Protests call for rethink, and S Africa has answer

Unleashing paramilitary police on tech-savvy Gen Zs is so last century

In Summary

• Kenya's winter of discontent deserves better than repression, and SA has some tips

The phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent” is taken from the opening lines of Shakespeare's play Richard III. It refers to the titular character explaining all of the reasons for his personal unhappiness, but suggesting that this status could change when he usurps the throne.

In Kenya, I guess it could be used to suggest that people are unhappy with the way the Kenya Kwanza  government is running the country in general and with the Finance Bill 2024-25 in particular.

As you can see, I am fascinated by connections and links, no matter how tenuous they are at times. For instance, it is my view that there’s something about the month of June and young people wanting to change their circumstances but end up changing much more.

It struck me as an interesting coincidence the fact that the fresh, inspirational and somewhat quirky but peaceful protests against the Finance Bill came a couple of days after South Africa marked Youth Day. A friend pointed it out in conversation.

Youth Day is a celebration of the 1976 youth uprising in South Africa, which had its nucleus in Soweto. The protests created a crisis of legitimacy for South Africa's apartheid government. This eventually contributed to apartheid’s downfall in 1994.

Kenya’s top leaders spent the 1990s sitting at the feet of former President Daniel arap Moi. From the President to the Deputy President to the Prime Cabinet Secretary and the Speaker of Parliament, they were all beholden to him.

It was there that they learnt their knee-jerk reaction to any dissent. Moi stayed in power as long as he did by crushing resistance with the brute force of the security apparatus.

Our leaders are still so ensnared by the practices of the ancient regime that some of them have not awoken to the fact there is a new order, which calls for new tactics and strategies.  

Calling the paramilitary police out to deal with young people armed not with stones but their smartphones, X and Tik Tok accounts, is so last century.

Meanwhile, I’d like to suggest that the Inspector General of Police and some of the other top cops get in touch with the South African Police Service (SAPS) about a benchmarking visit down south.

As much as I think that often, the benchmarking junkets are little more than shopping trips and holidays abroad disguised as work, the cops could visit Cape Town, for instance, to see how the police there deal with peaceful protests.

Before 1994, the South African Police (they transitioned into a Service with democracy), like their Kenyan counterparts, were trained to first crush any and all dissent and ask questions later. Today, the SAPS actually provide security for protestors and treat them with respect.

Many times as a reporter in Cape Town, which is where the country’s Parliament is situated, I have covered protestors who have marched through the city right up to the gates of the National Assembly, escorted by the police. 

The protestors, who have included groups as varied as political parties, trade unions and ordinary citizens with a bee in their bonnet, have been left to hold rallies outside the parliamentary precincts, saying whatever they want to say.

When they have had a petition to hand over, they have managed to hand it over to either a minister or the delegated representative of the minister in Parliament, and then gone on their way. 

In Kenya as I write this, Mbeere North MP Geoffrey Ruku (DP) has sponsored the Assembly and Demonstration Bill 2024, which wants to claw back Kenya’s hard-won democratic right to protest by giving the police wide powers to restrict protests and protestors.

If Ruku’s Bill becomes law, protesters who the police felt had overstepped whatever arbitrary mark they set on the day, risk arrest, a year behind bars and a fine of up to Sh100,000.

Ruku’s actions appear so heinous to the alumni and students of his Alma Mater, the Catholic University of East Africa, that they have begun a petition on Change.org to strip him of his degree.

I am eagerly watching to see how far the petition goes and what the university authorities will decide to do about it. 

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