As the West African nation of Ghana prepares for general elections in December, the Secretary General of the Accra-based National Catholic Secretariat (NCS), the Executive Arm of Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC), has made known the intention of Church to use her resources to foster democracy by actively campaigning against political parties that do not show enough commitment to ending political violence and vigilantism that has crippled the country for decades.
“If any party does not demonstrate commitment to ending vigilantism, we may have no choice but to use our pulpits to campaign against such parties because if we condone this then we are not encouraging democracy,” Fr. Lazarus Anondee said February 4 at the signing of the Code of Conduct and Roadmap to Ending Political Vigilantism document in Accra.
The document was developed by a technical committee following a series of consultations that were organized by the National Peace Council, chaired by Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante, a Ghanaian Methodist Prelate.
Due to the violence that marred the January 31, 2019 Ayawaso West Wuguon Constituency by-election, there were calls by Ghanaians for a ban on political vigilantism and militias used by various political parties in the country.
Over the year, Ghanaian politicians have relied on vigilante groups, mainly composed of unemployed youth in the country, to provide security for their campaigns and ensure electoral victory. The groups mobilize party supporters; they serve as polling or monitoring agents during voter registration, voting, and results tabulation; and they also ‘protect’ polling centres and electoral materials.
With support from known party figures, these groups have been said to threaten, intimidate and assault opponents, seize or destroy electoral materials, assault electoral officials, and vandalize registration centres.
Groups affiliated with the winning party often forcibly take over government offices and properties, and in some cases violently resist new government appointments they disagree with.
Last year, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, heeding to the call of the people to ban vigilante groups used by politicians, set up a Commission of Inquiry to probe the matter. The commission, after a month, recommended the disbanding of political party vigilante groups, in an array of other recommendations.
Representing GCBC at the signing of the Code of Conduct and Roadmap to Ending Political Vigilantism February 4, Fr. Anondee pointed out that the Catholic Bishops support the recommendation of the commission and urged the parties to take the move seriously saying it was necessary to push for peace and the total eradication of political vigilantism in the country.
“I believe that the support shown for this course is very strong and we want to appeal to the political parties to see it as something very important,” said Fr. Anondee adding, “If we encourage this behaviour, our democracy will be affected. We have no choice than to campaign against anyone who goes contrary to the decision.”
Alex Segbefia, a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), said members of the opposition party could not sign the document that he said had not been signed by other stakeholders.
“When you look at the roadmap, it has 22 recommendations, four of those belong to political parties while 18 belong to other stakeholders namely the government, National Commission for Civic Education, the Electoral Commission, Civil service organizations, and many others. None of these have appended their signatures. We cannot be seen to be signing a document where other parties who play a part haven’t signed” said Segbefia.
However, noting that Ghana’s governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) had appended its signature to the document aimed to end vigilante groups in the country, Fr. Anondee urged other politicians to show their commitment in fighting violence since “the roadmap is too important to be ignored by any political party.”
The country’s opposition party accused GCBC of siding with the ruling party, an accusation that was dismissed by the Ghanaian cleric in an interview with ACI Africa correspondent, Wednesday, February 5.
Referencing the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fr. Anondee said, “It has nothing against the opposition party. The reports are untrue and as such should be disregarded by the public.”
Clarifying his position, Fr. Anondee lamented the development and stressed, “I was completely taken out of context. I am surprised. I don’t know whether they are implying that what I said meant we will campaign against NDC or I mentioned NDC by name. I just wanted to make the point that parties should take the issue of eradicating political vigilantism very seriously.”
“It is a serious issue and we think that any party that employs their services of vigilantes for political interest is not worthy of our support. Because we need really decent politics; we want people to play politics decently,” he reiterated.
The Catholic cleric asserted that politics should strictly be a trade of ideas towards the development of the country and nothing else.
“We don’t want the situation where some people will employ the macho men to intimidate others and through the intimidation they come to power to rule. I don’t think that is what we call democracy,” he said.
On February 1, 2019, a day after the violence that followed the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election held on Thursday, January 31, 2019, GCBC issued a statement expressing grave concern about the violence.
“We condemn in no uncertain terms the reported shootings and assaults perpetrated by some unidentified groups resulting in injuries. Of particular concern is the reported use of vigilante groups to disturb the peace and quiet of the by-election,” the statement signed on behalf of the Bishops of Ghana by Fr. Anondee noted.
The GCBC stated that “these incidents do not only pose a serious threat to our democracy but will also certainly draw back the progress and successes of our democratic gains. In addition, such manifestations of lawlessness and insecurity do not augur well for us as a nation as we prepare for the 2020 general elections.”
“We also call on the Electoral Commission to liaise with the political parties to address all the challenges and fears of stakeholders in the conduct of peaceful elections,” Fr. Anondee said in the statement, calling on all citizens to remain law-abiding and eschew all forms of violence.