Tundu Lissu’s new mission puts Tanzania’s foreign policy to test

WITH Tanzania’s foreign policy apparently facing uncertain terms, the country’s opposition is building up and taking over in its bid to address important national matters on a global scale.

Tundu Lissu, the opposition chief whip, who miraculously survived an assassination attempt in September 2017, leads his party – Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) – in this campaign to put the country’s politics on international platforms in style.

His body was shot at 16 times. His arms and thighs were badly broken by bullets; eight of them hitting and passing through his stomach. He remained in coma for one week at Nairobi Hospital in Kenya, where he spent four months before being transferred to Brussels, in Belgium, for further treatment in January 2018. In all, he has undergone more than 20 surgeries, with artificial bones implanted and several parts of his body reshaped.

Still under treatment and recuperating, Lissu has been granted permission by his medical team to attend to some international invitations in Europe and the United States of America beginning January 2019. And his heat is already being felt at home.

This member of parliament for Singida East has already been interviewed by Stephen Sackur a presenter of BBC’s HardTalk show. The programme was broadcast on 21 January 2019.

Lissu’s critical comments against the Tanzania government and his intention to run for president in 2020 – revealed during during the talk show – have prompted heated debates in his home country, with opposition supporters seeing a hero in him, while the government and its supporters accuse him of tarnishing the image of the country abroad.

Government supporters took to social media to castigate Lissu, saying he was becoming a voice of “imperialists.”  Of course, they were borrowing a leaf from President John Magufuli who keeps calling his critics “traitors and agents of imperialists.”

Adding salt to injury and speaking in defense of the government, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Job Ndugai, amused everybody when he told the media that he wanted Lissu back home as soon as possible, or else he would lose his constituency on the grounds of “absenteeism.”

By the way, Lissu’s medical bills are being footed by Good Samaritans from Tanzania and elsewhere because the parliament – which according to law, must be paying these bills – refused to release any funds for his treatment. In a written statement by the speaker, he was informed that the president had issued an order against such payments.

Undeterred by criticisms and the speaker’s threats, Lissu has resumed his international tour beginning Monday, January 28 2019, starting with two European countries and the United States of America.

A statement by his party, says that he would be engaged in a number of working sessions beginning with a two-day visit of Berlin to meet senior German government officials and parliamentarians.

He will then proceed to Brussels, Belgium, to meet  European Union (EU) officials and parliamentarians, as well as foreign diplomats accredited to the EU. For the next 10 days, Lissu will be visiting the US where he will meet the Tanzanian Diaspora in the DC area, Houston, Texas, and Birmingham, Alabama.

Part of the statement reads: “While in Washington DC, Hon. Lissu is due to meet with State Department and USAID officials, as well as members of both House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees Sub-Committee on Africa. He will also have an opportunity to make public presentations at a number of renowned think-tanks, namely, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), The Atlantic Council and the World Resources Institute (WRI). Hon. Lissu once worked as a Research Fellow at WRI between 1999 and 2002.”

Apart from addressing a section of major US media organizations, he is also expected to make a public lecture at the George Washington University (GWU).

What do these trips to Berlin, Brussels and Washington DC mean?

Germany is by far the largest and most influential country within the EU. Diplomatically and politically, its voice carries a substantial weight in the councils of Europe. Germany is also one of Tanzania’s foremost development partners, having supported the country’s social and economic programs and policies for decades.

As for Belgium, the country is in the heart of Europe, serving as the EU as well as NATO headquarters. It is therefore at the center of major diplomatic activities in the world.

Washington DC is not only the capital of the United States, it is also the location of the multinational financial institutions of the world such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, where global economic decision-making is located.

The visits offer him a very important opportunity to meet and discuss matters of mutual concern with a wide range of players on the global economic and political stage.

Why should the Tanzania government worry?

Prof. Mwesiga Baregu says: “Lissu’s recovery alone is something to behold. His reappearance on the political scene is blowing fresh air into Tanzania’s politics, which had become stale, dominated by Magufuli’s antics. Internal discussions are steadily going beyond stylistics of the BBC interview to substantial issues including prospects for a new president in 2020. On the external front he’s in effect resuscitating foreign affairs.”

Former deputy minister, Dr. Makongoro Mahanga, says: “Tanzania is not an island and, moreover, we are a dependent country. We heavily depend on loans, aids and grants from those countries… Let our development partners hear from an opposing view about the current situation in the country. If anything, after Lissu’s visit, government officials should follow in his footsteps in Europe and US to counter whatever allegations he will have wrongly charged the government.”

He adds that these trips abroad will be an eye-opener to the international community that had been denied a chance to know better some hidden truth about the current political, economic and democratic realities in Tanzania, particularly now that the Magufuli’s regime hardly allows its government officials to travel abroad.

Is Lissu making up bad news about Tanzania?

