His arrival follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement this month of the end of the ban on political gatherings in Tanzania.
Tanzanian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu returned home after more than two years in Europe to cheering crowds on Wednesday, after the government lifted the ban on holding political meetings.
A former lawmaker and vocal critic of the government, Lissu initially left the country for treatment abroad after he was shot 16 times, mostly in the stomach, in his car by unidentified gunmen in Dodoma in 2017.
He had been arrested eight times in the year following the attack.
Lissu was welcomed by a large group of supporters at the Julius Nyerere International Airport, after flying in from Brussels before heading to the business center in Dar es Salaam.
He was seen waving the flag of his Chadema party while sitting on top of a car as he greeted supporters who had gathered on the side of the road following him on foot, in cars and on motorbikes.
Lissu had returned for several months in 2020 to challenge President John Magufuli in the election. However, shortly after the election he fled to the German ambassador’s house after receiving death threats, and left the country again.
His arrival follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement this month of the end of a ban on political gatherings that he imposed in place of Magufuli, citing opposition parties.
The CHADEMA party on Saturday will hold its first meeting since the 2016 ban under the leadership of its leader Freeman Mbowe in Mwanza city.
The government has been hailed by activists and the opposition as a democracy booster, with Hassan cracking down on some of Magufuli’s brutal policies.
Lissu was last in Tanzania in late 2020 to run for office against Magufuli, who died five months after winning his second term. The victory was controversial and critics called for protests. Lissu fled to the ambassadors after his life was threatened, before fleeing the country.
Under Magufuli, who was first elected in 2015 as a straight talker of the people, political rallies have been banned, opposition leaders arrested and journalists terrorized.
Nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership, Magufuli’s hard-line policies and unyielding governance led to Tanzania’s reputation as a stable democracy in the region.
Since Magufuli’s sudden death in March 2021, Hassan has reversed his controversial policies and promised reforms demanded by the opposition.
But hope faded in July that year when Mbowe was arrested on charges of “economic crimes”. He was released after seven months but some critics called Hassan a “dictator”.
He sat down face-to-face with Lissu in Brussels in early 2022, raising hopes that a change should be made.
Earlier this week, Tanzania’s information minister said the government was planning to amend a media law that critics say restricts freedom of expression, but did not specify any changes.
“President Samia Suluhu Hassan, through the government and her party, have shown that they are ready for a new journey. We have to make sure that we are also ready to do so,” said Lissu.
“I’m coming home to restart our country.”