IN Angola last week, police broke up a peaceful protest using batons and dogs, Human Rights Watch reports.
The protestors were calling for the resignation of the territorial administration minister, Bornito de Sousa. He is second on the list of candidates for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and would become vice president if the MPLA wins the parliamentary elections scheduled for August.
Because he is in charge of the voter registration process for the elections, the protesters fear he could manipulate the election.
Police chasing protestors and setting dogs upon them is not an unusual sight in Africa, where the police force acts more to protect state interests rather than uphold public order. In fact, in many cases it is police intervention that creates the disorder in protests and demonstrations, rather than prevents it.
Although freedom of association is guaranteed in most African constitutions, in practice, it is often sharply limited, particularly for political organisations.
In theory, and going by best practice,an association should be able to register simply by informing authorities of its existence, and supplying basic information, saysthis reportby the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR).
But in some countries, the requirements are exacting, requiring one to jump through many hoops even for small local, community and informal associations.
In Burundi, organisations are required to obtain police clearance of the good conduct, character and moral standards of all founding members, the ACHPR report states.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, officers charged with administrative and managerial functions of the organisation must similarly obtain certificates of good conduct.
And in Mozambique, criminal records must be submitted with the notification of the creation of the association.
In Angola, the actual process of registration is confusing, creating a real deterrent to getting legal status.
NGOs are required to begin the process of registration at grassroots level, by requesting for an initial certificate from the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice in many cases requires NGOs to first seek approval from the Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UTCAH), the national body tasked with responsibility over civil society groups.
But UTCAH may in turn request the authorisation from the same Ministry of Justice before it can approve the organisation .
This process of going back and forth between ministries can go on for years, the ACHPR states.
Some countries also require associations to re-register annually, even without any substantial changes in the form or purpose of the organisation.
In Kenya, organisations must re-register annually, in Sierra Leone every two years, and in Zambia every five years.
This is not to mention the registration fees that many countries impose, which can be excessive considering the average income of most citizens.
More paradoxical are restrictions on foreign funding, as in Ethiopia where there are sweeping restrictions on NGOs that receive more than 10% of their funding from international sources, which has effectively banned all human rights and monitoring activities.
Yet the Ethiopian government itselfrelies heavilyon foreign funding and investment to deliver the high economic growth it has been lauded for.
The country reported $1.5 billion in foreign direct investment in 2015, up from $100 million a decade ago.