively on the run” from law enforcement officials on Monday, together with Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party. 

A Chadema spokesperson confirmed to Al Jazeera that Lissu was detained in Dar es Salaam while at a building housing the embassies of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands as well as the European Union delegation to Tanzania. Unconfirmed reports by the opposition allege that he was denied entry to the US embassy, after which he went to Umoja House, where the German, British and European Union embassies failed to let him in. 

After police questioning, he was released and he sent a message saying: “I’ve been released after a short interrogation at the police station. On the way to the German ambassador’s residence now.”

Police forces keep tight security in the island capital to stop any gatherings after voting in the Tanzania general elections in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania on 29 October 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Anthony Siame)

It is not clear what led to the about-turn by Germany, but at least two sources said the German foreign ministry exerted pressure on the Tanzanian authorities after pressure groups, in turn, came down heavily on the foreign ministry for failing to help Lissu. Tanzania is a recipient of German aid money and also has a religious link to the country through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, which is one of the biggest Lutheran denominations in the world with more than six million congregants. The German foreign office did not immediately respond to an emailed query.

Regional police commander Lazaro Mambosasa told AFP that Lissu had been arrested “in connection with the banned protest”. Opposition activists complained that they failed to get permission for the protest when they asked. Any protests organised subsequently were deemed illegal by the government. 

The European Union said on Monday that election day was well organised and peaceful in many parts of the country, but expressed regret at the “disruption of social media before, on and after election day, claims of opposition candidates that they did not benefit from a level playing field during the electoral process, as well as the limited possibilities for electoral observation”.

It also said “reports of irregularities in some districts” raised concern, and these serious allegations “have an impact on the transparency and overall credibility of the process”. It said there should be “legal means of redress”. 

Referring to the violence and “excessive use of force by state organs” that accompanied the elections in Zanzibar, the EU said it hoped a “sustainable reconciliation between all stakeholders” could “contribute to long-lasting peace and stability in the archipelago”.

Lissu and Kabwe in a joint statement demanded “fresh elections managed by an independent panel of African leaders”. The protests were aimed at demonstrating “visibly that this ‘government’ has not been elected by the majority”. DM


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