Tanzanian opposition politician and presidential hopeful Tundu Lissu has returned from exile in Belgium where he underwent treatment after he was shot multiple times three years ago.
Lissu, a former politician with the Chadema main opposition party, was welcomed by hundreds of supporters, who clamoured around his car as he waved from an open sunroof on Monday.
A critic of President John Magufuli, Lissu was shot 16 times in an attack by unknown gunmen in the administrative capital, Dodoma, in September 2017.
At the time, Magufuli condemned the shooting and ordered security forces to investigate, but no one has been arrested.
Lissu was arrested eight times in the year leading up to his attack and charged with incitement, among other alleged offences. His most recent arrest was in August 2017 – two weeks before he was shot.
Tanzania will hold a general election on October 28, and the United States last month accused the country of seeking to “stifle democratic norms” ahead of the polls, with a string of arrests of opposition figures and the closure of a newspaper.
Lissu’s return comes as the top opposition parties consider joining forces behind a single candidate to challenge Magufuli, who seeks a second five-year term.
In an interview with AFP news agency shortly before leaving for Tanzania, Lissu said he was “going back home to try and fight for the presidency”.
“Whether we are going to have free and fair elections, that is not the question, we don’t expect that. The issue is … are we going to have our lives by the end of the electoral process?”
He said the opposition and his political party had “gone through hell during these five years”.
“The biggest thing has been the untold suffering. Killings of political leaders, attacks on political leaders, abductions, disappearances, torture, illegal prosecution of opposition leaders and activists in courts of law, with trumped-up charges.”
Lissu said his heath was good after his ordeal, in which he was shot at his home.
“You have to be aware of the fact that I was shot 16 times. All my limbs, my legs, my waist, my arms, my stomach were basically ripped apart by 16 bullet shots and therefore to mend me, to put me back on my feet, took a long time.
“Of course I’m not as I was three years ago: my leg is shorter by several centimetres (an inch or so). But otherwise, I’m fine.”
Lissu told AFP that Magufuli’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had been “a national embarrassment” and raised concerns about the holding of the election.
Magufuli claims there are no more cases in the country, which last released official figures in April. However Tanzanian truck drivers regularly test positive in neighbouring countries.
“So we have total blackout on corona and because there is total blackout, the president wants the world to believe that there is no corona. It’s a disaster.”