Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu said Friday he would shortly return home from exile to “write a new chapter” following the president’s lifting of a ban on political assembly.
Lissu, who was shot 16 times in an assassination attempt in 2017 and has spent most of the years since in Belgium, said he would arrive in Tanzania on January 25.
It follows President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s announcement this month that a ban on political rallies imposed by her hardline predecessor would be lifted in an overture to the opposition.
“We cannot continue to endlessly live in exile,” Lissu said in a speech which was broadcast live on YouTube and carried on local channels in Tanzania.
“I am optimistic that we will write a new chapter this year… 2023 is an important year in the history of our country.”
Lissu’s opposition Chadema party has announced plans to start public rallies on January 21.
He was last in Tanzania in late 2020 contesting the election against Hassan’s predecessor John Magufuli, a strongman leader who died just five months after winning his second term.
The victory was disputed and the opposition called for protests. Lissu took refuge with diplomats after threats to his life, before escaping the country.
Under Magufuli, who was first elected in 2015 as a straight talking man of the people, political gatherings were outlawed, opposition leaders detained and media cowed.
Nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership style, Magufuli’s hardline policies and uncompromising governance saw Tanzania’s reputation for stable democracy in the region badly damaged.
Lissu, an outspoken critic of Magufuli and Tanzania’s powerful ruling party, was shot while seated in his car in 2017 and spent the next few years recovering in Belgium.
Since the sudden death of Magufuli in March 2021, his successor Hassan has reversed some of his most controversial policies and promised reforms long demanded by the opposition.
But hopes dimmed in July 2021 when Lissu’s party comrade 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.
“President Samia Suluhu Hassan, through her government and party, have shown they are ready for a new journey. We need to demonstrate that we are also ready for that,” Lissu said.
“I am coming home for the new beginning of our nation.”