Ghana Peace Journal continues with our contribution towards sanitizing security provision for electoral processes in Ghana, as we publish the concluding part of an expertly written and well researched article on the topic of political vigilantism in Ghana.
The write-up was presented as Thesis of a Masters Program in Security Studies, to one of the renowned universities in Africa.
We hope that this read gets to the appropriate offices and serves a good input into the national attempt for a lasting peace to our electioneering.
THE SECURITY IMPLICATIONS IN THE USE OF VIGILANTE GROUPS:
THE CASE OF GHANA – Conclusion
By Paa Nana
In relation to politics and elections, generally, it is when an electoral process is perceived as unfair, unresponsive, and corrupt or its political legitimacy appears to be compromised, that stakeholders are motivated to go outside of established norms to achieve their objectives. The overall effect is that electoral conflict and violence become tactics of political competition and vigilantism begin to take hold because the need for it has been created.
Some of the vigilante groups presently known in Ghana are Azorka Boys, Kandahar Boys, Bamba Boys, Delta Force, The Hawks, Invisible Forces, Bolga Bulldogs, Action Troopers, Aluta Boys, Salifu Eleven, Nima Boys, Veranda Boys, Zongo Caucus, Supreme, Basuka Boys, Mahama Boys and Bindiriba.
Politicians can also purposefully incite violence or play up societal divisions, thereby increasing the chances of conflict, if it serves their interest, hence many see the activities of vigilantes as nefarious and negative because they are used by party leaders to create fear and panic during major and minor elections, seizure of ballot boxes and disruption of party rallies.
There is the need therefore, to securitize Ghana’s election process to safeguard our budding democracy for many reasons, of which two major factors are discernible: i) the concrete evidence of a rise in election violence in Ghana, and ii) the activities of so-called vigilante groups.
The electoral commission, as at August 2016, indicated that 94 of the country’s 275 constituencies and 7,000 of its 29,000 polling stations are potential hotspots or flashpoints. The Ghana Police Service (GPS) also identified 5,003 polling stations as flashpoints as against about 3,574 in 2012.
During the limited registration exercise held in July-August 2016, the electoral commission indicated that 23 out of 3,000 registration centers experienced violence.
These statistics are interesting in many respects, firstly, they contradict the notion that Ghanaians are peaceful by nature and secondly, it shows clearly that even though Ghana’s democracy is considered to be highly progressive, such progress is being discredited by the level of violence that is exhibited during elections. It seems only logical that election violence should be reducing as Ghana makes qualitative democratic progress, but this is not the case.
Another reason why the securitization of elections persists is political vigilantes. Known locally as machomen, the concept of thugs hired by political groups to snatch ballot boxes and intimidate political opponents have metamorphosed into armed vigilante groups. Further aggravating factors are the numerous land and chieftaincy disputes, coupled with pockets of armed clashes in the country that posed real threats to the 2016 general election.
The activities of vigilante groups affects law enforcement agencies in many ways, it breeds fear, chaos and panic because people begin to think that the police cannot protect them and that because these groups usually have very powerful, wealthy and influential people behind them, the law enforcement agencies are usually afraid of arresting them, due to fear of victimization.
The police usually classify vigilante activities as political activism and usually shy away from intervening. In cases where the police try to enforce the law by arresting members of such groups, their powerful backers intervene to frustrate the process. This discourages the police from acting in subsequent incidents, rendering law enforcement ineffective and powerless.
People taking the law into their own hands denotes chaos and weakness in the security apparatus of the country and sends the message that law and order has broken down in the country, thus anyone can do anything and get away with it. It also portrays inadequacies in the security agencies in terms of having the right personnel and training to deal with the situation, as well as the right equipment in terms of vehicles, weapons and communication gadgets.
The impartiality of the police and other security agencies is very crucial to the reduction of election-related violence, especially among political parties. Many have argued that a lack of trust and confidence in the impartiality of security are at the core of election violence. That notwithstanding, if security officers are instilled with democratic values to realize that they serve the people of Ghana and not selected personalities, this would go a long way to influence the decisions that they make toward all stakeholders in elections. Undoubtedly, these Security agencies are fully aware that creating a safe environment for peaceful elections is a collective responsibility involving all stakeholders. Indeed, peaceful elections can only be achieved through a collaborative effort among multiple actors.
National security would break down and people will soon be filled with fear, which would result in chaos and pandemonium among the populace if the government does not rein these groups in and that national security should expound the efforts taken by government in protecting and enhancing the traditional relations and values, which bond together and promote harmony among individuals in the state.
However, with activities of political vigilante groups creating fear and panic in society, it becomes very difficult for people to socialize together in some parts of the country where these groups reside. Things even become worst when several hours or days of curfew are imposed to curtail the rights of citizens to restrict their movement, in attempt to control the menace created by political vigilante groups in the country.
Subsequently, such situations could result in loss of some social values and human relations which could affect the cultural identities and personalities of citizens within the country, this being that, humans, as sociable as we are, need each other to survive, so our human relations should not be intentionally or deliberately curtailed or restricted in any way or manner without any justification by law.
Some experts are of the view that when vigilante groups are used by politicians to win elections and thereafter do not take care of them, they may form alliances with international or larger terrorist groups which will pose more threats to the national security objectives of the country.
Vigilante groups have become dominant in Ghana’s political system and over the period, the groups are gradually increasing and becoming powerful, simply because they have not been sanctioned. Such situations could instigate vigilante groups to yearn for more global or sub-regional attention and publicity by forming alliance with larger or international terrorist groups.
