#GhanaDecides: Political violence is an African reality that must die by fire

Africa’s exemplary democracy – Ghana, as it turns out is only exemplary because of the depth of rot all around it. Statistics show a rise in political violence in the small West African nation over the years since 2012.

An official of the National Peace Council recently stated that 86 constituencies experienced violence around the 2016 elections, compared to just 47 in 2012. ACLED data suggests the frequency of politically-motivated violence spiked in 2016 and has remained high ever since. And popular attitudes in Ghana have grown warier, with 43.3% of respondents in a 2018 Afrobarometer survey saying they feared becoming victims of political violence, up from 35.5% in 2014.

Ghana’s ongoing election has been a tension-filled affair across most of the country. During the 31-day voter registration exercise that preceded the elections, supporters of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and opposition National Democratic Convention (NDC) clashed in several constituencies, leading to multiple fatalities. And that was not the last of it.

As the Electoral Commission continues to count votes ahead of the results announcement, the electoral body calls for calm amidst rising tension.

The Ghana Police service is currently investigating an incident of shooting that has left two injured at Kasoa, in the Awutu Senya district East Constituency. The same centre had experienced political violence during the voter registration exercise when a party agent for the NDC was shot at by gunmen while returning from the voting registration centre.

Researchers, Michael Lieber Cobb (PhD) and  Dr Erik Plänitz, attributed the rising instances of political violence in Ghana to widening inequality between a ruling elite that lives extravagantly at taxpayers’ expense while the taxpayers lack potable water. And Ghanaians have not been silent about it.

MPs visits to their constituencies have been met with protests over unmet promises, and as the incoming results are showing, both parties are losing parliamentary seats to one another.

Nigeria by contrast has seen a drop in political violence during elections since 2011. But where Ghana’s rising tensions are in response to the poor performance of its government, Nigeria’s relatively reducing instances of political violence has more to do with makeup of the leading persons running for office.

The worst election-related violence in recent times took place in the three days after the 2011 election when 800 people were killed, 700 in Kaduna alone. This has been attributed to protests against Goodluck Jonathan’s victory, which turned violent, and, according to Human Rights Watch, “Degenerated into sectarian and ethnic bloodletting across the northern states.”

By contrast, in the election cycles of 2015 there were 78 incidents, and 22 incidents in 2018, because both candidates are of the Fulani ethnic group, are Muslim, and are from the north, reducing chances of ethnic and religious tension flaring up.

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What this indicates for African democracies is that there is a chasm in our democracy that needs to be filled before we can boldly embrace any accolades about how well we are doing at it. We have a long way to go, and we will get there if we allow ourselves.

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