Tanzania

The Revenant

Former African democratic model faces five dark years

For a few weeks towards the end of 2020, people in Tanzania hoped that things would change. The presidential campaign was underway. On one side was the incumbent President John Magufuli, who had been in office since 2015, and whom Tanzanians had come to fear. On the other was Tundu Lissu, a longtime lawyer and political opposition figure who had returned to Tanzania from Belgium a few months earlier specifically in order to run for president.

Lissu was not in Belgium by choice: he had been hospitalized for 15 months after a commando of gunmen attacked him on the steps of the parliament building in 2017, after his umpteenth speech against President Magufuli. The gunmen used Kalashnikovs and left him near death.

It was Tundu Lissu – who some have nicknamed The Revenant because of his miraculous recovery – who represented the hope of Tanzanians to get rid of Magufuli. This is a president who, in the last five years in power, has heavily impoverished the country with new taxes that have penalized the less well-off, and investments in infrastructure projects that are as lavish as they are pointless, has silenced the opposition (many of whose members have disappeared in mysterious circumstances), has clamped down on the press and, last but not least, has managed the Covid-19 emergency by simply denying the virus’s existence.

And yet the elections – which international observers judged to be anything but free and fair – left Magufuli in power. A few days after the result, Lissu, who feared for his life, fled to Belgium again.

Until the beginning of March, 2021, Tanzania was anxiously preparing to face the next five years. However, everything changed on March 17, when it was announced that Magufuli, the president of a country whose population had never used masks and that, since data on the infection rate had never been released, officially appeared to be almost virus-free, had died of Covid.