Political Vigilantism and Democratic Governance in Ghana

Political vigilantism is not new in Ghana. In the colonial era when Kwame Nkrumah initiated his independence agenda, he set the pace for youth activism with his Veranda Boys, with whose help the Convention People’s Party (CPP) was able to obtain political sovereignty from the British. In the period prior to independence the two main political contenders in the Gold Coast, the Convention People’s Party and the National Liberation Movement (NLM) that later morphed into the United Party, were locked in a fierce violent battle that ended the lives of some notable personalities in the Ashanti capital of Kumasi and elsewhere.

Vigilante Groups, (VGs) or groups that take the law into their own hands, do not contribute anything to the development of the nation. Rather, they are intimidating and destructive. They resort to acts of defiance of the law, including storming and disrupting law courts in session, as happened in Kumasi last year. The two major political parties in contemporary Ghana – the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) – are equally guilty in their handling of vigilante groups. In both parties, Vigilante Groups have attacked government offices, forcibly removing employees because they belonged to quondam governments. Individuals have been forcibly removed from their positions because of their affiliation with past governments.

Ghana does not have any laws against vigilantism. Following the recent incident at Ayawaso West Wuogon, Accra, several calls have been made for a law to be enacted in Ghana against it. Over the years (and even as vigilantism has become an unwelcome part of Ghanaian politics), it has wrecked lives, caused limbs to be lost and unnecessary destruction, yet no political party thus far has had the spine and wherewithal to outlaw it. Members of government and the legislature from both sides of the political divide appear to agree to the proscription of the practice, but the political will is always lacking, for one reason: vigilantism helps win elections.

The  NDC in particular has benefited from vigilantism in past elections. The Electoral Commission was cowed into using a few constituencies in Tain in then Brong Ahafo region to win the 2009 elections for late President J. E. A. Mills. Vigilantes aided by the military prevented the NPP led by then opposition Presidential candidate Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo from campaigning in some areas for the elections. And then there was the carnage visited on NPP by NDC Vigilante at Talensi, Chereponi, Atiwa and other places.

Without serious police patrolling during elections, any attempt to proscribe vigilantism in Ghanaian politics (despite its obvious misguided “advantages”) may result in more violence. A well-trained police service or force, as the case may be, is needed to contain all forms of election and social violence. Acts of political vigilantism may also be curtailed if and when major policy initiatives that drive more youths into productive areas and skills training for jobs and self-employment are enacted and implemented.

The role of the media is most important in political vigilantism. Most researchers practically ignore the media as a major player in it. Known partisan media houses actively fan the flames of vigilantism with impunity. They can be reckless, and Ghanaians must be reminded of Rwanda in how the East African nation was engulfed in flames that ended the lives of more than two million of its citizens.

Talk of equalization and reference to past events of vigilantism will only serve to perpetuate violence in Ghana’s electoral architecture. Ghanaians must put pressure on the two main political parties to end political vigilantism. The effort to end it must be non-partisan and embrace the support of all Ghanaians, including religious communities, professional groups, youth organizations and civil society groups.

All hands on deck are needed to eradicate, once and for all, this socio-political canker that has placed a blight on the otherwise glowing nascent democracy of Ghana. Ghana cannot adopt the system of tooth for tooth and eye for eye, otherwise it would be a nation of toothless and eyeless people!

Posted by on Feb 18 2019. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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