ELECTION VIOLENCE IN GHANA
Many Ghanaians, in recent times have expressed doubt about peace before, during and after December 2012 presidential and general elections. Assurances from government officials and political party leaders about their commitment to peaceful elections have come under serious and legitimate doubt when people who work for these leaders engage in violent acts either verbal or physical without being reprimanded by these same leaders who appear to be the ultimate beneficiaries of such acts. Election violence, however minor, has been reported in almost all elections conducted in Ghana since 1992. In the just ended biometric voter registration exercise, pockets of violent acts were reported in different parts of the country. Some have sought to suggest that such violent acts were not widespread and therefore the people of Ghana ought to be commended for the relatively peaceful conduct of the registration. Inasmuch as the Centre for African Democratic Affairs (CADA) congratulates Ghanaians for the successful biometric voters' registration, the Centre finds it worrying that a simple democratic exercise like voters' registration with clear procedures to deal with alleged fraud and irregularities as outlined by the Electoral Commission could turn violent in some areas of the country.
Elections in Ghana, unlike voters' registration exercise are conducted in a day and if we could not peacefully resolve registration problems with all the time at our disposal such that differences and arguments turned into violence, what is the guarantee that electoral arguments will be amicably resolved to prevent violence on election day. Ghanaians must be even more concerned about election violence when political parties begin to establish Heroes Fund in anticipation of taking care of members who may suffer election violence. Given the democratic credentials of Ghana, election violence in any form and on any scale is unacceptable and we must all work towards achieving violent-free elections. The need for violent-free elections is what has motivated CADA to examine some of the common causes of election violence and how to prevent their occurrences. CADA appreciates that the list of causes discussed below may not be exhaustive but as we initiate this discussion, the good people of Ghana will bring their rich knowledge and experiences to bear in order that together we build our democracy and ultimately achieve the development we so much desire for ourselves.
Use of “Machomen” (strongly built men)
The use of macho men by politicians has become an emerging phenomenon in the Ghanaian political and electoral system. Machomen are used as body guards of political leaders, they are used to intimidate voters especially in areas considered to be strongholds of opposing parties and they are also used to disrupt the electoral process where one perceives defeat. In recent times, some have even sought to suggest that “machomen for peace” could be used to prevent others from snatching ballot boxes and causing mischief. Whatever the intentions (good or bad) for the use of these machomen, CADA wishes to state that they create unnecessary tension and breed violence. This phenomenon should therefore not be countenanced in any way. State institutions like the Ghana Police Service have the primary responsibility and must be supported by all peace-loving Ghanaians to provide the required security for the electoral process.
Weak State Institutions and political influence
Ghana has built good institutions over the years to aid good governance but successive governments have attributed the state's inability to adequately resource these institutions to budgetary constraints as a result of limited funding. Two major institutions that have primary responsibility to ensure violent-free elections are the Electoral Commission and the Ghana Police Service. When such institutions are not adequately resourced, they become weak to provide adequate security during elections. This situation then gives rise to people resorting to unprofessional and illegal means to protect their votes and this, in most cases, lead to violent clashes. Since electoral violence has the potential to destabilize a country, it is critical that the country allocates enough resources to prevent it. The cost of conflict, (social, cultural, political, economic etc) is very expensive and if a nation is capable of forecasting how much a looming conflict would cost, that nation will mobilize every resources available to prevent it. Thus, one can never put monetary value to a conflict prevented. CADA therefore believes that it is about time Ghana realized the critical need to adequately resource the Police Service and the Electoral Commission so that they are enabled to manage election security more efficiently to, as much as possible, prevent violence during and after the impending general elections.
CADA also urges the Ghana Police Service to act professionally in the discharge of their duties during the elections and not allow itself to be manipulated by any group of persons. The impression created that the Police was unable to apply the law to a certain category of people during the just ended biometric registration is worrying. It is imperative for the Police to redeem whatever image such an impression might have dented and be seen to have positioned itself to deal with any acts of lawlessness during the elections irrespective of who the perpetrators may be.
