As part of our contribution towards sanitizing security provision for electoral processes in Ghana, we serialize an expertly 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.

The Thesis was captioned THE SECURITY IMPLICATIONS IN THE USE OF VIGILANTE GROUPS: THE CASE OF GHANA. We hope that it serves a good input into the national attempt for a lasting peace to our electioneering.


By Paa Nana

The state, as a political institution, is responsible for providing security and protection for its citizens. Two fundamental responsibilities of states are the protection of citizens’ security and the meting out of punishment against those who engage in criminal acts, to the extent that states which fail in these roles, lose legitimacy.  Failure to do this results in citizens creating their own security apparatus to deal with crime and injustice in society.

The concept and practice of vigilantism is not new to human society, as vigilantism is usually accepted and supported, for people take it upon themselves to create a system of social orderliness through vigilante groups.

Vigilantism, in certain circles, is categorized as a non-state or self-policing act, characterized by reactive, ad hoc and often violent methods of crime control. Vigilante groups at the local community level are often made up of landlords, tenants, community associations and leaders of the neighborhood, who keep watch over their areas and report suspicious people to the police.

Vigilante groups are largely informal and composed of volunteers who are mostly funded through communal contributions, which though are insignificant and often irregular compared to the risks members of the group are exposed to.

There are implications and consequences for allowing these vigilante groups to operate at the macro level in societies, for instance in Nigeria, there are so many states that have parallel local organizations and vigilante groups and have proved far more effective in combating crime, however, it must also be recognized that it is dangerous for untrained citizens, without defined structures and acting outside the structures of law, to enforce law and order.

Some individuals can easily get out of control and abuse this community machinery, for from a political and economic perspective, globalization is transforming the power, functions and authority of the nation-state and, is thus, associated with the emergence of a post- Westphalia world order in which the institutions of sovereign statehood and political communities are being reformed and reconstituted.

Over the last two decades, orthodox security analysis has been increasing critiqued of neglecting the most fundamental needs of “human security”, which includes personal autonomy, emancipation from oppressive power structures, security from crime and violence, as well as social solidarity.

There is a suggestion that the crises in policing, inevitably resulted in the formation of self-help security groups, examples including vigilante groups, neighborhood watches, private guards, secret societies and cults.

In Ghana, vigilante groups are usually found at the community level and are known as community watch dog groups who work with the police to prevent crime and disorderliness. Now in Ghana, vigilantism is an entrenched practice in politics particularly during elections both at the national and local levels, because some politicians involved want to win at all cost.

There is also a belief that when it comes to politics, you cannot trust both the electoral commission and the incumbent government to be transparent, fair and truthful. There is always the fear that the sitting government would twist the arm of the electoral commission to declare for them or still hold on to power at whatever cost. These factors have motivated competing parties to form their own security forces to oversee their interests during elections and as well, champion their cause in other areas such as mobilizing support etc.

Since 1992, two main political parties namely, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), have dominated competitive politics in Ghana. The competitive behavior is relatively free of the kinds of high-intensity violence that has characterized multi-party elections in some parts of Africa.

Nevertheless, Ghana has recorded localized political violence in which activists of the main parties clashed.   The ‘winner takes all’ (a situation where the winning party totally forms the new government without giving important roles to the losing parties) nature of Ghanaian politics is one key factor which is driving the use of various vigilante groups in the country.

Politics in Ghana especially electoral politics is defined and approached by politicians with all their being (body and soul, physical and spiritual) or as a do-or-die affair, with the incentives being very high, making politicians desperate in the struggle to win elective positions or retain their positions at all cost. As a result, many of them recruit gangs, cultists, thugs and vigilante groups to help attain and retain political power.

Some of these groups use sophisticated Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in executing their tasks. In the Ghanaian party system, “foot soldiers” comprising the rank and file of party members, play a very important role in the partisan processes.

Political office aspirants have increasingly come to rely on the mobilization abilities of these foot soldiers, mostly young men and women, as a result, a recent trend in the activities of foot soldiers is the formation of political party vigilante groups.

It is a widely held view that molestation or violent intimidation are common features of most of Ghanaian elections perpetrated by the vigilante groups, for localized violent intimidation, characterized almost all elections under the Fourth Republic, especially the general elections of 2008 and 2012, in different levels of violence.

Vigilante groups claiming affiliation to the NDC and the NPP have clashed at party rallies and in crucial bye-elections. By-elections held in Wulensi constituency (4 March 2003), Asawase constituency (21 April 2005) and Odododiodoo constituency (30 August 2005), recorded high levels of violence.

Similarly, by-elections organized in the Chereponi and the Atiwa constituencies in September 2009 and August 2010, respectively, were characterized by violent acts. The Talensi by-elections held in July 2015 also recorded violence in all forms.

The high spate of vigilante activities involved in the electoral process, as well as in other aspects of daily life, such as the use of vigilantes to protect land ownership in Ghana, is of import that vigilantism be given a proper look when it relates to the security issues of the country.

Allowing such activities to continue without properly addressing it and putting mechanisms in place to curb it would mean that soon enough, people would not see any reason to take up arms, when they feel aggrieved politically or otherwise. It also means that, people can take the law into their hands in the name of political vigilance or self-protection, which can also send out negative signals to citizens that the government is very lax on law and order so, therefore, they, the citizens, have to find means of protecting themselves, which calls for more vigilante activity because they would then go to these same vigilante groups for protection.

The implication is that, the security fiber of the country would be in jeopardy and the power and authority of the security forces would be weakened, if not taken for granted by citizens.

Furthermore, some of these localized vigilante groups, could link-up with well organized groups in the sub-region and could become politically motivated insurgent, rebel or in a high scale, terrorist groups. This could have serious negative implications on individuals and national security.
To be continued


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