By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Ghanaian Bishops have expressed concern about the spate of violence during the Voter Registration Exercise currently being conducted in the buildup towards the nation’s parliamentary and presidential elections, which are slated for December 2020.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Bishops said that they have noted with dismay the “acts of politically orchestrated violence” in some areas of the Ashanti, Central, Ahafo, Bono, Volta and Greater Accra regions of the country.
The Bishops also noted with sadness that the recent sparks of violence claimed the life of a young Ghanaian man in the Bono region, and left many others injured.
“It is an indictment, to say the least,” the Bishops said, “that after 27 years of democratic governance under our Fourth Republic Constitution, Ghana is still experiencing political party-related violence whenever polls are conducted to elect leaders and, in this case, the compilation of a voters’ register.”
In the statement, the Bishops reminded all of the nation’s Political Parties of the agreement they had signed against vigilantism and acts of violence ahead of the electoral activities.
At the same time, they urged the parties to show their commitment to the agreement by handing over to the police “any member of their group who misconduct themselves or act in ways that will disrupt the registration exercise.”
In this regard, the Bishops cited the latest shooting incident, involving a serving Ghanaian minister on Monday, 20 July. They referred to it as “disturbing,” and called on the executive and legislature to take “appropriate sanctions” against the perpetrator.
“The acts of violence engulfing the country constitute a breach of the Vigilante and Related Offenses Act, 2019 Act 999, which was passed by Parliament,” the Bishops pointed out. That Act, they added, was aimed at disbanding armed partisan hooligans and making political vigilantism an offence punishable by a prison term.
The Bishops, therefore, urged the government “to have the courage” to take action against instances of criminality, especially as it will “serve as a deterrent” to those who “otherwise will continue to act with impunity.”
Calls for peace
Proposing pathways to peace, the Bishops called on all political parties, particularly the ruling NPP (New Patriotic Party), and the opposition NDC (National Democratic Congress), to “exhibit political maturity” and “stay away from acts that cause violence.”
The Bishops advised the political parties to take advantage of the mechanisms put in place by the nation’s Electoral Commission to challenge an applicant based on ineligibility, instead of resorting to violence.
“Acts such as bussing people and illegally registering people at various polling centers will always create some form of violence, as both parties will not agree to that and hence may ignite some form of violence,” the Bishops noted.
In light of their concerns, the Bishops called on the police to carry out their work in a “more professional manner” and not “shrink from their responsibilities.”
They added that if people commit criminal activities with impunity, the victims of those crimes might lose confidence in the police’s capacity to provide them with “safety and peace,” and may be “compelled to devise their own individual means of protection.”
Then, turning their thoughts to the youth, the Bishops advised them not to allow themselves to be “lured into violence by selfish and greedy politicians for their personal interests.”
“If care is not taken,” the Bishops warned, these acts of political violence may “draw back the nation’s democratic and socio-economic gains.”
Concluding their statement, the Bishops exhorted everyone with the words of St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).
Ghana’s Voter Registration Exercise started on 30 June and is expected to last till 6 August 2020 in all sixteen regions of the country.