Ignorance about the Ghanaian electoral process
Having conducted five consecutive elections successfully in Ghana since 1992 it is tempting to presume that Ghanaians understand the electoral process adequately, but this is not the case. Many Ghanaians today believe that the Electoral Commission is capable of altering or changing election results that have been declared at the constituency level and copies obtained by agents of all candidates or political parties. If people know that with the current Ghanaian electoral system, no one can change results declared at constituencies they will not readily take up cutlasses, stones and sticks and march to the offices of the Electoral Commission simply because of a mere allegation that elections results from certain constituencies were being changed without asking relevant questions, as it happened in 2008. We should not take the people's ignorance of the electoral process for granted due to its inherent potential to create violence. CADA therefore advises that any efforts to intensify education of Ghanaians to understand the electoral process must be supported by all.
Deliberate acts of violence by political party actors and disregard for rules and regulations
Even though ignorance of the electoral process is a threat to our peace, it is also the case that some acts of election violence are perpetrated by people who are knowledgeable about the electoral process and its rules and regulations. In the just ended biometric voters' registration some politicians publicly declared that they would physically prevent applicants they deemed ineligible to register and would not abide by the regulations and procedures outlined by the Electoral Commission to deal with such cases. CADA strongly condemns this blatant dishonest and hypocritical behavior of our political actors which is gradually becoming a sub culture in Ghanaian politics.
It is also becoming a practice that government officials, especially Regional Ministers and District Chief Executives, go round polling stations ostensibly to supervise the electoral process without accreditation from the Electoral Commission. The electoral regulations that govern the conduct of elections in Ghana (CI. 15) clearly list people who are permitted to enter polling stations. The list includes voters, candidates and their spouses, candidate agents, persons authorized by the Electoral Commission (accredited media personnel and observers), security officers on duty, persons who are accompanying physically incapacitated voters and Electoral Commission officials. This list does not include Regional Ministers and District Chief Executives so why will they arrogate to themselves the power to supervise elections when they know very well that they are not authorized to do so? When opposing political party agents object to their unauthorized presence at the polling station, it usually leads to confrontation between their body guards and these agents who are diligently discharging their duties. The fact is that such government officials, unless they are candidates, are unauthorized persons and should stay away from the process.
Sensational media reporting]
Sensational media reporting arouses people's emotions and the danger is that such reportage may elicit emotionally violent response. Electoral victory and defeat have become emotional as candidates invest a lot of resources to prosecute their campaigns. If the electoral atmosphere is so emotionally charged, people tend to lose their logical reasoning and believe and act on any sensational reportage by the media. The only possible reason why anyone will engage in sensational media reporting is the monetary or political benefit but if violence can destroy economic gains made as individuals and as a nation, what is the worth? The media in Ghana must exhibit a very high sense of professionalism and responsibility in order to make a meaningful contribution to the sustenance of our democracy.
Winner takes all attitudes and the polarized nature of our society
Every political party in Ghana claims that its ultimate goal for seeking political power is to improve the lives of Ghanaians. It is instructive to note that no single party claims to seek power to improve the living conditions of its members alone. Since all political parties seek to promote national and not parochial interest, one would expect that after elections all national resources, including human would be harnessed to achieve this national goal but what we have experienced here in Ghana over the years is the direct opposite. Once a party assumes the reigns of governance, political appointments become exclusive to its members, officials appointed to state owned institutions are changed regardless of performance, public facilities like public places of convenience are forcibly ceased by its members, party functionalist become contractors overnight and begin to win and execute government projects, some state institutions engage in selective application of the law for the benefit of party in power etc. Because of elections, Ghanaians are no longer one people with one destiny but rather 'we in power' and 'those in opposition'. Owing to these tendencies, elections which are supposed to be a contest of ideas have become contest for national resources and all means, including violence are employed to win political power irrespective of the consequences. The earlier we changed this winner takes all attitude and approach governance in a more nationalistic way the better it will be for our peace and democratic development.
CADA is concerned about violence which has become a feature of the Ghanaian elections because of its imminent threat to our national security and peace. Directors of CADA have lived and worked in post conflict nations like Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Sudan etc, and have witnessed and experienced the enormity of the cost of conflicts to a nation. Once the signs are obvious to us, we must employ all available resources to avoid election violence which has the potential to generate into a major conflict the cost of which Ghana cannot bear.