- Gunmen shot and wounded Mr Lissu outside his home in Dodoma early this month, and the outspoken government critic is still recovering in a Nairobi hospital.
Dar es Salaam. As the climate of fear persists among politicians following the fatal shooting of Chadema lawyer Tundu Lissu early this month, the question of party militia groups has resurfaced with opposition leaders digging in, vowing not to disband, but instead strengthen their own private security.
Gunmen shot and wounded Mr Lissu outside his home in Dodoma early this month, and the outspoken government critic is still recovering in a Nairobi hospital.
His condition has been described as stable but critical after his vehicle was sprayed with 30 live bullets. Many political leaders have also suffered similar attempts on their lives in recent years, with some disappearing under strange circumstances that call the security issue into question.
Those who seem to be mostly affected are opposition politicians who are now increasingly crying foul over the long list of “unresolved cases” of attempts on their colleagues’ lives and abductions of people perceived to be anti-establishment.
In various interviews with Political Platform, opposition leaders have said they are increasingly getting worried about the current political environment, especially on matters relating their personal security.
The country’s three major opposition parties – Chadema, Civic United Front (CUF) and ACT-Wazalendo – have spoken in favour of their own security arrangements instead of relying on the police force.
“The government has to accept the fact that it has failed on its basic duty to make sure that all the people are secure and that nobody feels threatened while in the country,” Chadema spokesman Tumaini Makene says in an interview with Political Platform. All the major political parties in the country still have their own militia groups serving as private security apparatuses, despite repeated calls for their disbanding.
The militias, among other duties, are recruited to protect party bigwigs during public appearances, and act as the main security detail at meetings and functions.
However, the various interviews Political Platform recently had suggest that the feeling of insecurity is still a common denominator among senior party officials who see their militias as inadequate when it comes to providing maximum protection. Instead, many political party leaders are calling for a “non-partisan and professional” police force to fill the gap.
If recent incidents are anything to go by, there is a likelihood that political parties will seek to boost their private security details as confidence in the capacity of the police force dip.
Already, the three main political parties in the country have well-organised and trained militias protecting the bigwigs.
The ruling CCM has the Green Guard while the main opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) has the Red Brigade and Civic United Front (CUF) Blue Guard.
Polarising political environment
In this increasingly polarising political environment, debate may cease to be about the essence or necessity of these private security details but how much they can provide the feeling of personal safety that the country’s public leaders from across the political divide seem to be yearning for.
The opposition feels members of the police force have let them down, hence the proliferation of party militia.
Mr Makene says the police force has failed on its constitutional responsibility to ensure security for all people in the country, creating a gap that militias are filling.
He adds that it’s the responsibility of every government around the world to protect its citizens regardless of one’s ideological affiliation.
However, the Chadema spokesperson is quick to point out that party militias alone cannot stop the rampant attacks on public leaders without the cooperation of the police force.
The absence of a proper justice delivery system has a lot to do with the persistent attacks and disappearance of political leaders, Mr Makene avers, adding that party militias can do nothing to end it.
“Once you don’t have a just system in place, things just go the way we currently see them going in our country.”
He points the finger at the “same people” who are supposed to be enforcing the law, decrying what he says is the lack of institutional accountability.
“If the government was acting responsibly, as it’s constitutionally required, we couldn’t have reached this stage where a political leader is attacked by those called unknown people,” he says.
The Chadema leader notes that the government is not taking all complaints on injustice seriously. If it was doing so, there wouldn’t be need for people to talk about the need to strengthen party militias, Mr Makene argues.
“We just need the same fair treatment from state apparatuses as our CCM counterpart are getting.”
However, the Police Force maintains that it is still conducting its role in a professional manner despite the criticism from the opposition parties.
Mr Barnabas Mwakalukwa, the Police Force spokesperson, believes the people still have faith in the law enforcement agents. “We have not received any complaint from any political party suggesting that they lost faith in us,” he says.
On party militia, the senior cop says the laws of the land are “very clear” on the issue, that it’s the Police Force, which is responsible for the security of the people and their properties.
Contacted for comment on the matter, CCM secretary for ideology and publicity Humphrey Polepole said: “I can’t talk now, will call you back soon.”
However, he never called back, and did not pick calls when contacted later.
In the Civic United Front (CUF), the outcry is the same. The party’s deputy director of information and public communications Mbarara Maharagande suggests they have defied calls to disband their militia because they have been left with no alternative.
The opposition party’s Blue Guard is still in place.
“We cannot heed the call because first of all, we don’t have faith in them, and secondly, the militia operates in line with the party’s constitution as well,” says Mr Maharagande.
He notes that as far as they are concerned the protection of their party’s leaders is a priority.
“Currently, our main concern is the decision by the government to withdraw the security detail of our secretary general, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, despite the fact that he is a former First Vice President of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar,” he says.
According to Mr Maharagande, this is one of the factors behind their lack of faith in the police force under the fifth phase government, which he accuses of having no tolerance for the opposition.
“The current administration is not tolerant of critics and the multiparty system in general,” says Mr Maharagande, who urges the government to ensure that peace and security are restored and maintained.
Like his opposition colleagues in Chadema, the CUF official accuses the police force of ignoring its key responsibility of protecting the citizenry, and instead allow itself to be used to hunt government critics down in a bid to please the CCM government and ruling party leaders.
He is also worried about the police force’s “inaction” with regards the persistent attacks on political leaders. “We have reported about nine incidents involving attacks on our leaders, but no one has been worked on,” says Mr Maharagande, who goes on to accuse the law enforcement agents of sitting on information that can lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the violent attacks.
ACT-Wazalendo information officer Abdallah Hamis also corroborates what the other opposition parties have expressed concerns about – that there is a general feeling that the government has not lived up to the people’s expectations when it comes to security matters.