Ghana’s Elections 2020, Bad Samaritans, And Narratives Of Insecurity
Bad Samaritans are the antithesis of the inspirational Biblical story of the Good Samaritan who attended to the wounded while others passed by. I use Bad Samaritans, therefore, as a metaphor to represent bad politics and irresponsible politicians and their narratives on security in Ghana.
I argue that Ghanaians must reject Bad Samaritans not only on moral grounds but more importantly because of the threat they pose, through their narratives, to national security and public safety. Bad Samaritans exhibit a contradictory image of the ideals of good governance in the sense that they undermine, through their utterances and actions, the very institutions they seek to govern.
Ghanaians have a sacred duty not to accept all kinds of politics as normal in a unitary-democratic-state especially politics that seeks to divide and has the potential of creating and fostering a violent culture. To be sure, it is dangerous to politicize national security issues and reduce it to everyday politicking whether by state officials, leaders of political parties, or citizens including security experts.
Security is a matter of high-politics and must have no political colorization! The cases of African countries like Mali and Somalia indicate that the price of political violence is immeasurable and indivisible. Ghanaians must guard the status of the country as a beacon of democracy and a place of refuge for fellow Africans who have fled their countries because of violence acts such as civil war, terrorism, and violent extremism.
Security is indivisible and the impact of insecurity can transcend local and national borders given how national and international society is complexly interdependent. When Greater Accra sneezes, all the fifteen remaining regions in Ghana will catch a cold! That is why Ghanaians must completely reject all candidates who whip up emotions by weaponising gender, ethnicity, and tribal identity for political gain. Such narratives of fear and insecurity are inimical to the consolidation of Ghana’s democracy and the gains of nation building. The strength of the Ghanaian society lies in its diverse ethnic population.
It is analytically premature for politicians and some security experts to use sporadic security threats such as what happened in the Volta Region in September and what appears to be an occasional rise in incidences of armed robberies, one of which unfortunately claimed the life of the MP for Mfantseman, Ekow Hayford, as a generalized description of insecurity in the country.
Keen observers and research-oriented analysts would note that there is a dangerous pattern of rise in armed robbery cases and its politicization during election years. In the run-up to the 2008 elections for example the then presidential candidate of the NDC, the late President Atta-Mills, argued that an "Atta Mills and NDC government would be sincere, honest and transparent and would redeem the image of Ghana as drug traffic centre. Mills and his government will save Ghana from the scare of armed-robbery and many others”.
In September 2012, when the NDC was in power, Deutsche Welle (DW), the German international broadcaster, reported that “armed robbery in Ghanaian cities is on the increase”. [ii] On October 15, 2020 the presidential candidate of the NDC, His Excellency John Mahama, accused the NPP government of losing the fight against armed robbery. He argued, “There is insecurity in this country.
President Akufo-Addo has lost the war against armed robbery”. [iii] This disturbing pattern calls on security analysts, politicians, and Ghanaians to investigate why there appear to be high incidence of armed robbery in election years. Like the usual allegations of corruption, economic hardships, and petrol-price politicking, are politicians using incidences of armed robbery to gain electoral advantage over their opponents? How can the security organizations prepare in election years to counter security threats?
Analysts need to investigate these hard questions among others and come out with solutions to build Ghana’s security and public safety during elections and beyond. This author holds the view that persistent narratives of insecurity is a threat in itself to Ghana’s international image and national security, and an indirect attack on the morale of the security organizations who are working with scarce resources to keep Ghana secured.
Ghana is still an ‘oasis of peace’ in West Africa and politicians must seek to guard this international image and offer pragmatic policy suggestions to address the bottlenecks of institutional weaknesses and educate the public about public safety. The United States of America in its Ghana 2020 Crime & Safety Report that was published in May 2020 assessed Ghana at Level 1 meaning that travelers should exercise normal precautions because of crime.
It is noteworthy that crime, as unpleasant and threatening as it is, may take diverse forms and security agencies work to eliminate it when and where they can or mitigate its impact on society. The efficiency of security agencies must not be judged solely on isolated incidences but the overall stability of the state.
Although the United States of America, since September 21, 2020, puts Ghana at Level 3 security threat, this assessment is a travel health notice specifically related to the Global Covid-19 Pandemic which ironically has disproportionately impacted the United States with more infections and deaths than any country in the world. The US assessment of personal security threats in Ghana has not changed for the worse and this is consistent with a cursory look at the travel advisories of G7 countries, European Union, and the BRICS who are major development partners of Ghana.
While it can be argued that foreign powers are not the ones to tell Ghanaians about how they should assess their security and public safety, we need to keep in mind that it is in the strategic interest of foreign actors to monitor the investments they are making in Ghana’s security and to justify their continuous support of same. For example, the European Union is assisting the Ghana Immigration Service to strengthen border security. Foreign powers do not act altruistically.
They have material interests in pouring security investments in Ghana since Ghana’s security is inextricably linked to international security. That is an important reason why foreign assessments of the security situation in Ghana must be taken seriously as we question the narratives of insecurity by Bad Samaritans, and genuinely identify ways of strengthening the architecture of national security.
