The self-exiled vice-chairperson of Chadema speaks on politics in Tanzania and how the opposition is likely to fare ahead of the general elections in October.
Why have you not returned to Tanzania even after doctors declared you are fully recovered?
My personal safety and security are not guaranteed. The John Magufuli regime has refused to investigate the attempt to assassinate me. Those who shot me 16 times remain at large. No arrest or prosecution of anyone. In fact, the official position of the police is that they have no suspects.
Also, my party chairman Freeman Mbowe has written to the president and the security chiefs requesting guarantees to my protection upon my return. None of his letters—since December—has been acknowledged.
You are away at a time you should be busy galvanising support if you are interested in contesting the presidency. Could the elections find you still away?
The elections will be held with or without my presence or of any other person, President Magufuli included. The only way to prevent the polls taking place is if there was an emergency such as war, or perhaps if the coronavirus pandemic renders elections impossible.
In such a scenario, could Freeman Mbowe, Zitto Kabwe or Maalim Seif fit the bill, or will a new face emerge to lead the opposition?
I have not declared myself out of the picture. All I have said is that I am unable to return at this time. We are working on my return as lots of people are involved in this, although it is no easy task given the political situation in Tanzania.
Edward Lowassa, who was the joint opposition candidate, has re-joined CCM, what is your take?
I was not surprised. Mr Lowassa came to Chadema in order to get elected president, not to suffer the trials and tribulations of fighting for democracy. Once his quest failed, it was always a matter of time before he called it a day.
Life in the opposition was just too much for him. It is difficult, expensive and dangerous for him.
Leaders of Chadema and other opposition parties continually face prosecution and restriction on public rallies. Could the opposition be obliterated by election time?
What is happening to the opposition in Tanzania is not entirely new in the history of political struggles in this part of the world.
Kenyans survived the darkest days of President Daniel arap Moi’s leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, but rather than crush the opposition, he actually made it stronger, and eventually Kanu lost.
We too, will survive this phase of repression because it has made us stronger than before. The real question is whether President Magufuli will allow free and fair elections and avoid trying to run against himself. But if we are allowed to have candidates in all contested positions, we will surprise the world.
You have urged the international community to impose sanctions on Tanzania. Why sanctions and who would be the target?
That is because the trial and sentencing of the entire leadership of Chadema—the biggest political party in Tanzania—for protesting against the returning officer in Kinondoni Constituency for failing in the swear in Mr Mwalimu in February 2018 was simply a political trial.
Our president has announced publicly on national TV that by the 2020 elections, there will be no opposition, and threatened to imprison critics of his regime. That is why I am calling upon friends of Tanzania in the international community to stand by the tenets of democracy, justice and the rule of law.
They should diplomatically censure the government and impose travel bans and asset freezes against the security apparatus that has carried out political suppression.
I also call upon the World Bank, the IMF and AfDB, to withhold financial and technical assistance to the Magufuli regime until such a time that it adheres to internationally acceptable standards of democracy.