Citing Nigeria’s Boko Haram as an example, His Excellency Mohammed Ibn Chambas of the African Union in 2016 revealed that, the Boko Haram terrorist group begun as a small vigilante group which was not contained at its initial stages, until it grew to become a very large and deadly group, having alliance with the most dangerous terrorist group in the world today (ISIS). Therefore, Ibn Chambas was of the view that, he fears civil unrest could ensue in a country if political vigilante groups are allowed to operate.
Beyond the distrust that political parties have of state security, it shows that the state is ineffective in protecting them; thus the same mindset is handed down to these vigilante groups, who have become monsters created and set loose by various political parties.
If at any point in time a group of young men in a political party takes the laws into their hands so as to get the attention of their paymasters, it portrays one thing – that there is break down of law and order, which is absolutely important to the holistic development of every nation. No nation has ever developed in an atmosphere of lawlessness, disorderliness and chaos.
The law enforcement agencies would then lose control if action is not taken against these vigilante groups as quickly as possible, as the authority of the security agencies would be undermined as they would be perceived as ineffective, which renders Ghana as a fertile ground for international terrorists groups to penetrate.
Vigilante groups are the beginning of organized crime as they turn to social vices such as armed robbery, ritual killings, kidnapping, etc to survive. The government might also spend a lot of money on security personnel in a bid to control these groups. All in all, vigilantism, whether political or otherwise is not good for a nation, if allowed to proliferate unchecked. It hinders the democratic process, creates chaos and fear, undermines the authority of government and law and enforcement agencies and creates an unhealthy atmosphere in a country.
An issue is properly securitized when the securitizing actor or agent presents it as a threat to the referent’s existence and this is accepted by a defined group of persons. It is the acceptance of this threat by the targeted audience that moves an issue above the normal range of politics, allowing the use of emergency measures which transcend normal processes and rule and are classified as extraordinary means.
The securitization of Ghana’s election process stems from the state and its agencies realizing that the conduct of elections in the country over the years poses a grave threat to the existence of its citizens. The winner-takes-all nature of Ghanaian elections continues to pose a threat and the state, through its security agencies, has presented a case to the major stakeholders and requested the need to adopt extraordinary measures when the need arises.
It affects the nation’s security, it makes citizens feel unsafe and its affects the economic stability as well prospects of the country, electoral violence and political vigilantism lead to political instability, it is a threat to building a strong, efficient and visible democratic Ghana, it is characterized by violent attacks leading to loss of lives and injuries, as well as destruction of property.
What makes the matter worse is the fact that some politicians after using these groups, either fail to control them or are unable to control them. Additionally, the problem of using them and not being able to integrate them into the society makes some find jobs for themselves by using the same weapons and tactics acquired. They use these weapons to commit crime as a means to survive, which becomes very dangerous to the society and the country as a whole.
These adversely affect the human security and social development of any country, as in Africa, over thousands of people are killed; millions of people displaced and properties worth billions of dollars burnt, looted and destroyed, due to political violence.
Ghana must avoid such an act at all costs by addressing the issue of political vigilantism and any other forms of vigilantism before it gets out of control.
Strategies and mechanisms that can curb vigilantism
The following are a few recommendations for attempting to curb vigilantism;
- Creating employment opportunities encourage good way to ensure social justice and equal opportunities for all. Most youths get involved with these groups because they are idle and aggrieved with the state and try to seek redress through the groups, thus their susceptibility to political office aspirants, as well as other influential people, taking advantage of their disillusionment to use them for their own ends.
- There must be political transparency as various institutions facilitating any electoral process must be transparent and impartial.
- Corruption must be stamped out of public institutions, particularly when it comes to political offices and the land administration offices.
- Political vigilante groups or any forms of vigilante groups must be disbanded and banned, it must be made illegal for such groups to exist.
- The State must fund political party activities so they can be monitored and regulated.
What Government and Security Agencies should/must do in addition to known mechanisms
- Security agencies should be proactive in sensitizing political parties, community leaders, opinion leaders and the media on the security implications of vigilante groups, if allowed to proliferate in the country.
- The state needs to address the issue of personal security for political candidates by assigning state security to them, as is done in other countries.
- Security personnel should be trained with new tactics to help fight the menace.
- There must be conscious effort on the part of government and all stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission, leaders of various political parties and law enforcement agencies to disband and terminate the activities of existing political vigilante groups and ensure that new ones are not formed.
- The government should make conscious efforts to solve the root causes of vigilantism which is usually poverty, unemployment and perceived injustice.
Vigilantism has a negative impact on a country and has very serious implications on a nation’s security, if not controlled. Respondents are deeply concerned about this situation particularly as there has been post elections violence in Ghana by vigilante groups after the 2016 general elections.
These same vigilante groups were very much operational during the campaigning round up to the general elections and also wrought a lot of violence and confusion which led to tension over the election results declaration.
The activities of vigilante groups affiliated to key political parties in the country is causing fear and a sense that the ruling government cannot bring these groups under control. The implication is that law and order would begin to breakdown as these groups would grow bolder and hold the nation to ransom.
Their activities also send bad messages to the international community about Ghana’s budding democracy which has the potential of driving away foreign investment.
Vigilantism is technically breaking the law and the law enforcement agencies as well as the government and thus must be addressed as an adversary.