Political Vigilantism, Election Violence And The Youth In Ghana
Ghana went to the polls on the 7th of December and voted in districts, parliamentary and presidential elections. Elections in Ghana are usually contentious and much anticipated in the West African region, Africa and the world at large. In the 2020 elections, there were 12 political parties competing for power but the two main political parties, who have been competing for power just like they have done for the last 20 years, were the main focus of the elections. These were the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). The flagbearer and the incumbent president, Nana Akuffo-Addo defeated John Mahama of the NDC, the strongest opposition party in the elections.
Ghana has been ranked as the most peaceful country in West Africa. Over the years, Ghana has been commended as a framework of democracy, good governance, stability in the region and on the African continent. Notwithstanding, the nation of Ghana has been and still is battling the increase in political vigilantism which continuously poses a serious threat to national security. Political vigilantism can simply be explained as the instances where citizens take the law into their own hands to promote a partisan political agenda. These activities are displayed through violence before, during and after elections. Violence erupted in certain parts of the country after the results were declared some 48 hours after the polls were closed. Members and supporters of the NDC, including presidential candidate John Mahama, rejected the results that proclaimed Nana Akuffo Addo as the winner of the presidential elections. Five deaths out of over 60 incidents were recorded as a result of election violence since the election day according to the Ghana Police Service.
Activities of political vigilantes:
The two main political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), have huge fan bases across the country and these fan bases are sometimes transformed to political vigilantes. In areas such as Chereponi in the Northern region and Akwatia in the Eastern Region, political vigilante groups have caused mayhem. There was one particular incident that caught the attention of the president and caused public outrage throughout the nation. This was during a constituency by-election in the Ayawaso West Wuogon on the 31st of January 2019 where shooting occurred leaving several injured. This incident then led to a number of measures such as the Justice Emile Short Commission of Inquiry and a Vigilantism bill. The 2019 Vigilantism and Related Offences Act which was recently adopted, outlawed vigilantism and its acts but concerns still remain about its effectiveness. The president also called for the two major parties-The National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to have a sit-down and talk about how to shut the operations of the vigilantes down. It has been known that there are 24 vigilante groups across Ghana however, there may be many more groups that have not yet been identified. However, there are some that have gained popularity over the years. These are the “Delta Forces” and “Invincible Forces” who affiliate themselves with the New Patriotic Party and the “Azorka Boys” and the “Hawks” who affiliate themselves with the National Democratic Congress.
The role of the youth:
Young people make up the majority of the vigilante groups in Ghana. It is worth noting that, there has been a noticeable amount of the increase in the participation of the youth in politics and democratic participation. Notwithstanding, some also act as perpetrators of political violence under the shadow/umbrella of the political vigilante groups. It is believed that the politicians and political parties make use of these vigilante groups for their services. They are seen as foot soldiers and die-hard followers who offer their services in hopes of gaining employment or some benefits for themselves or their families when the political party they are supporting is put into power. Their roles sometimes include acting as personal security for presidential and parliamentary candidates during events, etc. Some also, physically assault members of the opposition. This is a very frightening growing trend. When their needs are not met, there is a high possibility that they would emerge into militant groups. These militant groups acquire weapons and training and once they are armed, the level of threat they pose shoots up. It should be noted that these groups operate with a motive usually stemming from financial security. The actions of these groups show the disregard for democracy and the rule of law and thus, have serious implications on democracy.
What are the causes and what can be done?
It should be stressed that the percentage of youth who actually participate in violence is relatively smaller as compared to the entire population. Unemployment is one of the key factors that drive the participation of the youth in political vigilantism. There are not enough jobs for the youth so they fend for themselves by finding other ways, with the help of the politicians and political vigilante groups. The government must address the high rates of unemployment among the youth. Job creation must be a priority of the next government. The educational system must also teach young people about how to gain employable skills. There should also be mass sensitization to educate the youth on the dangers of vigilantism to the security of Ghana and how its ramifications in the region.