Crackdown on dissent was hallmark of fallen politician

Friday, March 19th, 2021 00:00 |
Former Tanzania President John Magufuli addresses a joint press conference during his State visit to Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

Even in death, the late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli remains at the centre of focus over his bare-knuckled attack on his perceived opponents.

Magufuli’s reign has seen an exodus of his critics out of the country, seeking political asylum on grounds of threats to their lives.

In fact, four Opposition leaders from Tanzania learnt of the death of their second-term president while in Nairobi as their lawyer, Prof George Wajakoya, fought to have them registered as refugees after they fled their country because Magufuli’s administration had been hunting them down since the October 28, 2020, elections.

Godwin Lazaro Kitori, Ngai Mawida, Edward Ndege and Andrew Nyakriga, who are Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) former councillors in Rorya district in Mara province, separately escaped their home country to seek asylum in Nairobi following an alleged plot to arrest them over their criticism and demand for accountability by the government.

Countless arrests

Besides the four, former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, who suffered countless arrests for standing up to Magufuli, and was shot 16 times in an assassination attempt in 2017, fled to Belgium in November last year after the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Opposition parties and their members.

The late Covid-denying president would also block Lissu’s campaign rallies and intimidate local and international media that dared to cover the CHADEMA flagbearer.

Lissu, who alleged fraud in the re-election of Magufuli, first sought asylum in the German embassy in Tanzania before being escorted to the airport and is currently holed up in Belgium.

Godbless Lema, a former lawmaker fled to Kenya after being briefly detained following his loss in the controversial  elections which saw Magufuli re-elected.

Indeed, the Tanzanian leader died facing accusation of using force to rig out opposition leaders and intimidating media into salience, effectively putting himself on a collision course with international human rights campaigners, among them Amnesty International.

Dictator style

According to media reports, about 2,000 workers and activists from Chadema and the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo) were detained or “abducted” and recorded statements with police, increasing international concern on the apparent deterioration of democracy in the nation.

Wajackoyah, a human rights lawyer who has been handling cases of Tanzanian leaders who have been targeted by the government, yesterday said Magufuli’l leadership style had projected him as a dictator who was willing to go to any length to ruthlessly crush his opponents in order to have his way.  

“He was the worst tyrant who could not accommodate any form of criticism however light.

He wanted to monopolise everything to a level of being worshiped. He swept democracy under the carpet by rigging elections and then following the opposition leaders to have them killed, maimed or jailed,” Wajackoyah told People Daily yesterday.

Magufuli was also accused of eroding press freedom by intimidating local and international media.

Kenya’s Citizen TV was forced to apologise everyday for two weeks for offending the Dar government while three days ago, an activist threatened to take actions against the Nation Media Group for highlighting Magufuli’s deteriorating health.

Lazaro, one of the leaders seeking asylum in Nairobi and who served as a civic representative for Mkoma ward between 2010 and 2020, on Wednesday, said opposition leaders and activists critical of the President have been hiding because they were being brutalised and detained without trial because of their stand.

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