The proliferation of vigilante groups in Africa and Ghana in particular, has been attributed by many scholars to the failure of the security services to guarantee safety.
But this is only a part of the story. In the book “Global Policing Research and Practice” it is noted that, the rise of such groups may be part of the package of transition from post-conflict and post-authoritarian rule to democracy and free market systems.
The authors argue this led to engendered: “shrinking state”; privatization and associated economic dislocation; insecurity and inequality; increasing civic activism including community self-policing; decentralisation and local governance.
The proposition supra also fails to understand that in Africa, people prefer to resolve disputes, disagreements internally rather than invite a “foreign entity.” So that even if the police were efficient, there is less patronage of their services.
The use of vigilante groups/private security personnel in Ghana’s election perhaps is first borne out of mistrust for state institutions particularly the security services and the Electoral Commission, to ensure credible elections, and secondly the perception that candidates and leading figures of parties are potential targets. This is akin to the “wirempefo” in Akan culture whose job it was to keep the stool from being taking by a usurper (Rattray, Ashanti law, p.86).
Heavily built young men have since the “competitive” multi party race been recruited and/or constituted themselves into groups directly and or affiliated to the leading political parties.
Funding many times are done covertly and/or overtly by the politicians and or functionaries/sponsors who invest heavily into elections. So in Ghana, there exist several of such groups.
Vigilante groups became more pronounced under the 4th Republic. In the past, political parties and movements hired violent men from the “zongos” to foment trouble and cause confusion.
But now Ghana has more formalised groupings. During the pre-independence era, it was inspired by tension between the left wing and the right wing.
A Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) report, catalogues a number of them; Azorka Boys, Bolga Bull Dogs, Invincible Forces, Bamba Boys and the Kandahar Boys. Other groups identified included Aluta Boys, Nima Boys, Salifu Eleven, Zongo Caucus, Veranda Boys, Supreme, Mahama Boys, Delta Force, Badariba, Basuka Boys and Bindiriba.
Security experts like Dr. Kwesi Aning with extensive research on such groups have longed noted the potential problem the nation faces.
A CDD survey of Ghanaians in 2016 revealed that, nearly 7 out of every 10 respondents who claimed awareness of these groups associated them with the NDC, while 18% linked them to the NPP.
However, irrespective of the presumed party affiliation of these private militias, a clear majority of Ghanaians (63%) regarded their operations and activities as a threat to democracy, and risk to the country.
The threat such groups pose are both overt and latent. The presence of such groups shares parallel forces with the security services in providing security for people and property.
In Ivory Coast, formation of vigilante groups started as a response to frightening crime rates.
People began hiring security guards popularly known as “hunters” for protection.These groups with time worked alongside mainstream security services. The groups soon provided protection also for politicians and the ballot. A vigilante group resisted Robert Guei’s attempt to rig the elections and perpetuate himself in power.
John M. Kabia, Program Officer for West Africa at the Fund for Global Human Rights, noted in his book that, most of the vigilante groups have been implicated in massive human rights abuses across the continent.
In Sierra Leone, such groups terrorised anyone suspected of allying with, or sympathetic to, their opponents. What may account for the mess created by vigilante groups across Africa could be the friction that develops between them and the security agencies, and two, the inability of many countries to control, manage or re integrate such groups after politicians have “used them” for political capital in elections.
In Ghana, vigilante groups have been formed mainly out of mistrust for the political process.
The two leading parties have had cause to overtly and covertly fund the activities of such gangs across the country as it were, to protect them and the ballot. The NPP ahead of the 2016 presidential and Parliamentary elections invited professionals to train their “men” in combat and defence operation.
The party stated it did not trust the state to fully protect its flagbearer now President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo. Sometimes it is justified if a stone can be thrown at the opposition leader at a rally ground without any attempt to find the culprit.
Anyone with insight into the workings of the security agencies and its architecture as specified by Ghanaian laws especially the Police administration, will know why it is so difficult to trust them.-They are just not independent.
Ghana’s present circumstances, cannot, and will not suffice or even qualify for the horrendous activities of vigilante groups from West African countries that have had to deal with such groups.
In many jurisdictions, they challenge the state, transform into violent groups, drive away investors and create insecurity. However, it may be a tipping point.
The signs are clearly on the wall. This must serve as a warning sign about the potential of such groups to wreak havoc and torment the political climate with the least disturbance.
The solution may well be within the purview of the two main political parties; the ruling NPP and the opposition NDC.
These parties are known to have sponsored, supported, encouraged and funded these vigilante groups associated with their parties. It is only them and they alone can disband these groups not the state. The state power extends to crimes and/ or potential criminal activities these groups may be involved in.
The constitution under article 21 guarantees freedom of association and such groups, however, they may be called, could come under such umbrella. Are private security guards permitted under the laws of Ghana? The Private Security Organisations Regulations provides for such services. What is required is a monitoring of their activities to ensure compliance.
For instance, the regulation prohibits possession of any fire arm or ammunition in the course of their duties. One quick solution is perhaps to revoke the regulation. The tipping point for the opposition NDC was the violent activities perpetuated by its “Azorka boys” after the 2008 elections.
The party was able to find jobs for some of them in the security services including the Police, Fire Service, and Prison Service. Others were just hangers-on at national security, whilst majority simply branded themselves as party foot soldiers.
They went about seizing everything from management of toilet facilities to collecting of road tolls. It was not entirely a disaster, but many over the years acted unprofessional and advanced their appointers’ vision rather than the national vision.
It is not a good path to continue. Only professionals and qualified persons must be employed in the security services.
In Ghana, the disturbances by vigilante groups continue to be a menace because every regime has failed to deal with it. A new government means a vigilante group rising to make demands, and that of the old government going underground.
But the nation is violently pregnable. And the activities of these groups could birth it during and after elections.
I suggest that Ghana must take a second look at its domineering executive system. The executive wields so much power that it can symbolically turn “a man into a woman.” It is recommended that the winner takes all system must be replaced. The other side is starved practically and it accounts for the tension to regain power and use every means to win or maintain stay in power. Ghana must go back to the Westminster system.
The state must further introduce the “Secret Service” akin to that of the United States. The security service is made up of people who are committed to the course of an administration and the party. When such administration loses election, all members of the service continue to be with them and are paid by the state.
In a system like that, such persons in these vigilante groups will be trained to protect officials of the administration in and out of power. The state will bear their pay. This will free the security agencies like Police and BNI from non-professionals who gain employment on the basis of support for party x or y.
It is also suggested that these MEN could be screened to identify their talents and potentials first.
In the era of aggressive campaign by media and civil society to end illegal mining (Galamsey), one suggestion could be to form a new taskforce with some of these men to go round the mining areas and report such activities to the security services for action.
This is a contentious one, but it’s better to put them to good use than allow them to visit their hunger and anger on innocent people.
By: Sammy Darkofirstname.lastname@example.org
The Writer is a Law student, Lecturer, Media Professional and Peace and Security graduate.