On September 7, 2017, one of Tanzania’s opposition members of parliament was shot at his residence by a number of unknown attackers in the administrative capital of Tanzania. Tundu Lissu has long been regarded as a fierce oppositional candidate and an open critic of the government. Although Lissu was shot in the arms, stomach, and legs, it has since been confirmed that he is in a stable condition at a hospital. Many have argued that Lissu’s shooting was an attempt to suppress political dissidents and critics of the government in power. Lissu’s shooting has raised a number of human rights abuse issues in Tanzania and their wider political implications.
Amnesty International Representative Sarah Jackson recently stated, “This cowardly attack on one of Tanzania’s most fearless and prominent politicians raises concerns about the safety of all dissident voices in the country, at a time when space for dissent is quickly shrinking.” Lissu has been arrested over six times and faced over 12 political cases in court for his outspoken nature regarding much of the government’s corruption. Lissu was famously known for denouncing Tanzania’s president John Magufuli as a “petty dictator,” among other criticisms. Magufuli himself has condemned the attacks on Lissu, even though the attack is being politically charged with rising sentiment in Tanzania.
Tanzania has previously been condemned for a number of human rights abuses. The government has often turned a blind eye to significant prevailing issues in the country, such as child marriages and restricting the right to education for young females. Further, many human rights organizations, from Amnesty International to the African Women Lawyer’s Association, have often been threatened and suppressed. Restricting important dialogue surrounding issues that are pertinent to the country’s citizens has significant implications on Tanzania’s claim to being a democracy. Such restrictions may give merit to Lissu’s claim that Magufuli is a “petty dictator,” especially if freedom of expression is being suppressed in such a way.
Tanzania, as a presidential democratic republic, is responsible for providing all citizens, regardless of political status, a voice to criticize the government. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that opinions and condemnations of the government should be freely expressed without having to face the backlash from the government. If the ongoing investigation into Lissu’s attack reveals that the Tanzanian government was responsible, it will highlight a significant human rights abuse.