Tanzania opposition figure Godbless Lema returns from exile
Thursday March 02 2023
Dar es Salaam
Tanzanian opposition politician Godbless Lema returned home from exile in Canada to a cheering crowd on Wednesday as the country hopes to turn the page on years of authoritarian rule.
A former lawmaker from the main opposition Chadema party, Lema fled the East African nation in November 2020, citing threats to his life following a disputed election.
Lema said he "wept" upon seeing such a large crowd to greet him at the airport.
"I have come back from a better place to fight for my country," he told a rally of supporters in Arusha.
His return comes a month after another opposition stalwart Tundu Lissu arrived back in his homeland after spending most of the past five years in exile following an assassination attempt.
Their return follows the lifting of a ban on political assembly by President Samia Suluhu Hassan in an overture to the opposition.
"Chairman of the party's northern region arrived this afternoon at the Kilimanjaro International Airport," Chadema said on Twitter.
Cheering supporters dressed in the party colours of white, red and blue thronged the airport, some 70 kilometres from the northern town of Arusha where the opposition was to hold a welcome rally.
They waved flags and placards reading "Welcome home son".
A fierce critic of the government, Lema served as member of parliament for 10 years and was one of many opposition MPs who lost their seats in key strongholds in the 2020 election.
Opposition parties called for street demonstrations against the results, but their leaders, including Lissu, were detained.
Lema sought refuge in Kenya with his wife and children before being granted political asylum in Canada.
Political gatherings were outlawed under Samia's predecessor John Magufuli, a strongman leader who died just five months after winning his second term — with an improbable 84 percent of the vote.
Nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his authoritarian leadership style, Magufuli's hard-line policies and uncompromising governance saw Tanzania's reputation for stable democracy in the region badly damaged.
But since his sudden death in March 2021, his successor Samia has reversed some of his most controversial policies and promised reforms long demanded by the opposition.
Hopes however dimmed in July 2021 when Chadema party leader Freeman Mbowe was arrested on terrorism charges. He was released after seven months but some critics labelled Hassan a "dictator".
She sat down face-to-face with Lissu in Brussels in early 2022, again buoying hopes that change could be on the horizon.