"It's a terrible incident. It is a continuation of violence against top opposition officials in Tanzania," Tumaini Makene, the Chadema party's spokesperson, told DW. Freeman Mbowe, Tanzania's leader of the main opposition party, was attacked by unknown assailants late Monday in the capital Dodoma.
According to Makene, three suspects ambushed their party leader while he was on his way home in the Tanzanian administrative capital. The attack left Mbowe with a broken leg. He was initially hospitalized in Dodoma before being airlifted to Dar es Salaam for further treatment.
Chadema has described Mbowe's attack as "politically motivated" but Dodoma Regional Police Commander, Gilles Muroto, warned against politicizing the incident. "The police will conduct a thorough investigation, nothing will be left out," Muroto told local media. DW reached out to the Tanzanian government for comment but all calls went unanswered.
This is the second time in three years that a leader of Tanzania's opposition has been attacked. In 2017, Chadema's deputy chairperson, Tundu Lissu, narrowly escaped when armed men fired multiple shots at his car while on his way home after attending a parliamentary meeting. The 49-year-old leader was severely injured in the attack. He was flown to Belgium for specialized treatment, where he currently remains in self-exile.
Are the attacks intimidation tactics?
Coincidentally, Mbowe was attacked one day after Lissu declared his intention to run against President John Magufuli in the upcoming elections scheduled for October 25.
"My immediate reaction after hearing the news [of Mbowe's attack] was to tie it to the president of Tanzania and his security apparatus," Lissu told DW from his exiled home in Belgium. Lissu said that the security in Dodoma is usually at its highest during the parliamentary budget sessions which have been going on for the past three weeks.
"These actions have not frightened us in the past and they will not deter us now," Lissu vowed. "On the contrary, they demand more vigilance, more resolve to mobilize the people and get rid of the tyrannical regime." Tanzania's presidential election is scheduled to take place on October 25, 2020.
"The leader of the opposition is now not able to hold rallies as planned, he is now not able to speak on the budget proposal which is going to be tabled by the government next week," Daniel El-Noshokaty, Resident Representative for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's Tanzania office, told DW.
According to El-Noshokaty, the attack on Mbowe is symptomatic of Tanzania's [political] situation in 2020. Though El-Noshokaty says he can't be sure that the government is behind the attacks, he is confident that "it is intimidation on the opposition."
EU condemns attack
The European Union (EU) was swift to denounce the attack on Mbowe describing it an attack against democracy. In a statement, the EU urged Tanzanian authorities to let democracy take its course by ensuring that all conditions for full participation in a credible and transparent election are met.
In the 2015 elections, Magufuli received just 58% of the vote – this represented a huge drop in support compared to the 2005 elections in which the ruling CCM managed to win 80% of the vote. However, in last November's local government electionsMagufuli's CCM won 99% of seats – the US and Britain later expressed their concern over the party's victory.
"The problem is that the opposition is not able or not allowed to be as visible as they would like," El Noshokaty explains. "Most of that visibility can only be seen if you talk to people on the ground or if you look at social media."
Magufuli's internal opponents
Both Mbowe and Lissu are fierce critics of Magufuli. Mbowe recently criticized Magufuli's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president is in a "state of denial." He also accused the government of not being transparent about the real scope of the pandemic.
Last month, Mbowe urged lawmakers not to attend sessions and go into self-quarantine after three parliamentarians died of unknown causes.
This week, Magufuli declared that Tanzania was now free of COVID-19. The 60-year-old leader is one of few other world leaders who downplayed the severity of the coronavirus.
He recently rebuked neighboring countries for the tough lockdowns they had imposed on their citizens while touting his own decision to keep the economy running.
Lissu has been arrested several times was once thrown into prison after he called Magufuli a dictator. Chadema has accused the police of harassing its party members, kidnappings and torture. In 2018, two of Chadema's members were shot and killed by unknown gunmen.
Josephat Charo and Josephine Tatu Karema contributed to this article.