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Tundu Lissu: 'My life is not safe'

Lilian Mtono | Ben Knight
November 7, 2020

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu has taken refuge at the residence of the German ambassador after losing the country's election. He contests the results, which virtually wiped out the opposition Chadema party.

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu
Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu LissuImage: AFP

The leader of Tanzania's main opposition Chadema party Tundu Lissu has told DW that he fears for his life after losing a highly controversial election that observers say effectively turned the East African country into a one-party state. 

Tanzanian President John Magufuli won the election on October 30 with 84% of the vote, to Lissu's 13%, though the opposition alleged widespread voter intimidation and corruption. Lissu was also briefly detained by police earlier this week after calling for a national protest.

Speaking from the residence of German ambassador Regine Hess in Dar es Salaam, where the presidential candidate fled on Monday, Lissu said he had been pursued by Tanzanian police officers and that an order to kill him had already been issued.

Lissu, 52, survived an assassination attempt in 2017, when he was shot multiple times in his car. He returned to Tanzania this summer to contest last week's election after spending three years recovering in exile. He had most recently been living in Belgium.

He spoke to DW Kiswahili's Lilian Mtono.

Lissu: I am living in the ambassador's residence because my life is not safe. Since last Saturday I am receiving messages threatening my life. So I left my home since Sunday. On Monday, I went to the embassy. I was followed by Tanzanian police officers who were in two vehicles. I was arrested and taken to the Central Police Station. If it were not for the presence of officials of the German embassy, I would probably on that day not have returned back to my home.

DW: You say you started getting threats on Saturday before moving to the residence of the ambassador — what type of threats did you receive and who exactly was threatening you?

Lissu: On Saturday, I was called by someone who did not identify himself. He told me, "according to orders given to us, we are to finish you up once and for all." And shortly afterward, I received a call from another person. He told me the same message: That an order to finish me has been issued: "So if you can save yourself, do so."

DW: So those who gave you information were the ones sent to kill you, or were they good Samaritans?

Lissu: I think in the manner in which they expressed themselves, they are people who are part of the group sent but they do not agree with these things.

Read more: Opinion: Tanzania faces huge challenges to peace and unity

DW: Until when will you be there [at the Ambassador's residence]?

Lissu: I will be here until my safety is guaranteed. I don't like staying here. I have nothing to do here. I am a busy person with a lot of things to do. So I want to leave here as fast as possible and unfortunately, I cannot know when this can happen. Because those who are supposed to ensure my safety seem not to want to commit themselves that when I come out, I shall be safe.

DW: Why do say that?

Lissu: Because since I came here, there have been efforts of ambassadors from different countries to tell the government of Tanzania that what is happening is not right. And until now those efforts have not succeeded.

DW: And when you successfully leave the residence, will you continue to stay in the country or will you return to Belgium?

Lissu: I shall leave to return to Belgium because the security situation at the moment is not good at all. These threats are things I have to take seriously and give them special weight and consideration.

DW: Maybe you still see yourself vying for the presidency in the next elections? And will you continue with your political activism?

Lissu: Let us pray to God to give us life and preserve us to know how the coming years will be for us. But what I can say very openly is that activism is my life.

This interview was translated from the original Kiswahili.

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Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight