International law establishes that democracy should be based on the will of the people to express themselves through free and fair elections. Elections, a hallmark of democracy and a process for political transitions, have often been marred by violence especially in emerging democracies like we have in Africa.

We are privy to the 2007–08 Kenyan post elections violence when neighbors turned against each other, communities were destroyed and the media in some cases became the focus of mob rage. Election violence in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, etc has resulted in unimaginable loss of lives and destruction of property running into billions of dollars.

The vicious nature and recurrence of election violence in Africa indicates some deep seated underlying socio- economic, cultural and political deficits that may remain unresolved, if urgent conflict management and prevention techniques are not applied.

In Ghana, many expressed legitimate concerns regarding the security of the country following reported cases of skirmishes during the just ended Limited Biometric Voters Registration exercise organized by the Electoral Commission. The exercise which commenced on April 28, and ended on May 8, 2016, witnessed pockets of confrontation leading to violence mostly between the two main political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in some areas. The Ashanti Regional Chairman of the opposition NPP, Bernard Antwi Bosiako aka Chairman Wontumi, is alleged to have slapped the Member of Parliament for the Manhyia North constituency, Felix Ibrahim as well as the constituency General Secretary, Collins Amankwa.

There were also reported cases of violence in other parts of the country including the Northern, Brong Ahafo and Volta regions. In Brong Ahafo for instance, Member of Parliament (MP) for Asutifi North constituency, Joseph Benhazin Dahah, claimed thugs made up of the brother of the Local Government and Rural Development Minister, Collins Dauda ‘severely” beat him at a registration center in Ntrotroso polling station, according to News reports.

In a report issued by Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), there were acts of violence at the Kukuom Anglican Primary School Registration Center in the Kukuom- Achiase Registration Center in the Asunafo North District of the Brong Ahafo Region over the eligibility of a female applicant. According to the report, cutlasses, stones, cudgels and other offensive weapons were brandished, wounding one person, who was eventually taken to the hospital. The incident started with verbal exchanges between the District Chief Executive for the area and the NPP agents posted the same center over the age of a registration applicant.

The Electoral Commission (EC) said in a statement that the failure of political parties to comply with the rules guiding the Limited Biometric Voters Registration exercise is to be blamed for the pockets of violence which have characterized the exercise.

The EC cited Constitutional Instrument (C.I) 91 which provides the rules of engagement as far as the Limited Voters Registration exercise is concerned and how to get grievances addressed which the political parties have failed to comply with.

Anticipating and pre-empting security risks, reducing their repercussion is a strategic endeavor of all Stakeholders during an election period. It is in this light that on 13 July 2011, the UN Security Council Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa held a seminar on early warning tools and indicators to assess the risk of election related violence in Africa. The seminar focused on the use and relevance of early warning tools, indicators and assessment methodologies as a contribution to the advancement of the UN agenda on assessing conflict risks associated with electoral processes. It compared different experiences and mechanisms used for the prevention and mitigation of election-related violence.

One early warning sign of electoral violence is the lack of credibility in the electoral process. When political parties and their supporters lose confidence in state institutions like the Electoral Commission which is the most important electoral institution, it calls for urgent action. In Ghana, there have been varied opinions regarding not only the selection of the Electoral Commissioner (EC), Charlotte Osei, by an incumbent President, but the voters register is also a bone of contention. The NPP maintains the voters register is bloated and demanded a new register. After a series of consultative meetings and seminars, the EC rejected their request. This prompted the Deputy National Youth Organizer of the opposition NPP, Salam Mustapha who at a rally held in Tamale hinted that the party will reject the November 7 election results if the Electoral Commission fails to compile a credible register. According to media reports, Salam warned that the NPP will resist any attempt by the EC to skew the upcoming elections in favor of the governing NDC.

This invariably means a transparent electoral process is prerequisite to a peaceful election. Concerns and complaints should be efficiently, effectively and credibly managed and processed. Unsatisfactory complaint addressing system has the tendency to create mistrust and invariably trigger violence.

The system of where the winner “takes all” in Ghana’s politics is also an area of concern. Political parties in the country operate around personalities, rather than ideologies. Usually the candidate or flagbearer is a vehicle for his own party or ethnic group. Supporters of losing parties don't see opponent victories as a win for the other side but rather see it as a loss for themselves and their ethnic group. As a result, they have everything to lose when they lose power. This makes them do the very best they can by hook or crook to defend their “identities” by winning election.

When security forces and other state actors who are supposed to act independently are thought to be taking sides, it has the tendency of creating spite and rancor. Both the NDC and the NPP accused the security forces of supporting the other. One unique feature of a well-entrenched peaceful democracy is a neutral security set up. A biased security force creates an atmosphere of heightened tension with some losing their credibility in the process. During an election, normal security actions may become the subject of controversy.  In politics in general, and in elections in particular, perception is as important as reality.

As highlighted in the Electoral Knowledge Network (ACE) focus on Elections and Security, “the emergence of electoral violence is not a result of the process being followed, but signals a critical departure from the accepted rules that govern the process.” The organization and conduct of credible elections demand adherence to principles and rights, which in practice, impose significant challenges to ensure effective security.

Elections must be held in compliance with national laws devoid of political affiliation which if not carefully managed creates a politically-charged and volatile atmosphere which may be a precursor to violence. State institutions responsible for the administration and security of an election must fulfil their mandates impartially.

Political parties in an election must be treated equitably by all state institutions including the media, security forces and the electoral system. In Ghana, the culture of impunity associated especially with youth gangs such as the Azorka Boys, Bolga Bull Dogs, must be re-examined dispassionately. An election is a mechanism by which people are able to exercise their political, civil and human rights at no fee.  Security protocols must consider and acknowledge these rights, as well as the heightened sensitivity and scrutiny to the respect for these rights that occur during an election period.  

Adib Saani

Foreign Policy and Security Analyst