Advocate Tundu Lissu, president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) and MP for Singida East was last Thursday shot by unknown gunmen in Dodoma and was rushed to a Nairobi hospital to receive emergency treatment.
Early reports suggested the gunmen, whose number could not be ascertained, had tailgated his car as he was being driven home for lunch after parliament’s morning session.
The attack occurred after his car had arrived in front of his home when the assailants parked their car alongside his and proceeded to set off a hail of bullets, pumping at least five slugs into his abdomen, legs and arms. Somehow they missed his head, which is probably the only reason the doctors had something to work on.
The story of this attack on Lissu sent shockwaves in the whole of Tanzania and abroad because Lissu has come to represent the most uncompromising opposition to the government of President John Pombe Magufuli on many issues dealing with political as well as economic governance.
He has taken on Magufuli almost singlehandedly on matters pertaining to the way he governs the country politically, calling him what would translate loosely into “petty dictator” for the president’s restrictions on political activities and the way he has been handling the country’s disputes with the giant mining companies operating in Tanzania.
Lissu has been warning Magufuli not to treat international investors in a cavalier fashion, urging him to respect the law even where Tanzania’s interests are perceived to be hurt as a result of sweetheart deals signed by Magufuli’s predecessors and which gave investors lucrative concessions.
The legislator’s advice has been for the government to learn from past mistakes and to learn never to repeat them in the future, but this has not sat well with Magufuli who insists every “patriot” must be in his corner.
An assassination attempt
So, when an attack of this kind takes place it is easy for people to put two and two together and get silly. Lissu has indeed been a sharp thorn in the side of the government, and Magufuli is known to be intolerant of criticism. The young lawyer has been a frequent visitor to remand prison, and his court appearances to answer to charges of sedition have become too frequent to enumerate.
But would Magufuli’s government risk universal condemnation by organising a hit which makes it look like someone wanted Lissu dead? Has Tanzania come so low that political differences are now to be resolved through assassination? Because that is what it is: The attack on Lissu was an assassination attempt, no less. It is hardly believable.
Magufuli himself has been quick to send his message condemning the attack and calling on law enforcement to catch the culprits. Some top honcho from the ruling party echoed the same sentiments of shock and disbelief. But that is just that, statements. Action needs to be seen to be done.
It cannot be said that this attack was totally unforeseeable. Lissu himself has had occasion to report that he was being followed by elements who could have been from the security details. When a preeminent personage of Lissu’s stature makes such claims, in my view it is prudent for the authorities to take them seriously and investigate.
Now a certain Rubicon has been crossed. A foremost critic of the government has had an attempt made on his life. For starters, let us hope that this was just a failed attempt at assassination, that Lissu survives it and remains with the living, and in working condition.
Then, let us hope that this deed was the act of some rogue elements in our society and that they did not act at the behest of some structured organism. If that is so, they must be weeded out in short order, because this kind of act serves as a warning that the well is poisoned, and sooner or later more and more people will be drinking from it.
We have seen examples of little operatives prancing about with real guns that they point at people where there is no provocation at all. They look like they are high on something, most likely an embedded and incurable stupidity. They have to be reined in, and fast.
Otherwise, Tanzania will continue to become a scarier and scarier place, and I do not suppose that is what Magufuli wants for us.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org