Four countries in Africa are preparing responses against planned protests fronted by opposition politicians in what could test the line between civil liberties and security.
South Africa, Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria may all experience running battles with the police, or peaceful demos to express dissatisfaction with the governments in dealing with economic and political problems.
Their planners are far and different. But the Monday March 20 date may move from being coincidental to become historic.
In Kenya, opposition leader Raila Odinga has rejected what he called intimidation from the government after he announced Monday as the beginning of protests to ‘resist’ what he calls a high cost of living which he blames on government lethargy.
‘Mother of all protests’
He says the March 20 demonstrations will be the “mother of all protests” and is expected to bring the country to a standstill. He says the protests are because the government of President William Ruto has refused to allow the audit of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) servers for possible malpractice, high cost of living after the government eliminated subsidies, nepotism in the Kenya administration, failing to consult other stakeholders in the reconstitution of IEBC, broken promises and an illegitimate government.
“We cannot be intimidated by William Ruto and [Deputy President] Rigathi Gachagua. I want to tell them that I fought for the second liberation in this country,” said the opposition leader who lost his sixth presidential contest last year to Dr Ruto, but whose results he rejects to date.
“The two cannot understand what I have gone through. I was arrested, charged in court and went to prison in 1983 but was discharged for lack of evidence. I have been fighting for democracy and was put in detention for eight years when some of them were still breastfeeding,” Mr Odinga said.
“The lion (Moi) was dreaded but we uprooted its teeth. I am ready and prepared to pay the ultimate price while fighting for the liberation of Kenya,” added Mr Odinga amid cheers from the charged crowd.
The Kenyan government has said it accepts peaceful picketing but will crush violators.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a stern warning to opposition leader Julius Malema ahead of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) planned national shutdown.
Mr Malema’s EFF is mobilising a national protest for Monday, March 20, 2023, with the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) also joining.
The party is embarking on the shutdown to push for the resignation of President Ramaphosa and demand an improvement on the southern African nation's energy crisis.
President Ramaphosa, however, has not taken the planned action lightly and has ordered law enforcement to deal decisively with “any lawlessness” during the shutdown.
He addressed the media at the Union Buildings in Pretoria during a state visit by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
He stressed that they would ensure that rebelliousness or anarchy is nipped in the bud.
“If you are going to restrict the rights of other people, coerce, intimidate and unleash violence, our security forces are going to defend the people of South Africa because we will not allow anarchy and disorder to prevail in this country. So, we will see what happens,” said Mr Ramaphosa on national television.
“Our politics is fractious, divided, and [we are] going to the elections next year.
“Many parties, when you go to elections, start positioning themselves because they want to win the vote, and they will often position themselves in a way which is completely against the governing party.
“South Africa is governed by the rule of law, and we are a constitutional democracy. Regime change can only come about through the vote.
“It cannot come about through anarchy and unleashing disorder in a country.
“[The right to protest] is deeply embedded in our constitution, and it is a right that we South Africans fought for and won so South Africans can protest against [that with which they disagree], but that right is not absolute.”
The South African leader reiterated that nobody in the country has the right to do as they please.
“That right is a limited right, and it’s not underpinned by violence, and it is not a right that allows anyone to embark on anarchy or disorder. It is a right that says you must respect the rights of others.”
Mr Malema, the firebrand EFF leader, has hit back at the president, making it known that the planned protests all over South Africa would be peaceful. But he insists that anyone trying to disrupt it "would meet their maker".
There may be similar scenarios in Tunisia where the cost of living, insecurity and impunity has angered the public. Activists were organising a massive protest on Friday to be continued daily until Monday. According to protests tracker Crisis 24, organisers from the National Salvation Front group planned to protest outside the Municipal Theatre in Tunis every afternoon to force a response from President Kais Saied who is accused of worsening the economic wellbeing of people.
Nigerian protests could touch on allegations of electoral fraud.
Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress won the presidential poll last month but opposition groups allege vote malpractices.
Nigerians have also been protesting against fuel shortage and currency swapping difficulties. A Supreme Court ruling last month ordered the government to delay phasing out old currencies to December 31.