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Applause in Tanzania After President Meets Exiled Opposition Leader in Belgium

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, right, meets with opposition leader Tundu Lissu in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 16, 2022, in this photo posted on Twitter by Tanzania's State House @ikulumawasliano.

Tanzanian political figures are applauding after President Samia Suluhu Hassan met in Brussels Wednesday with opposition leader Tundu Lissu. Lissu has lived in Belgium since a 2017 assassination attempt. He returned to Tanzania in 2020 to run for president but fled the country again after protests against his election loss and what he said were threats to his life.

The meeting lasted about an hour, and afterward, the president and exiled opposition leader shook hands for the cameras.

Lissu said that during the meeting, he raised concerns about his fate and that of other opposition politicians who fled Tanzania to seek asylum abroad, after their lives were put in danger during the rule of late President John Magufuli.

Lissu said he’d like to return home but wants Hassan to assure his safety.

The president’s office issued a brief statement on the meeting and said Hassan and Lissu discussed issues of interest to the welfare of Tanzania.

However, Lissu shared more details on Twitter. He said he asked the president to drop a case facing the Chadema Party’s national chairperson, Freeman Mbowe, and three other party members who are behind bars, facing terrorism and economic sabotage charges.

Some Tanzanians said the meeting between the president and the Chadema vice-chairperson showed political maturity and promise for the future.

“I believe it’s a very good political move. All now that we are waiting to see is whether all that was discussed will be implemented. For example, there was a suggestion that Tundu Lissu requested the immediate release of the leader of opposition Freeman Mbowe who according to many, was captured on political grounds. I think if the president will honor all that was discussed then we are headed on a very good path. So, let’s wait and see because we can not only be excited without seeing the results,” said Jesca Muleba, a resident of Morogoro.

Political analyst Aika Peter says the meeting between the two should have a positive impact on Tanzania’s politics.

"Let us not forget that to lead any country you need to lead the people, even if you do not agree but there are things that are related to human rights, if they are not violated it becomes a very good thing. What happened yesterday we applaud and see it as a good step for political parties and the nation as a whole," Peter said.

Rights activist Kumbusho Dawson says the meeting showed that the country is going to accept a national dialogue. He called the encounter a new beginning toward opening up national dialogue and unifying the country. Dawson added that Tanzanians can now hope that their country can get into observing democratic principles.

In recent months, Hassan has ended bans on several media outlets and implemented other reforms to open up political space – a sharp turnaround from the authoritarian tendencies of the late President Magufuli.