Tanzania: Tundu Lissu – Fierce MP With a Rebellious Streak

He is a well learned and skillful orator. Arguably one of the best opposition MPs the country has ever had since the establishment of multiparty elections in 1995. Meet the Singida East MP, Tundu Lissu.

The outspoken lawmaker and chief lawyer of the opposition is always usual self — a combative politician.

He is currently the man in the political limelight after his recent sharp criticism of President John Pombe Magufuli.

Mr Lissu spent a night locked up last week, and has appeared in court where he is facing three counts of sedition.

His remarks, considered inflammatory by the authorities, were in response to the ban on rallies.

The legislator was not really excited about the warnings levelled against his party, which has declared September 1 as ‘Defiance Day’. This time, they had to transport him 670 kilometres from his constituency in Singida to Dar es Salaam after he allegedly called on Tanzanians to took to the streets on September 1. That’s Tundu Lissu — he may pass as an ordinary MP. But he has made so much ‘noise’, and ventured into places where many politicians would ordinarily fear to tread. Is he up against the wrong guy this time round?

On a recent tour of the Lake Zone tour, Dr Magufuli did not exactly mention Mr Lissu’s name when he warned the Opposition that he was a completely different leader.

But his warning for defiant opposition leaders not to try him did augur well with Mr Lissu, who hit back at the President, vowing not to be silenced.

This was not the first time for the MP to have a ‘one-on-one’ of sorts with a president.

During the General Election campaigns last year, he picked a fight with the then President Jakaya Kikwete. Lissu accused Mr Kikwete of being the real face of the Richmond scandal, and not Edward Lowassa.

The MP claimed that Mr Lowassa, who resigned as Prime Minister at the height of the scandal, did so as a sacrificial lamb to save the reputation of Mr Kikwete’s government.

He further claimed that the Richmond Development Company Ltd, which was arbitrarily contracted to provide emergency electricity in 2006, had connections to the then President Kikwete.

It seemed this was too much for Mr Kikwete, whose softer nature generally allowed him to tolerate political attacks. This time, however, he responded from Kigoma where he campaigning for Dr Magufuli, by telling Mr Lissu that he should know the man who owned Richmond had jumped ship to the opposition camp, and was in fact, now a colleague of the outspoken MP.

“If Lissu fails to name the man behind Richmond I will go public and reveal him myself,” said Mr Kikwete.

Since his first appearance in Parliament in 2010, Mr Lissu has been the Opposition’s Chief Whip and shadow minister for Justice. That position also set him on a collision course with the Attorney General.

First, it was with Judge Fredrick Werema (who resigned in late 2014 in the wake of the Tegeta Escrow Scandal), and now he is pitted against AG George Masaju.

Mr Lissu has on a number of occasions told Parliament that the AG is not fit to hold that office.

The lawmaker’s rebellious streak would also manifest in 2014 in a series of political battles in the Constituent Assembly. He put his weight behind the opposition coalition Ukawa which wanted the draft constitution proposing a three-tier government.

This set him against CCM politicians campaign for the status quo, a Union formed by two governments.

As the battle intensified, Mr Lissu launched a scathing attack on Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, a former University of Dar es Salaam Law don and cabinet minister in both Mr Kikwete and President Magufuli’s governments.

The MP accused Dr Mwakyembe of flip-flopping on the issue of three governments. And he had done his research well. He cited Dr Mwakyembe’s book titled: Tanzania’s Eighth Constitutional Amendment and its Implications on Constitutionalism, Democracy and the Union Question, and published in 1995. The cabinet minister wrote the book when he was still pursuing his Master’s degree at Hamburg University in Germany.

According to Mr Lissu, Dr Mwakyembe was in favour of the adoption of a three-tier Union government model to resolve problems bedevilling the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

However, the minister hit back saying Mr Lissu had referred to the book out of context for his own political agenda.

Gift of the gab

Maybe what makes the Singida MPs’ verbal attacks on his opponents more hurtful is his gift of the gab. Mr Lissu is admired by many a politician as an orator, who at times would singlehandedly put the government in a very tight corner in Parliament.

Inside Chadema where he serves as the party’s chief legal officer, he’s also an influential figure, who is generally praised for hard work and competence. He has been instrumental in winning a countless number of the party’s court cases.

However, he at time draws out his dagger against ‘wayward’ comrades in his party. He passionately fought to get Zitto Kabwe stripped of party membership in the fallout of 2014.

It was Mr Lissu himself who announced Mr Kabwe’s expulsion from the party for violating its constitution.

Last year, when Chadema accepted former Premier Lowassa to be its presidential canddate, many had speculated on a possible Lissu opposition to the idea. But the shrewd politician he is, he was the first Chadema official to justify the decision saying it was “perfect timing”.

“The big question we need to answer correctly is why we have welcomed him and picked him as our flag-bearer,” he said.

Source: The Citizen.