Song, dance, and thunderous applause rent the air as Tanzania’s main opposition Chadema deputy chairman Tundu Lissu arrived at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam on Monday.
Mr Lissu returns from exile to contest in the October elections, nearly three years after he fled to seek medical care following an assassination attempt at his home in Dodoma in September 2017.
Some of his supporters, donning party colours and waving Chadema flags could be seen singing, dancing, and chanting party slogans. Others knelt and prayed as the former Singida East legislator made his way to a waiting motorcade.
“Thank God we have seen the miracle... thank God we have seen the miracle,” they sang and prayed.
Mr Lissu, 52, was received by Chadema’s top leadership including party chairman Freeman Mbowe and the secretary-general John Mnyika, among others at 2pm.
He was immediately whisked off to the party's headquarters in Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam in a long convoy that included boda boda (motorcycle riders), cars and thousands on foot chanting “rais, rais, rais (president)”.
A fierce critic of President John Magufuli’s government, he was shot 16 times, mostly in the lower abdomen, 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.
Mr 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.
He was airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya before being transferred to Belgium for specialised treatment.
"I represented other MPs in escorting Mr Lissu to Nairobi after a failed assassination attempt. The situation was terrible and therefore, it is a blessing to welcome him back as we witness him walking on his feet," said Arusha Urban Member of Parliament Godless Lema.
Mr Lissu will face President Magufuli in the October 28 election should he win the party's presidential primaries.
He picked nomination forms through his agents and is seen as the likely Chadema presidential candidate after Mr Mbowe and three other party leaders dropped out of the race.
- Additional reporting by Reuters