No, not at all! Foreign governments know much about Tanzania. They have representatives who keep them informed through regular reports about what is happening. Lissu is just underlining and filling in the missing gaps on the sad news not properly addressed before.

As a survivor, he is a living evidence of government atrocity and impunity – given the fact that since September 7, 2017 to-date, not even one suspect has been held, or interrogated, or prosecuted in connection with the incident in which Lissu survived by a close shave. Circumstantial evidences as well as reactions and behaviours after the incident have been leading curious minds to implicate the government.

Lissu is more than a mere member of parliament or a lawyer. He is a victim. The political and diplomatic world needs to understand that, much as he would wish to look and sound objective, the only option available to him is to speak his mind and tell the world what he feels and what he thinks about his assailants. This is probably what the government fears most.

And why shouldn’t the government work to counter his arguments?

This question brings us to another argument about Tanzania’s current foreign policy. Lissu is embarking on this global trek at Tanzania’s weakest diplomatic era in five decades.

In early November 2018, the EU ambassador to Tanzania was forced to pack and return to Brussels after an endless diplomatic row. The episode was later followed by the EU and US senate publicly expressing deep concerns about deteriorating human rights conditions in Tanzania. The World Bank and various individual donor countries have withdrawn their financial support, citing a number of human rights violations.

President Magufuli has never travelled abroad to address any major international conference since he came to power in 2015. In fact, within diplomatic circles, there is a “silent debate” on what Tanzania stands for in today’s foreign policy.

For three years since 2015, there has been a sharp and sudden shift from Tanzania as a perennially vocal liberator and advocate for the rights of the oppressed worldover, to a silent giant in the midst of oppression and tyranny within and without her borders.

A voice that successfully fought to liberate several African countries is currently waning. A relentlessly tireless advocate for the global dignity of humanity has been recently missing out on a global diplomatic forum. What went wrong?

One senior civil servant anonymously explains: “Throughout history, our policy has been clear. We always spoke up against atrocity, dictatorship, oppression and even sham elections in other countries. But now, when a lot of such vices is happening around us, unfortunately no one in the world hears our voice. We are becoming a forgotten voice, and we have unofficially opted to have a cold shoulder on matters of regional and global interest.”

While Tanzania is abruptly becoming silent, her regional neighbours seem to be gaining ground. Kenya, one of her main economic competitors, is on the verge of asserting herself as a regional business hub in East Africa.

Uganda is now relaxing and concentrating on its “natural character” of military adventure. Taking advantage of Tanzania’s currently “unclear foreign policy,” Rwanda has found an easy ride in her suddenly friendly neighbour. This is a situation that Rwanda had missed in the region for years leading to 2015.

Informed voices within the Tanzania’s foreign service understand that there have been internal efforts to review the country’s foreign policy to fit President Magufuli’s political jargon and ambition of “economic diplomacy,” but very few of them are optimistic about it. They do not see any strategy to understand and implement it. Nor do they trust his grasp of the concept.

One former diplomat who served under President Jakaya Kikwete says, again, anonymously for fear of reprisals: “He doesn’t seem to like diplomacy, in the first place. He is wary of the effects of globalisation, but globalisation is an evil we can’t run away from. If we need to attract investments, we must have an enticing and convincing language that builds bridges and connects us with the world. We need a language of business that which nurtures our relationships with international businesses and development partners. As of now, we are lacking this charisma, and our silence is being questioned everywhere.”

Under Kikwete, whore 10-year tenure ended in 2015, Tanzania was a shining diplomatic icon in the world. He made it his hobby,  and he put in place strategies to promote his country abroad. Unfortunately, a regime that came after him seems to be obsessed more with domestic politics than with foreign policy.

Tanzania has one of the most qualified foreign ministers – Ambassador Augustine Mahiga. But he seems to have been overwhelmed by his boss’s lack of diplomatic taste and, like some of his compatriots put it, he seems to have resigned to himself. He doesn’t like any trouble as he approaches retirement.

Under this state of affairs, very few – if any – would expect any competent voice from the government to counter Lissu’s criticism as he advances Chadema’s foreign policy on international stage. He recently tore apart responses by Tanzania’s ambassador to Germany who raised issued that eventually ended up embarrassing the Magufuli regime’s own handling of the matter after Lissu had been gunshot.

Not even Magufuli himself would risk debating Lissu at this level. They are worlds apart in terms of command of English language, articulation of issues, global exposure and debating skills.

At most, the government will rely on die hard surrogates and spin doctors to influence local media and to castigate him through social media. But their impact remains very low or unnoticed, just as was in the case of BBC’s HardTalk of January 21.

While the estimated viewers of the talk show reached 320 million globally, government propagandists in Tanzania were busy twisting Lissu’s words on Facebook and in WhatsApp groups.  God knows what they will do this time as Lissu’s bigger mission begins.


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