Anton Katz, a member of the United Nations Working Group on Mercenaries rightly noted in a UN report in 2017 that, “Ghana is often referred to as an ‘oasis of peace’ in the (West Africa) region and has so far escaped the scourge of mercenarism and foreign armed groups, even becoming a place of refuge for many who have fled armed conflicts and instability in their home countries,”. [iv] Impartial observers cannot deny the real and perceived challenges to Ghana’s national and human security. However, perpetuating fear is not the right thing to do, especially, during national elections.
The 2017 UN report makes revelations including an estimated 1.3 million illegal weapons that are circulating, and the smuggling of arms into the country partly because of the porous borders. Moreover, the report highlights the existential threats of illegal private security companies in spite of the existence of regulatory laws. As the report indicates, about 400 private security companies employ about 450, 000 people while the strength of the Ghana Police Service is about 33, 000.
How to address this imbalance in the police-private security personnel ratio even when private security personnel are unarmed, and given the circulation of an estimated 1.3 million illegal weapons is what should be the focus of a nationalistic and depoliticized discourse by politicians and security experts and not the irresponsible narratives that build an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. Ghana has real perennial security challenges because of its porous borders but the state enjoys relative peace and security as compared to some of its neighbours. It is a credit to Ghanaians and national security agencies, and this is something that the public must work hard to maintain and improve upon, and not be influenced by selfish rhetoric that foster fear for political advantage.
In the case of the September incidence in the Volta Region, for example, the fact that the military, police and other security agencies have moved in to restore relative peace and public order is commendable. The security organizations could not have done this without the overwhelming condemnation that came from chiefs, eminent persons, and influencers in the Volta Region and Ghanaians in general.
That is a positive attribute of collaborative and nationalistic security effort! It is an important aspect of maintaining security and building the confidence and morale of national security organizations to act even within personnel and materiel constraints. The chiefs and the people of the Volta Region in particular must be highly commended and supported to work with the security forces and intelligence organizations to safeguard the public before, during, and after the December elections as the government seeks permanent solutions to the existential threats posed by separatist elements.
The Ghana Police Service has identified 4098 flashpoints for the December elections. These numbers are based on actionable intelligence, yet any tactical arrangements and deployments around the country will not achieve the desired goals if citizens do not support the security agencies and help to build their morale to act. As participants of national security, citizens must be willing to share real time intelligence information with the security organizations for analyses upon which actionable policies can be generated by government for implementation, given the fact that security threats are moving targets and require constant practice to combat them.
Absolute security is a utopian ideal not a reality. The public, therefore, must cultivate trust in the security organizations. But trust is effective when it is mutually shared. That is why the security organizations, particularly, the police and military must decentralize their public relations units to the local level and build strong relationships with the public. Indeed, it would make strategic sense for the military, police, customs and immigration service to build a joint public relations command to communicate directly to the public and help to build a sense of professionalism, neutrality, and impartiality in the collective psyche of Ghanaians.
To repeat, security threats are moving targets and require constant practice and change of strategies and tactics. What responsible political leaders must do is not to create fear but offer useful suggestions on how to strengthen security and intelligence agencies to reduce threats against the state and citizens. The safety of Ghanaians is paramount and must not be politicized in a West African region that is witnessing growing threats of terrorism.
Terrorist groups in the region have intensified the radicalization of their narratives by riding on the increasing cases of Covid-19 to carry out several high-profile attacks in countries like Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. This is a major concern for the international community. The fact that Ghana has not experienced major terrorists threats suggest that the government and security agencies are doing something right.
The military are still deployed at the borders to counter external threats to Ghana and the announcement last week that it will deploy 6000 troops to compliment the efforts of allied security agencies to maintain peace and order during the elections, and the announcement by the government of $200 million dollars to boost the operational capability of the military demonstrates that the government takes the security of the country seriously.
At the December 7 elections, Ghanaians must reward candidates whose language and action builds the confidence of the security forces to use their limited and sometimes challenged capabilities to keep Ghana safe and secure. Ghanaians must reject candidates who seek to politicize national security issues and public safety. These are the Bad Samaritans of our time.
While there is the need to depoliticize recruitments into the security forces and agencies, it is incumbent upon Ghanaians, especially leaders of political parties, to desist from their indirect attacks on these institutions. Politicians must make a solemn pledge to educate the public about their policies and strategies to address the persistent weaknesses in the security architecture of the country. That would be a step forward to building highly-trained, professional, neutral, and impartial security organizations to defend the interests of Ghana and its citizens at all times.
Edward Akuffo is an Associate Professor of international security and international relations at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. The arguments herein do not represent the views of his affiliated institution.
See, Bismark Bebli. 2008. “Ghana: I will Uproot Drugs, Robbery—Mill” An article in The Ghanaian Chronicle posted on < https://allafrica.com/stories/200805080605.html >
[ii] See, DW, “ A Mobile App to Combat Armed Robbery in Ghana” < https://www.dw.com/en/a-mobile-app-to-combat-armed-robbery-in-ghana/a-16221481 >
[iii] See, C/R: Akufo-Addo Has Lost the Fight Against Armed Robbery—John Mahama < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJecTFEH9yA >
[iv] See, United Nations. 2017. Ghana needs tougher action on mercenaries and private security to safeguard stability, UN group finds
< https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22555&LangID=E >
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