Ghana has long been regarded as a beacon of hope in West Africa and the world will be watching in 2012 when it will mark its 20th anniversary of peaceful democratic elections. In the meantime, leaders here are taking steps to ensure youth activists aren’t lured into jeopardizing that landmark.
“(Politicians) say look at you all you have no jobs, when I come to power I will do A, B, C, D for you. Once you do that, it has the potential to incite the youth to engage out of lawlessness during election period, ” said Stephen Azantilow, Regional Director of Ghana’s Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
Azantilow chaired a workshop in Tamale in early October where youth leaders from Ghana’s three northern regions were invited to discuss the illegality of accepting money or favours for votes and the importance of integrity and peace during elections. The event was organized by the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, made up of public, private and civil society groups from across the country.
Calvin Rashid Yahaya, Student Representative Council President at Tamale Polytechnic who participated in the workshop said election violence is a trickle-down effect. Politicians make promises to youth leaders, then those youth leaders in turn gather what are known as foot soldiers – mostly underemployed and illiterate – and pay them small fees to steal ballot boxes and cause other disruptions.
“Most youth they don’t even know what they are about. The law is not available, it’s not made available for them to read. They don’t know why they are fighting. They don’t know why they are lobbying for this person,” he said.
But Kojo Tito Voegborlo, Secretary for the National Commission for Civic Education who also spoke at the event, was quick to challenge him. “There’s a linkage between poverty and some of the ills that go on in the electoral system. But I can also tell you that a large chunk of those who are involved in malpractices are people who are well-to-do. The youth activists who are sitting here, many of them are at least university graduates others Polytechnic, they are well-to-do,” he said.
Here in Northern Region, where tribal violence is not uncommon, political affiliations often run along tribal lines. The 2008 elections saw an outbreak of violence in the region when foot soldiers for the two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) clashed at the polling stations. Meanwhile, all over Ghana foot soldiers recruited minors to register and vote in strategic regions, a practice called bussing. Nevertheless, after a tight race NDC leader John Atta Mills was declared victorious, and NPP leader John Kufour stepped down willingly after having served two terms.
Sandra Auther is the Programs Officer for the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition and is organizing these dialogue sessions with youth in trouble spots all over the country.
“Election without peace is chaos. So we’re looking at the fact that with the integrity that they build, they will not give themselves out to people to indulge in things that will destruct the peace of this nation. That at the end of the day, our election goes peacefully and nobody loses their life, we don’t want to be like other countries that we are experiencing around us,” she said.
Yahaya said he fully grasped the meaning of the event, quoting John F. Kennedy’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’
“At the end of the day politics is not do or die, it’s not a win or lose affair. When you lose you need to sit down as a team and say – what actually lead to you being at the negative side? It’s about learning. The room for improvement is the best room,” he said.