As the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections approach, the State must take steps to prevent acts or threats of electoral violence.
We must protect lives and property while also ensuring that every Ghanaian feels safe voting. Ghana is a beacon of democracy throughout the region and we must make every effort to lead by example in conducting free, fair and violence-free elections.
While steps to prevent electoral violence have been taken in response to events in recent memory, their implementation has been uneven. For example, the violence that characterised the Ayawaso West Wuogon January 2019 by-election, in which about 18 persons were injured, was widely condemned.
A Commission of Inquiry (‘the Emile Short Commission’) subsequently established to investigate the incident recommended that the President reviews the structure and operations of the National Security Ministry; establish a standing command and control center to assess and process intelligence for rapid deployment; and incorporate key officers of allied internal security agencies including the police, military, national security, fire service, and customs.
The Emile Short Commission also recommended abandoning the use of masked men for civilian operations, especially election policing, and enhancing the protection of citizens’ fundamental human rights in the operations of intelligence-based agencies. Following the Commission’s work, Parliament also passed the Vigilantism and Related Offences Act, 2019, which criminalises the establishment, funding or facilitation of vigilante groups, including political party vigilante groups and land guards and their activities in Ghana.
The strict enforcement of this law—devoid of any political interference—and government’s full implementation of the Emile Short Commission report is critical during and after the presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2020. Cases of violence continue to arise even after the Emile Short Commission’s work.
During the Electoral Commission’s recent voter registration exercise, there were several cases of violence at Banda and Dormaa West in the Bono Region, Awutu Senya East in the Central Region, Ho West in the Volta Region and Fadama and New Town in the Greater Accra Region. In Banda, a 28-year-old man was allegedly stabbed at a registration centre following an altercation between supporters of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). In another incident at a Bono regional community, supporters of the two main parties clashed amidst gunshots, leading to the death of one person and two others injured. In Awutu Senya East, shots were fired during a confrontation between persons believed to be aligned to the two main parties, NPP and NDC. The Minister of Special Development Initiatives and MP for the Awutu Senya East Constituency, Mavis Hawa Koomson, who admitted to firing gunshots at the said registration centre, is still being investigated but has yet to be brought to justice.
How the government treats these cases of violence will either foster public confidence in the security agencies or heighten fears of the ‘Ayawaso violence’ repeating itself at the December polls. To ensure people feel safe to vote at the December polls in constituencies across the country, the findings of police investigations in these cases should be made public. Persons found culpable should be swiftly prosecuted, in accordance with the law. Justice should be delivered irrespective of political party affiliation.
Any acts or threats of electoral violence which are not swiftly and decisively dealt with by security agencies may have severe implications for our way of life and our economy post-election 2020. The media and civil society organisations must work hand in hand with security agencies to identify acts and threats of violence related to our electioneering process for same to be dealt with decisively, devoid of any partisan interference.
Dr. Grace Ayensu-Danquah, MD, MPH, FACS, is the NDC Parliamentary Candidate for the Essikado Constituency and a member of the NDC Covid-19 Technical Team.