Ghana Peace Journal continues with our contribution towards sanitizing security provision for electoral processes in Ghana, as we serialize 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.



By Paa Nana
Securitizing Electoral Processes in Ghana

Democracy is people exercising their political right to choose their representatives through elections and ideally, elections are supposed to be peaceful processes by which citizens select their representatives, whether as individuals or groups, to represent them at all levels, especially in the political arena.

The securitization of elections in Ghana started soon after independence in 1957 when all elections in the country were conducted and supervised by the Ministry for the interior (MINTER) and supported by the local government. Since internal security was and still is the responsibility of MINTER, security for the electoral process was obviously its responsibility as well. However, following its establishment in 1968, the first independent electoral commission arranged for security cover whenever elections were held, thereby shifting security issues to the periphery while it took centre stage.

Constitutionally, the management of elections in Ghana is the responsibility of the Election Management Body (EMB), however, in recent years, security issues appear to be dominating electoral processes with many stakeholders calling for more security, as the country progresses from one election to another.

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.

Election security is the process of protecting electoral stakeholders such as voters, candidates, poll workers, the media, and observers; electoral information such as vote results, registration data, and campaign material; electoral facilities such as polling stations and counting centers; and electoral events such as campaign rallies against death, damage, or disruption, among others.

Elections are said to be securitized when security issues dominate the electoral process and become the main focus of elections instead of remaining in the background.


This is because there had been an increase in the activities of political vigilantism, which instigates violence and chaos in the name of political activism, that results in clashes between opposing party supporters, disrupting voter registration exercises resulting in violence, damages and causalities, snatching of ballot boxes, disruption of party campaigns by opposing party resulting in clashes with the police etc. This increase in vigilante activities has negative implications on Ghana’s security and the democratic process.

Security rests on survival and that an object is considered to be a security issue when it poses an existential threat to another object. This identified threat then needs to be dealt with promptly using extraordinary measures.

The main proponents of securitization theory in international relations state that an issue becomes a security issue not because it bears an objective threat to the state or referent object but because an actor defines the issue as an existing threat to another’s survival. In making this distinction, the actors thus claim the right to address the issue by means of extraordinary measures to secure the referents or state’s survival.
Potential Security Implications of Political Vigilantism in Ghana

Electoral violence and political vigilantism lead to political instability and political violence is a threat to building a strong, efficient and visible democratic Ghana and it is characterized by violent attacks leading to loss of life and injuries, as well as destruction of property. These adversely affect human security and social development of any country.

In Africa, over thousands of people are killed; millions of people displaced and properties worth billions have been burnt, looted and destroyed due to political violence, a case in point being the Kenyan election in 2007, which recorded several acts of violence, leading to deaths and destruction of property. Aside leading to political, social and economic insecurity, there are attendant costs of ensuring security and repairs of damaged infrastructure, which resources could have been put to an alternative use to better human and social development.

The surge in political risk, a logical outcome of electoral violence, can have an adverse impact on investment, as the investment climate becomes less attractive for both local and foreign capital, which can in turn cap economic growth and development and further undermine the prospects for effective institution building and long-term democratic stabilization.
1. Africa suffers from an atmosphere of insecurity and political instability.

2. Electoral violence drives away prospective foreign investors due to the lack of adequate security for their investments.

3. Private domestic investors will also lose confidence in their respective countries and opt for foreign investment.

4. Electoral violence leaves so many people across the streets of Africa homeless; no place to lay their head and lack of access to food and portable drinking water.

Ghana will not be spared of these negative outcomes of violence if the culture of political vigilantism is allowed to fester.
Vigilantism and National Security in Ghana

After the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, there has been an alarming increase in the activities of vigilantes in the country, most of these groups being very operational during the campaigning round up to the elections. During the campaigning, there were serious conflicts concerning the leadership and the flag-bearership in the present ruling administration, the NPP and as a result of this, there were contentious factions within the party.

The “Delta Force” vigilante group, reputed to be affiliated to the ruling party, is alleged to have helped some of the contesting candidates carry out a coup in their own party to oust other contestants and, an observer’s view would arguably be that, political parties are bent on winning power at all cost without recourse to what their entrenched desire for power can do to the lives of ordinary Ghanaians. Indeed, it is a wonder what the seekers of leadership are up to, every time there is tension in the country. These tensions are without doubt caused by political vigilante groups known as “Foot Soldiers”.

Vigilante groups have grown very bold, particularly with the coming into power of the NPP taking the law into their own hands on a number of occasions and making demands on government to give in to their will.

