Singida East MP Tundu Lissu has spoken of the last moments when two armed men sprayed his car with a hail of bullets in a failed assassination attempt.
In an interview with UK’s Financial Times, Mr Lissu also blames the failed plot to kill him on what he sees as Tanzania’s slide into a “dictatorship.”
The outspoken MP said in his first interview with the media that he was shot at by two armed men who leapt from a car that had been trailing him for three weeks.
He said a split-second decision by his driver to throw him to the floor perhaps saved his life during the September 7 shooting outside his home in Dodoma.
“All hell broke loose,” says Mr Lissu, chief whip of the Opposition. “I have been told, because I couldn’t count, that 38 bullets hit my car and out of those something like 16 hit me.”
He said in the first interview since the attack that he believes he was the target of an assassination attempt and linked it to an alleged campaign to turn “the country into a dictatorship.” Mr Lissu had before his shooting become one of the most vocal critics of President John Magufuli. He had been in and out of police cells several times.
“He [Magufuli] wants to crush the political parties, crush the press, crush organised civil society and the trade unions, and silence the church,” Mr Lissu told the Financial Times in Kenya, where he is receiving medical treatment. “Every independent centre of power should be made to comply with the demands of the big man,” he told the newspaper.
President Magufuli is on record condemning the attack on Lissu as “barbaric” and directed the police to investigate the incident. No progress has been made in the investigation so far and the government has turned down a request from Chadema to involve independent foreign investigators.
Financial Times quoted government spokesman Hassan Abbasi dismissing Mr Lissu’s assertion as “misplaced.” “If anyone, including Mr Lissu, has any further evidence let him share [it] with investigators,” Mr Abbasi says. “Tanzania is known for its unmatched peaceful and democratic political processes which are conducted according to the laws.”
The newspaper also quoted Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe on the state of democracy in Tanzania and what Mr Lissu’s attack portend to equally critical minds like him.
“By his own admission [Mr Magufuli] doesn’t believe in multi-party democracy,” Mr Kabwe says. “He sees parties as annoyances, including his own party. He wants to rule with no encumbrances. He prefers to rule in an autocratic way.”
The motive for the attack on Mr Lissu was “to keep us quiet”, Mr Kabwe told Financial Times.
Mr Lissu said he survived the shooting because the bullets missed his torso and “hit me on the backside big time.” He has had 12 operations and is still bed-ridden but can sit up.
“He’s managed to beat us up real bad,” he says, referring to the president’s crackdown on dissent. “The way Magufuli is, his temperament, his personality, his recent actions, he’s turning the country into a dictatorship,” Mr Lissu was quoted as saying.