The controversial and authoritarian president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, known as Tingatinga (the bulldozer, in Swahili), is the top favorite in the presidential elections held this Wednesday in this African country. The tight control it exercises over the powers of the State, the cuts in freedom of the press and the relentless persecution of the opposition limit the electoral reaction capacity of the lawyer and opposition leader Tundu Lissu, the only one capable of standing up to the all-encompassing power of Magufuli after surviving a savage assassination attempt in 2017.
The elections are held in a climate of tension after the latest incident in the Zanzibar Archipelago this Monday. The opposition ACT-Wazalendo party has denounced the arrest of its leader and the murder of five of its militants at the hands of the forces of order when they tried to prevent the distribution of ballots that, according to this party, were already marked. However, the police said they had no knowledge of any deceased and only recognized the detention of young people on the island of Pemba who tried to prevent the distribution of ballot boxes, Reuters reports.
But it is on the mainland of Tanzania where the decisive game for the future of this country is played. President Magufuli, 61, arrives at the electoral appointment showing off his most populist profile. If there is an African leader who has distanced himself from the official position in the face of the coronavirus pandemic that has marked this 2020, that has been the Tanzanian bulldozer: a denialist in the style of Trump or Bolsonaro, he even said that the cases in his country were An “imperialist sabotage”, he ordered that contagion figures be stopped from last April and proposed more prayers and fewer masks to deal with the disease. The professor of Mathematics with a doctorate in Chemistry, Minister of Public Works for two decades, remains faithful to his style.
His heavy hand against the opposition and the press has not gone unnoticed by human rights organizations, which publish constant denunciations warning of the increase in repression by the regime. The latest Amnesty International report is blunt: “Opposition leaders suffer harassment, arbitrary arrest and intimidation by the authorities, while the ruling party is allowed to campaign freely and without hindrance.”
Despite everything, the great asset of Magufuli before the voters is the robust stability of the Tanzanian economy, even in times of coronavirus, supported by the construction of large dams and other infrastructures and the export of minerals. To this is added his fierce fight against corruption: his first measures after winning for the first time in 2015 were to make surprise visits to the Administration to see if the officials were at their post, to prohibit travel abroad of his ministers without due justification and turn the national holiday into a street cleaning day.
Only one threat looms from the south. Just a week ago, the first terrorist attack took place on Tanzanian soil by the Islamic State of Central Africa, the jihadist group that has brought neighboring Mozambique on its head and has become strong in the province of Cabo Delgado. At least 22 people died in the town of Kitaya and the Tanzanian authorities are concerned with the spread of this radical insurgency.
To try to break the absolute hegemony, dating from the times of the father of independence Julius Nyerere, from the Magufuli party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the 52-year-old opponent Tundu Lissu, relies on his profile of reprisal political and in a kind of healing that many consider miraculous. In 2017 his car was machine-gunned in front of his house and no less than 16 bullets went through his body. Transferred first to Nairobi and then to Brussels, he had to be operated on several times. Investigations into this crime did not lead to any arrests.
Returning home this summer to campaign at the helm of Chadema, the historic opposition party, Lissu has had to face tear gas, disruption of rallies by law enforcement and other maneuvers that reinforce his accusations as a “dictator” against Magufuli. “It is getting tougher, it is heating up, we expected it,” he said in reference to his rival in a recent interview with Reuters, “the regime is getting scared and is doing everything possible, using all the instruments of power in its hands, to fight my campaign, “he added.
Despite everything, this lawyer specializing in human rights and the environment and lover of reggae music, who has been imprisoned on several occasions for his fight against the mining sector, is convinced that he can change things. “After five years of repression, I was not expecting so much enthusiasm and popular support,” he assured the France Presse agency in reference to the latest opposition rallies. It remains to be seen if it will be enough.