Background on Electoral Conflict in Ghana
In Ghana, every election since 1992 has experienced some level of violence, however, the level and intensity of the violence varies from election to election. Although electoral violence may be considered less severe in Ghana than in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, to ignore symptoms is to create vulnerabilities which have fostered an environment where the violence has been permitted to continue.
Political competition is fundamental to a free election. However, an irony associated with the motives for electoral violence in Ghana is that it is the prospect of genuine political competition and the possibility of change in office, that is, the fight for succession, which triggers acts of violence to suppress the support and turnout for opponents. Such a political culture generates a “winner takes all” endgame and the pursuit of state resources a strong incentive. In keeping with this assertion, violence has typically been perpetrated by the two largest political parties – the National Democracy Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and not the smaller parties. Party primaries have also increased the intensity of political competition and the length of the electoral season. However, while unbridled political competition certainly fosters the violence, as the case studies will demonstrate, the profiles of the violence can be more complex and vary from region to region
From the enforcement side, Centre for African Democratic Affairs (CADA) contends that Electoral Commission and Police are not adequately resourced to provide electoral security. And, media coverage on incidents of electoral violence is scant, so it is possible that its frequency of such incidents has been under-reported. Perhaps reinforcing this under-reporting phenomenon is the international community. The international community has developed an interest in presenting Ghana as a stable African country and electoral violence runs contrary to that image.
The parlance surrounding electoral violence in Ghana has also developed its own jargon including big men, coordinators, foot soldiers, macho men, and zongo boys as labels for specific types of stakeholders in the perpetration chain of electoral violence.
Electoral Violence Chronology 1992 – 2012
While there were some incidents surrounding the first use of biometrics in voter registration, the 2012 presidential elections were considered as peaceful compared with those of 2008 and 2004. One explanation for the reduction in violence was that the closeness of contest in 2012 was not as much as in 2008. And, related to the closeness of the contest, the fact that a second round of elections was required in 2008 extended the period of campaigning and made a zero sum game out of the second round. Another factor in post-election violence was that complaints filed about vote fraud were never investigated by the Electoral Commission, diminishing confidence in the certified outcomes by losing candidates. Another factor creating vulnerabilities for violence in 2004 and 2008 was that these were open seat presidential elections and the issue of intense political competition as discussed above played out. Prior to 2004, incidents of electoral violence can be tracked in 1992, 1996, and 2000. However, 2008 was the most violence in terms of the frequency and intensity of incidents.
A survey of incidents of electoral violence was conducted for the 1992 to 2012 period. This survey divided incidents into the following categories: assault/violent intimidation; seizures of public property; protests/public disorders; ballot box theft; party property/vandalization. In total 5,707 incidents were identified and classified into the categories. The table below shows the distribution of these incidents.
|Type of Incident||Number of Incidents||Percentage of Total|
|Seizure of Public Property||1,812||31.7%|
|Ballot Box Theft||142||2.4%|
The survey revealed the following trends and tendencies. First, violent intimidation has been a common feature in all elections. The intimidation was aimed to disenfranchisement of political opponent voters. Candidates, supporters, and voters were most at risk of violence when they were in the strongholds of the opposition. Ballot box theft has faded as a tactic. And, public action tactics have been employed such as takeovers of office building, toll bridges, and government buildings.
The three cases reflect diversity in geography – north, south, and urban Accra. However, these cases also reflect a unique dimension as an underlying vulnerability – chieftaincy rights, ethnicities, and urban mobilization.
Case 1 – Tamale/Yendi – North Ghana
Electoral violence in this region is connected to competition for chieftaincy rights and NPP or NDC involvement with tribal factions in conflict on this level. The NDC often wins in this northern region. The source of the chieftaincy conflict is an intra-tribal feud within the Dagomba between the factions of the Abunda and Andani. In terms of elections, the Abunda support the NPP, and the Andanis support the NDC. As a result, this intra-tribal feuds plays out in both communal and electoral violence.
The feud turned deadly when, in March 2002 an Andani paramount chief was killed. It was reported that government troops from the NPP government of President John Kupfer were involved with the incident. The resulting violence triggered a two and a half year curfew on Tamale and Yendi. Further related violence occurred during the 2004 election period when the acquittal of 15 men charged with the killing coincided with the campaign.
Case 2 – Kumasi – South Ghana
Kumasi is Ghana’s second largest city, located in the southern Ashanti region. It is considered an NPP stronghold. Generally speaking, the NPP seen as a southern-based party. While NDC supporters are the targets of violence by NPP, the electoral violence possess an ethnic dimension in this region.
Attracted by employment, Northern settlers migrate to Kumasi and reside in impoverished communities call Zongo areas and support the NDC. These residents are largely Muslim and include immigrants from Burkina Faso. Their support for the NDC makes them targets of attack by Ashanti groups.
Case 3 – Greater Accra
As stated above, the 2102 election was largely peaceful, but much of the politically motivated violence happened in Accra. In one incident, police raided the NPP office in December where NPP supporters were conducting forensic audits of the election results. The elites also play a role in that a change in government means the loss of higher income jobs, and so there are incentives for those at that level of support violence to remain employed. Youth mobilization into violence and the employment of public demonstrations are tactics experienced in Accra electoral violence. As a result, the electoral violence in this locale possesses an economic dimension.
In the north region of Tamale/Yendi, the chieftaincy rivalries cannot be separated from elections and election-related violence will not subside until these rivalries are reconciled. In Kumasi, divisions between ethnic groups formed the fundamental fault line triggered electoral violence. North migrants, largely Muslims, support the NDC and the south is the NPP stronghold. And, in Accra, the electoral violence possesses an economic dimension with job and state resources access being incentives. In Accra, tribal and ethnic factors have not been identified as vulnerabilities but youth mobilization is a factor.
 Bob-Millar, George M. , Party Youth Activists and Low Intensity Violence in Ghana: A Qualitative Study of Party Foot Soldiers’ Activism, Africa Studies, Quarterly, December 2014