Tanzanian Opposition leader Tundu Lissu has said he is ready and willing to return to the country and work with President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
The Chadema vice chairman has been living in exile in Belgium since last year’s after he lost the presidential election to the late President John Magufuli.
Mr Lissu, who was speaking in Nairobi on Saturday during the launch of his new book on democracy in East Africa, said that he had already placed phone calls to the new Tanzanian leader and asked for a meeting.
Mr Lissu said his focus, should he get a physical meeting with President Samia, would be on the expansion of the democratic space.
He said that for the new President to succeed, a change in the constitutional order, granting more freedom to opposing voices with divergent opinions, was key and a sacrifice he believed the new leadership can make for all.
“I did place a call to President Suluhu two days after she was sworn in and the call was picked by her personal assistant, whom I asked to inform the President that I would be happy to sit down with her and discuss the way forward for Tanzania and how we can reform our country. But I am still waiting for a response.
“Even our party leadership of Chadema, led by the chairman, placed a request to the President, which was replied after a week, but we are still waiting for a response for a meeting,” he said.
Lissu's book is an indictment of the presidential system of government in existence for nearly six decades and he criticises what he terms as the mushrooming dictatorial and imperial presidency in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, which has stifled opposition voices.
The launch was attended by Kenya’s former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, leaders of the Chadema party and other delegates,
Mr Lissu says that the shrinking democratic space was dangerous, both in the short term, and in the long term, citing cases like the BBI initiative in Kenya, which seeks to amend the Constitution and expand the executive among other proposal, but which he says risks returning the country to an iron-fist presidency.
He also cited the leadership of the late Magufuli and that of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, whom he accused of clinging to power and entrenching dictatorship, at the expense of millions of citizens.
Mr Lissu said that the BBI process – a brainchild of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga – was a copycat of the dictatorial regimes that have characterised the leadership of Tanzania, for decades, and warned the country against taking the same path.
“The present dispassionate history of our countries is that of the imperial presidency. Our presidents are the semblance of the pre-colonial monarchs that sought through many means, to retain and remain in power,” said Mr Lissu.
“And actually this book will not be a charitable read if you support BBI, because it is written to admonish you Kenyans who are trying to copy a failed state that is Tanzania,” he added.