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Police gear up to prevent election violence

President John Kufuor inspects the troops in Independence Square as the country celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain, Accra, Ghana, 6 March 2007. Tens of thousands of people attended the event dressed in red, yellow and green, the colour of th Tiggy Ridley/IRIN
As Ghana counts down to its presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December, the national police service says it has identified 1,399 violence-prone areas which could see unrest.

“Most of these areas are places with a record of violent conflict, where political divisions can serve as fertile ground for fresh violence,” said Director of Police Operations Patrick Timbila.

The locations cited vary from specific villages to whole districts.

The conflict prevention research organisation the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), also found in a recent study that the potential for violence is widespread.

Ghana has largely escaped the conflict that has enmeshed its West African neighbours but all eight presidential candidates running in the December polls are urging voters to remember the country has seen political violence in the past and could degenerate into conflict again.

John Evans Atta Mills, presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress, recently pointed to the post-election violence in Kenya in December 2007 as an example of what could happen if preventive steps are not taken.

In August 2008 the registration of new voters in Tamale, capital of the Northern Region, was marked by violence. Later that month at least three people died and many more were injured or displaced following a shooting in the nearby town of Gushegul.

Election watchdog the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers discovered registration irregularities in the same region, including under-aged voters registering, non-citizens being forced to register, and an equipment shortage causing long delays.

“If the police figures are true then we are in trouble,” said Kwesi Aning, head of research at KAIPTC.

Flashpoints in north

Police director Timbila told IRIN he is most concerned about potential violence in the north because of several protracted conflicts there. Flashpoints include Dadgon, Yendi and Gushegu in the Northern Region, and Bawku in the Upper East region.

Land disputes in 1993 in the Northern Region erupted into ethnic violence, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

“Political activities in the north are often fuelled by an intricate combination of simmering land disputes, ethnic and chieftaincy disputes and a gun culture,” KAIPTC’s Aning said.

In January 2008 violence flared up between Mamprusi and Kusasi ethnic groups in Bawku, a town in Upper East Region, one of Ghana’s northernmost areas.

A chieftaincy conflict has been simmering between the Abudu and the Andani royal families since 2001, and in recent years politicians have been manipulating these disputes for political gain, said Aning. Each royal family now aligned, or perceived to be aligned, with a political party.

“These conflicts have taken on political colours, despite the fact that they were ostensibly triggered by chieftaincy disputes.”

Youths in the north are also manipulated by politicians, according to Emmanuel Bombandey of non-profit West African Network for Peace building (WANEP). “Politicians, either deliberately or not, dole out money to youthful followers to…get them to prove their loyalty to a particular party.”

Widespread poverty in the three northernmost regions make youths prone to manipulation, said Aning. Some 18.2 percent of Ghanaians live on less than US$1 a day, half of whom live in the north regions.

Heavy competition for votes in what is expected to be a close election may also trigger violence in the capital Accra in southern Ghana, and in Kumasi, the country’s second largest city, in central Ashanti Region, according to the KAIPTC report.

The end to President John Agyekum Kufuor’s administration in January 2009 will mark the first time in Ghana’s history that an opposition party that went on to assume power has served its constitutionally-mandated two four-year terms.

Recent polls indicate the 7 December elections will be the closest since 1992 and could result in a run-off between the two main political parties – the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).

Security strategy

To prevent violence the government set up a National Elections Security Task Force in early 2008, with Inspector-General of Police Patrick Acheampong at its head.

As part of a government strategy on election day 36,000 security personnel drawn from the police, prison wardens, immigration and customs officials and the national fire service will be deployed throughout the country.

They will be backed by 4,000 military troops who will be on stand-by in the country’s 10 regions.

On 16 and 17 November armed personnel and armored vehicles filled Accra’s streets to conduct drills.

“We will do whatever it takes to safeguard the integrity of the elections,” police director Timbila told IRIN. “We are on top of the situation, serious preventive measures have been taken…We don’t want to be caught off-guard.”

The Kofi Annan centre’s Aning worries the police have only 832 vehicles among them, and the 36,000 security personnel will not be enough to cover the 22,000 polling stations across the country. “There are only 22,129 police officers in the country, which means one officer per polling station.”

This leaves 14,000 security specialists to cover the rest of the country, Aning said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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