An incident in question is when Delta Force vigilante group attacked Ashanti Regional Security Coordinator on 25th March, 2017 – CitiFM, a local Accra based radio station reported that “a vigilante group believed to be affiliated with the governing NPP, Delta Force on Friday morning, stormed the premises of the Ashanti Regional Coordinating Council, demanding the removal of the Regional Security Coordinator, George Adjei. The rowdy group destroyed some properties and forced the Security Coordinator out of his office. Mr. George Adjei was recently appointed by President Akufo-Addo, but the group has indicated that they cannot work with him because he did not contribute to the party’s electoral success” (

Another incident happened in Tamale in Northern Ghana, where it was reported that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Tamale Teaching Hospital (TTH), Dr. Prosper Akambong, appears to have abandoned his duty post. His office has been locked since Tuesday February 21, by a popular vigilante group affiliated to the NPP – the Kandahar Boys. The group’s action was in protest against the CEO’s alleged mismanagement of the facility (

The odd thing about these incidents was that the government was quite ambiguous about it and so were the law enforcement agencies, which seemed to fuel the rumors that the government favoured these Vigilante groups. There has been a huge public outcry against these vigilantes and their activities with media commentators criticizing the government for not taking hard action against them.

Ghana stands a great risk of tarnishing its image as a relatively peaceful country in the African sub-region, with her democratic credentials appearing fragile and the country seemingly sitting on a time-bomb, just because of the selfish desires of political agents to win/maintain political power.
Concept of Vigilantism

Vigilantism is a rather amorphous concept to most people. Detractors have branded groups as diverse as anti-abortionists, state militias, opponents of disfavored politicians, countries imposing trade sanctions, heckled basketball players, and the politically correct as vigilantes.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a “vigilante” is “a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime. In line with this definition, labeling several of the preceding examples as “vigilantes” is obviously not acceptable.

Other authorities also define vigilantes as 1) members of an organized committee; 2) established members of the community; 3) proceed for a finite time and with definite goals; 4) claim to act as a last resort because of a failure of the established law enforcement system; and 5) claim to work for the preservation and bettering of the existing system.

Others also perceive vigilantism as an autonomous movement is a form of citizenship that does not need the involvement or authority of the state to achieve its goals. They further explain that vigilantism appears as a reaction to the state’s perceived inability or unwillingness to enforce the law and supplies security to the population’s demand for crime control.

Vigilante groups usually step in to fill the security gap left by weak, incapable or unwilling state agencies and the support of the state is not needed for vigilantes to be able to provide security, as such groups as security outfits are mostly composed of volunteers, operating under the mandate of communal consensus to fight crime.

Another observation is that vigilantism is a category of non-state or self-policing, which acts independently of national police agencies, but will often not cooperate with them and is prepared to break national law in order to carry out its duties of protection and investigation. In this way, the state has found it difficult to control the activities of violent vigilante groups.

Community policing or vigilantism, as a mechanism of governance, is any organized activity that seeks to ensure the maintenance of communal order, security and peace through elements of prevention, deterrence, investigation of breaches, and punishment and some of the non-state policing networks are lawless and violent in their assault on crime. Although the reliance on non-state policing may be inevitable, it creates serious problems for new democracies.

The widespread use of, and support for, non-state policing undermines the legitimacy of the state police, with the danger that a view of the police as irrelevant would extend to seeing the state itself as irrelevant.
Political Violence

Political violence is violence outside of state control that is politically motivated. Some political scientists see political violence as part of “contentious politics” or collective political struggle, which includes such things as revolutions, civil war, riots and strikes, but also more peaceful protest movements.

Crime and warfare share some attributes with political violence, but political scientists do not define them as political violence.

Security is defined in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked.

Most researchers would agree that security is somehow related to a threat to a given object of protection, and that it is most often linked to a threat to survival, the bottom line being survival, but it also reasonably includes a substantial range of concerns about the conditions of existence.

Quite where this range of concerns ceases to merit the urgency of the “security” label (which identifies threats as significant enough to warrant emergency action and exceptional measures including the use of force) and becomes part of everyday uncertainties of life, is one of the difficulties of the concept.

Theory of Political Vigilantism

One theory of political vigilantism is based specifically on the John Locke’s classic social contract theory. Locke claims that, in the state of nature, individuals have the right to pursue justice, having equivalent “executive power” to punish crimes against the laws of nature. Thus using instruments of national power to punish crime.

Some civil governments, in an attempt to perpetuate their rule, may use vigilante groups as a form of oppression.  The Political Theory has been applied with approval in the removal of some civil governments, particularly in West African countries, where the powerful have often turned to vigilante groups as a means to ascend to power.

Anomie Vigilante Theory“Abrupt transitions” are social exigencies – revolution, war, economic recession leading to unparalleled social vices such as theft, assault, arson, and social change – that affect confidence in the stability of existing social norms and therefore produce a disparity between value expectations and value capabilities and under conditions of Anomie, individuals experience psychological dissatisfaction.

With philosophical, economic, psychological, and sociological treatments of norm-violating acts and social disorder, people can easily resort to vigilante activities as a way of expressing their frustrations on perceived life challenges. Vigilante activity becomes a crisis phenomenon that encompasses perceived social dysfunctions brought about by norm-violating exigencies that, as public wrongs, produce a psychological reaction throughout society that requires rectification.

