Democracy is a means for us to choose leaders and hold them accountable for their policies and conduct in office, thus, the need for an election. 2012 is the year Ghana will be going to the polls. An election is our democratic system, our right and our decision to choose one person, one party to lead for the next four years. In 2008, elections were troubled by dozens of violent incidents involving small arms, knives and machetes as well as the use of inflammatory language by political party members across the country.
For instance, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN Africa) reported that three people were killed, leaving many injured with houses and cars burnt in Tamale on the 28th of September 2008. On August 31, a gun shooting incident suddenly ended a political rally organized by the then ruling NPP party. Similarly, there was a violent incident recorded in Bawku in the Upper East Region. Despite the fact that Ghana has relatively been peaceful and witnessed a successful handing-over of power from one party to another, we should not fold our arms hoping for things to be as peaceful in 2012. .
With barely five months to elections, recent developments in the country, particularly the ended biometric system |(a system where the facial and iris scan is required) by political parties insisting that there cannot be biometric voting without verification gives much to worry about. Arguments, accusations and disagreements are already causing tension within parties and the public that is waiting for the time of voting to arrive. What is being done to calm this tension may not be enough as political party supporters will continue to argue in favour of their parties or who they think will be competent to take Ghana through the next four years.
Of great concern to the peaceful citizens who just want to elect their leaders is the fact that small arms are littered all over flash-points where they can easily be obtained by people and eventually fall into the wrong hands.. Whether foreign or locally manufactured, legally or illegally acquired, they find their way into people’s hands. How one acquires and handles these arms is really disheartening. How firearms are manufactured, acquired, controlled and who possesses them are still very elusive and troubling questions. But the fact is that, the widely disbursed possession of firearms poses serious threats to the safety of Ghanaians and the future of our democracy. Regardless of campaigns and public education by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and some NGOs such as WANEP, Media Foundation for West Africa and the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA) on the dangers of the use of small arms, our country is on the brink of becoming one of those in West Africa where unlicensed small arms could easily be acquired. We are in an era where many of the youth are unemployed and, also striving to make ends meet. The danger is that, they may find themselves engaged in all manner of activities including politics, where a little money might be made by intimidating political opponents or breaking up a peaceful rally with a few gun shots. Various political parties in the country have not yet unveiled their campaigns but we constantly hear several cases about the proliferation of small arms in the media. For instance, the Police arrested two persons on Jan. 10, 2012 in Accra for allegedly attempting to smuggle arms and ammunitions to Nigeria. The GNA also reported on Jan. 11, 2012 that The Greater Accra Regional Police Command arrested five people, two Nigerians and three Ghanaians in Accra for allegedly attempting to smuggle quantities of arms and ammunition to Nigeria. – Ghanaweb. There are many more threatening but hidden cases that exist in our country. Cases such as minor Chieftaincy disputes, such as that of Kpatinga in the Northern region where two Chiefs were enskinned instead of one may extend to political party conflicts during our elections, especially when some of the political parties are bent on wining at all cost.
Political leaders will come to us as usual; promising the creation of jobs, schools among others but also, as usual, these problems will remain. As different leaders take their turns in office, insufficient opportunities exist for us to earn a living. We should be aware that leaders use emotional appeals—placed within religious, cultural/ ethnic and political contexts to mobilize us -especially the unemployed- just to gain votes. To support their political party to win, those that have fallen under the spell of these inciting messages may team up in gangs armed with weapons to defend them. The climate of debate and conflict that elections create also attracts some people whose interest is not in party politics but only the power of the weapon in their hands, The fact that they are often called ‘foot soldiers’ speaks precisely of the violence associated with war. Is that the context that will provide us free, fair and peaceful elections? How is it in our interest when our leaders employ these techniques to win?
It is very disappointing to see the youth defend their parties simply to benefit when that party gains power. But what if in the process of this one loses his life or a dear one or the party wins but does not deliver on their promises?
It is as a result of issues or tensions like these especially during times of elections that conflicts occur that kill people and have become very common in Africa lately with the easy accessibility of small arms. Countries such as Zimbabwe, Congo, and Sudan are all suffering from the result of the presence of these small arms in wrong hands. In Nigeria for instance, election violence has remained a feature on their political landscape, and a review of the problem may include a number of reasons including the availability of small arms. There were over one million illegal small arms reported to be in circulation in Nigeria as of 2004. These weapons perpetuate violent conflict and create new cycles of violence and crime. It is thus not surprising that the very recent elections in Africa all held in their wake some form of violence- Liberia had minor election violence but luckily no use of small arms was heard of and that is very remarkable. It is about time we realise that an election is about development, for the provision of Governance, Economic and Social infrastructure, in order to improve our standards of living, it is for us to fight for our rights as citizens who gave their rights to others to be protected, but not for us to ruin ourselves. It is time we get vigilant by supporting our security agencies, who are already doing all they can to curb this menace though much more needs to be done, since our borders are porous thereby making these illicit transactions very common. . We are in an election year and learning from the experiences of other countries, we have to be alert to defend the safety, peace and democracy of our country. As part of our Constitutional obligations, our election should be through the ballot box and not through the bullet, it will be wise therefore to respect our Constitution, go out in our numbers peacefully come December 7th to make our choices devoid of violence and accept results so as to jealously guard our prevailing peace. Taking Liberia again as an example, they have come out of a war. Despite tensions existing, they have chosen to go with the ballot box and not bullets again. For us the ballot box is the fundamental tool of our democratic system and should be respected.