Ghana’s democracy declines; Guns and polls

by olenboase5918

Ghana’s move towards democratization has experienced past military takeovers (1966-1992) and violence which came to an end after the birth of the fourth republican constitution, however, the country’s democratic credential has been declining post 2016. As much as it is true that no democracy resembles the other, nonetheless there are two key traits of all democracies which are free elections and the respect of civil liberties, whereas military interference in the politics of a country is non-democratic (Dahl, 1989; Huntington, 1991).

It is also evident that elections by itself does not meet the requirements of a complete democratic system, however, it is complete when citizens’ rights and liberties are guarded from non-democratic interference from the military (Youngho Cho, 2015). The term democracy signifies rule by the people (the demos) and hence with interference from the military comes obstructions of the people’s rights to choose their leaders.

Although a democratically elected leader, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) the ruling political party in Ghana under the leadership of His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo (NAA) has for some reasons unknown to many depended largely on the Ghana Army in managing law and order affairs of the country. The Army has been involved in crowd control which they are not trained to handle and at a point in January 7th 2021, Ghanaian soldiers were called to invade the parliament of Ghana in the name of breaking up Members of Parliament who were at odds during an overnight vote to determine the country’s new speaker of parliament. According to some sources, the use of the soldiers was considered an act of intimidation to prevent the elections of Rt. Hon. Alban Bagbin who belongs to the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Ghana’s other major political party, from being named speaker.

There are other instances where Ghanaian soldiers are flagged i.e. for participating in land protection, escort responsibilities for political party officials, debt recovery, protection of pro-NPP businessmen and security at private weddings.

Prior to and in the 2016 elections, Ghana’s Military although supported the police in keeping law and order during elections due to low police numbers, did so under the authority of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), this has subsequently taken a new dimension were the army’s involvement in domestic politics and internal policing is now becoming a red flag and sometimes in conflict with police ways of maintaining law and order internally.

In 2020, during Ghana’s domestic elections, the Army was at the front and centre and in some circumstances could be easily be seen as tools of voter intimidation usually deployed in the strongholds of the opposition NDC at various points across the nation. In a policy brief on Ghana’s 2020 elections by the Danish Institute for International Studies, it stated that “Ghana’s armed forces are pulled increasingly into issues relating to internal security, including during general elections. The report went further to point out, that although there could be a legal justification for the use of the Army by the government, it was clear that their involvement in human rights violations and the politicisation led to some unwanted political and civil-military tensions. The government of President Akufo-Addo deployed soldiers under “Operation Conquered Fist” in the Volta region of Ghana which is a stronghold of the opposition NDC with a number of border towns with the Republic of Togo. The Army deployment deprived many Ghanaians from returning home to register and vote. The presence of the soldiers deterred Ghanaian citizens from returning home to participate in the general elections because of human rights violations. In Techiman South the deployment of soldiers led to the shooting and killing of two and other persons were injured.

A political party that won power from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), largely advocated and won power under an anti-corruption ticket. The NPP promised to advance civil liberties but is struggling to maintain the democratic gains inherited after 8 years in power.

In 2022, Afrobarometer a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life came out with the following findings;

▪ That only one in seven (14%) of Ghanaians say the government is doing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in fighting corruption, a quarter of the proportion who applauded the government’s anti-graft efforts in 2017 (60%).

▪ More than three-fourths (77%) of Ghanaians say the level of corruption in the country has increased “somewhat” or “a lot” over the past year, more than double the proportion recorded in 2017 (36%).

-Only 6% say the level of corruption has decreased.

▪ More than half of Ghanaians see widespread corruption in the office of the president (55%).

The political rights and civil freedoms in Ghana have depreciated under the current government between 2017 to 2023 and it is at its lowest point in the last decade. Ghana should be considered a beleaguered democracy, a democracy in crisis because a lot has gone and is still going wrong. The paper would try not to stray from the main topic because it is easy for one to shift focus considering how bad the Ghanaian economy is doing now.

According to Huntington “politics is beyond the scope of military competence, and the participation of military officers in politics undermines their professionalism… The military officer must remain neutral politically…The area of military science is subordinate to and yet independent of, the area of politics”. In order for democracy to work effectively the military in a democratic society must be apolitical and neutral (United States Naval Institute 2022), and the role of the military is to defend and not to define in a democracy.

State Institutions (NIB, Police etc) have occasionally limited press freedom by harassing and arresting journalists, especially those reporting on politically sensitive issues. According to the Media Foundation West Africa, the military and police personnel detained or attacked journalists on several occasions in 2021. In January, soldiers detained three journalists of Joy News, erasing some of their footage and destroying parts of their vehicle before their release. Also in April 2021, the police arrested the Chief News Editor of WhatsApp News Mr David Tamakloe, accusing him of the “publication of false news” and “extortion” after receiving a complaint from an interviewee before releasing him on bond.

The NIB subsequently detained and physically attacked Citi FM journalist Caleb Kudah in May, after accusing him of photographing official vehicles. Police then impersonated Kudah to facilitate the arrest of another Citi FM colleague. Both were later released without charge.

Other infringements on the civil liberties of Ghanaians include obstruction by state security to prevent the protests over economic and social concerns under the #FixTheCountry banner in 2021. And the June arrest of 11 organizers of #FixThecountry protesting in front of the Accra High Court. Later that year, an unidentified attacker killed #FixTheCountry supporter Ibrahim Muhammed in his home town of Ejura. When the people decided to protest in Ejura about the killing of Muhammed, the military personnel used live ammunition to kill two people and injure at least four more.

The Ghana army has always been revered by citizens, and various trust-in institution surveys like the Afrobarometer surveys also show higher levels of popular trust in the Ghana Armed Forces. But this has since declined, due to the participation in domestic policing and political interference especially in electoral-related matters.

This paper was largely motivated because of a recent news publication with the headline “Election 2024; Military has greater responsibility for free and fair polls according to the new Chief of Army Staff” by Major General Bismarck Kwasi Onwona who before his appointment as Chief of Army was the Aide-de-camp of NAA.

The Army must desist from repeating its actions in 2020 and remain committed to its responsibilities in protecting the territorial integrity of Ghana. If the Army will be deployed to assist in election duties it should be limited to civil policing and not to lead or be responsible for election security.

Election-related stakeholders must define clearly the role of the Ghana Armed Forces in the up coming 2024 general elections in order to protect the civil liberties as enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Ghana. The government in power must not abuse the army at their command for political advantage and the army must also be guided enough to protect the integrity of the service and as defenders of the people and constitution.

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