In relation to the present state of affairs in Ghana’s political activities where political vigilantism has become the norm, it is very easy for a state of Anomie to ensue if measures are not put in place to curb this practice.

Citizens would begin to perceive the government and law enforcement agencies as weak, which may cause perceived insecurity among citizens and easily lead to a breakdown of law and order or civil war. A case in point is threats by prominent politicians and inciting the followers of political parties.

During the round up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana in 2008, a threat was issued by ex-President J.J. Rawlings, founder of the NDC, who complained that the previous election was rigged by the NPP and proceeded to warn that he and his party would not sit down for the NPP to rig the 2008 elections. He declared his party’s preparedness to fight to the end to secure victory for the NDC (The Accra Daily Mail, 21 August 2008).

In the round-up to the 2012 elections, the Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyepong instigated followers of the NPP to attack the Ga and the Ewe ethnic groups. This statement was condemned widely by well-meaning Ghanaians and civil society organizations (CSOs).
The “Just World Theory”

Adelstein developed the “just world” theory which states that vigilantism is always preceded by a belief in a just world, which is an important theory on the formation of the perception of justice. The theory proposes that people’s reactions to crime and victimization can be understood as attempts to preserve a belief in a just world, the belief that the world is a place where individuals get what they deserve, and deserve what they get. The theory further proposes that ‘good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people’.

Adelstein further states that people are keen on protecting their belief in a just world, and when confronted with an injustice, they will experience an aversive state and eventually try to reduce this unpleasant state by using strategies to protect their belief in a just world. The theory further argues that such strategies include denial of injustice, or attempt to restore justice by punishing the offender, thus, Adelstein, asserts that public reactions which are often labeled as ‘support for vigilantism,’ must actually be interpreted as ‘believe in just world reactions’.
Social Group Control Vigilantism Theory

Social-Group-Control Vigilantism is an example of pure expressive norm enforcement; where social group-control vigilance committees often organize along communal or “primordial” characteristics such as, race, religion and culture. The goal of social-group-vigilantes is to intimidate or violently oppress upwardly-mobile groups vying for increased representation in or control of the state apparatus. The theory further explains that social-group-control also targets the ‘immoral’ and low elements of society.

It is clear from the theory that vigilantism may emerge as a result of collective effort by a group of people who share the same religion, cultural or social belief systems, who see the need to gang up against perceived elements of the society who threaten their shared values.

A practical example of social–group-control vigilantism is the tribal wars and massacres that happen or have happened in some African countries such as the Rwandan genocide, a country which has been beset by ethnic tension associated with the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus.

Although after 1959, the ethnic relationship was reversed when civil war prompted around 200,000 Tutsis to flee to Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and DRC, lingering resentment led to periodic massacres of Tutsis, with the most notorious of these beginning in April 1994. The shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart near Kigali, triggered what appeared to be a coordinated attempt by some Hutu leaders to eliminate the Tutsi population.  In response, the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched a military campaign to control the country. It achieved this by July, by which time at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu had been brutally massacred.

The Law and Vigilantism

We “(The people) are where the law comes from, for they (the people) chose the delegates who made the Constitution that provided for the courts system. And so when your ordinary citizen sees [the justice system fail] he must take justice back into his own hands, where it once was, at the beginning of all things. Call this primitive, but so far from being a defiance of the law, it is an assertion of it – the fundamental assertion of self-governing men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based.

The quintessential reasoning used by vigilantes to explain their actions – the law comes from the people, therefore it is the people’s right and duty to enforce the law. Vigilantes see this right as a form of self-preservation concept of “Manifest Destiny” as applied to the vigilante’s desire to maintain social order. The vigilante sees his actions as necessary and therefore justified.

Opponents of vigilantism invariably cite the paradoxical nature of vigilante action as a reason to question vigilantes’ sincerity and social value: How can one violate the law in the name of law and order?

The answer to this paradox lies in one’s view of the nature of law itself. Positivists, those who believe the law is whatever the legislature and courts say it is, find this paradox irreconcilable and view the vigilante as more repugnant than the criminal he apprehends.  But for those who view the law as able to encompass either more or less than the courts or the legislature specifically designate as criminal, the vigilante paradox is less troublesome. For them, because the “right” to commit the original crime is not a protected legal interest, action by a vigilante in violation of that “right” is not criminal.

No state currently recognizes a ‘Justified Vigilantism” or “Community Protection” defense to criminal prosecution.” As a result, the established legal system treats vigilantes no differently than other citizens. Judicial self-help is effectively split between the “no justified vigilantism” stance of the courts and the ‘justified if reasonable” stance of the community.  In other words, there is no justification or any recognized or legally acceptable reason for vigilantism in spite of the primordial reasons one may give to it.

The practice of vigilantism itself, i.e. a group of people taking the law into their own hands instigates and incites chaos and disorder in the population. It breaks down the social structure of a country and disturbs the flow of civilized existence.
To be continued.


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