Ghanaians, in recent times have expressed misgiving about the Peace of the State before, during and after presidential and legislative elections.
Assurances from government officials and political party leaders about their commitment to peaceful elections have come under serious and legitimate doubt.
People who work for these leaders engage in abusive/violent acts either verbal or physical without being reprimanded or half-hearted condemnation by these same leaders who appear to be the ultimate beneficiaries of such acts.
In recent months, the issue of vigilantism, their actions and inactions have resurfaced and dominated news stories in the Ghanaian electronics and print mediums. From all indications, the persistence of this situation seems to have left governments, not least short of actions to nib it in the bud.
This recent dynamics of vigilantism has taken the shape of organized armed groups which are deployed as private militia to safeguard the interest of political elites and other persons who may hire their services, usually by employing violence.
Over a limited period, several vigilante groups have sprung up with their affiliations to the two major political parties in Ghana; New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Both parties have gained national and international notoriety for their continuous association with these vicious arm groups such as the Azorka for NDC and Invincible Forces for the NPP.
It is imperative to note that the activities of these vigilante groups have manifested in all the seven (7) elections and the three transitions that Ghana’s fourth republican democratic dispensation has undergone.
A more decisive point might be to recall all the point of violence and hooliganism that characterized the seventeen (17) by-elections held since 1992.
Definition of political violence
Violence has become so rife in the world today that little or no attention is attracted wherever it is perpetrated. Every aspect of human life is affected by this canker such that, for some people, it has become an impasse.
It becomes an ulcerous cancer to society in both cultural, religious, economic, social, psychological, and more especially, political spheres that peaceful and harmonious co-existence among players in the political arena seems to be an illusion.
According to Niccolo Machiavelli, political violence can be classified into two broad categories: internal (covert) and external (overt) violence.
Internal violence refers to the disharmony or the absence of peace which one suffers in his or her interior self.
This kind of violence is mostly observed in confused individuals and showcased externally in their relationship with their fellow human in the society.
In the same vein, external violence refers to every kind of conflict or disharmony which apart from happening within the individual goes beyond the internal realm to have an external manifestation in a person’s dealings with one another.
Analogically, it could be regarded as a kind of volcanic eruption which after burning beneath the earth under a very high temperature explodes in the form of molten magma forming a mountain as a lasting impression, mangling whatever it comes in contact with. It is this kind of violence that is regarded as external violence.
The quest for power is as insatiable as the grave.
Since the inception of the Fourth Republic, politicians have been preoccupied with how to effect changes in society to maximize their parochial interest.
Consequently, history is replete with examples of instances of abdicating the pressing responsibility of searching for evolving models of governance that would make for an egalitarian society; one that is organizing the society for greater good.
In the Fourth Republic, violence has virtually taken central stage in all spheres of politics which involves the recruitment, training, resourcing, decentralizing vigilante groups and all sort of malicious tactics in the pursuit of political power at the expense of the very populace they intend to govern.
Political conflict is an endemic feature of most of the world’s political systems.
This is particularly true of developing countries, including Ghana, where political conflict has became characteristic feature of the political process.
It was perhaps Ghana’s pride to be the first country to attain independence in a turbulent region south of the Sahara.
In Ghana, persons with political puissant have no regard for the established channels for political action, that is, the rules of the game. Therefore, political power in this country through violence, leads to economic prowess and marginalization of citizens.
Consequently, this violence is most often carried out by gangs whose members are covertly recruited and paid by politicians and party leaders to overtly or covertly attack their sponsors’ rivals, intimidate members of the public, rig elections, and protect their patrons from similar attacks.
The political class continue to arm the unemployed youth, deploy them to commit heinous crimes, water the streets with blood of the youth themselves, innocent by-standers and passersby especially before, during and after election period.
Politicians themselves are assassinated in broad day and in cold; bodies, souls and destines are wantonly destroyed in the quest for political power.
The political environment of Ghana finds itself in a spider web of violence and death.
Violence against women and Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in politics
The organization and implementation of these vicious tactics in the quest for power deprive many women, Persons Living with Disabilities (PLDs) and the vulnerable from active participation in the political processes.
Women and PLDs with political aspiration have to withdraw from contesting their male or able-bodied counterparts due to unfair playing field that violence introduces to the so-called democratic process.
Generally, elections are very specific and practical public locations of women’s participation in politics.
They participate as political candidates.
They also participate as campaign or political party organizers.
Women further participate as ordinary voters who simply want to exercise their right to vote.
However, during elections one can begin to understand and quantify data relating to the severity around Violence Against Women in Politics (VAWIP).
According to the United Nations, violence against women is any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
In similar vein, electoral conflict and violence can be defined as any act of gender based election violence that is directed primarily at women as a result of their aspirations to seek political office, their link to political activities or simply their commitment to vote as well as any random or organized act that seeks to determine, delay, or otherwise influence an electoral process through threat, verbal intimidation, hate speech, disinformation, physical assault, forced “protection, blackmail, destruction of property, or assassination.
The presence of vigilante groups during the entire political process may be an indication of the low patronage and the disenfranchising of women in politics as seen from the 1992, general elections which has 53.73% voter turnout through to 2016 elections with 49%.
Curbing the menance
Effectively addressing the issues of vigilantism in Ghana requires a combined effort from all stake holders.
These stake holders include but not limited to the government, law enforcers, legislature, political parties, residents, and other relevant Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who are involved in enhancing the democratic governance in the country.
To reduce or regulate the activities of vigilante groups in the country, government must ensure that it dissociates itself completely and permanently from existing vigilante groups in the country.
This will dispel the notion that such groups are funded by the government and also send a signal to these groups that they are on their own and will therefore be responsible for their action/inactions.
Also, political parties must equally come out to denounce all vigilante groups that are associated with them.
This will equally clear the mindset that these groups have political affiliations and funded by political warlords.
It is also recommended that the powers of the president be restricted and limited in the absolute control over all state resources.
This demands strong political will of the very politicians who by virtue of their political positions dispense these state resources to cronies and party people.
This calls for review of constitutional clauses that make the president wield so much unfettered power.
For example, instead of the current situation where the president appoints board members and chief executives of state institutions, specific bodies such as Public Service Commission (or where necessary a new body altogether) could be made to assume such responsibilities.
In such instances, competencies, meritocracy and skills will override political party affiliation when considering whom to appoint into public office.
This will send a clear message to foot soldiers and vigilante groups of political parties that appointments to public offices is about qualification, skills and competencies and nothing less.
Also, heads of security institutions, particularly the Police should have security of tenure if they and the institutions that they head are to be effective in enforcing the law (i.e. arrest and prosecute) when these vigilante groups engage in criminal acts.
Security of tenure will insulate these heads from political witch-hunting, unwarranted transfers and dismissals, simply because they have ordered the arrest and prosecution of persons belonging to the party in government.
It will also help officers of such institutions to refuse political interference in their professional work and bring some level of sanity into the political environment.
It will further help the police regain the confidence of the public that they are acting fairly and are not doing the bidding of the incumbent government.
Finally, the government should ensure that jobs are created for the youth so that they will not be enticed to joining such groups.
The lack or inadequate members will threaten their existence and they will gradually go into oblivion.
Written By: Anthony Osei-Dwohene, Gender and Security Activist
Email: [email protected]