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Confronting Political Vigilantism in Ghana [Policy Brief]

On 9 April 2019, Ghana’s two main political parties – the ruling New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress – concluded talks on political vigilantism with the National Peace Council. Their object was to find ways to disband political vigilante groups. This followed an address by President Akuffo Addo which threatened legislation if the parties did not begin a dialogue to disband their vigilante groups. In agreeing to the talks, the parties implicitly acknowledged that they recruit, train, and resource vigilante groups to act on their behalf. That reinforces reports such as one compiled by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)1 , as well as academic research papers.

The immediate prompting for the vigilante talks was a well-publicised incident on 31 January 2019. What should have been a routine by-election, following the death of the member of parliament for Ayawaso, was marred by violence on the part of masked security officials from the National Security Secretariat. The incident revived concerns about political vigilantism and how it might be controlled. At a meeting in Kumasi a few weeks after the Ayawaso debacle, two people were shot by members of the National Democratic Congress.

Political vigilantism is not a new feature of Ghanaian politics. Some researchers say that it has its roots in the movement for independence from British colonial rule . Both the Convention People’s Party led by Kwame Nkrumah – Ghana’s independence leader and first president – and the National Liberation Movement were engaged in fierce political struggles over whether Ghana should
be a federal or a unitary state. The struggle involved violent vigilante activity by
elements on both sides.

This policy paper explores the conditions that give rise to vigilantism, the nature
of that form of violence, and what might be done to tackle the problem.


Why Do Young Ghanaian Adults Engage in Corruption?

Results from a study by Dr Tankebe, Professor Karstedt (Griffith University) and Adu-Poku (University of Ghana) show that citizenly pride reduces the likelihood that young adults will engage in corruption, but materialism and strong bonds with kinship groups increase the likelihood of corruption. Deterrence, in terms of certainty, had a more consistently negative impact on intentions to engage in nepotism than in bribe paying and acceptance; they found no effect that perceptions of the severity of punishments affected people’s choices. The data for their study came from a survey of 530 university students in Ghana.

Dr Tankebe speaks to The Conversation Africa about political vigilantism Ghana

The US has announced it is ready to support Ghana to deal with the issue of political vigilantism – a growing threat to peace and security in the country. The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Justice Tankebe about the phenomenon and what can be done to address it.

What’s meant by political vigilantism and how long has it been an issue in Ghana?

Vigilantism is when people “take the law into their own hands” in order to protect or advance their interests. In this way, all vigilantism is political because it always involves the use of (illegal) power against others who are perceived to be a threat to those interests. However, when we speak of “political vigilantism” we mean specifically the use of vigilantes in the name of partisan politics.

In Ghana, political parties – whether in government or the opposition – are known to form and use vigilante groups who then act on their behalf. This has been highlighted in various reports, such as one put together by the Institute for Security Studies as well as academic research papers. These vigilante groups are often violent, target opposition groups and public officials, and seize property or assets.

But vigilantes aren’t just thugs who operate at the street level. Based on my research of over ten years into vigilantism in Ghana, I have started to focus on what I call “vigilantes-in-suits”. I use the term to refer to people in positions of authority – for example, policy makers, lawmakers and various political appointees – who will pursue their party’s interests by any means.

Political vigilantism isn’t a new feature of Ghanaian politics. Some researchers say that it has its roots in the country’s independence movement from British colonial rule. The Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah – Ghana’s independence leader and first president – and the National Liberation Movement were engaged in fierce political struggles over whether Ghana should be a federal or unitary state. The struggle involved violent vigilante activity by elements on both sides.

Today, Ghana’s two main political parties – the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party – have vigilante groups who wear T-shirts branded with their group’s logo. These include the “Azorka Boys” and the “Hawks” for the National Democratic Congress and the “Invincible Forces” and “Delta Forces” for the New Patriotic Party.

How does it manifest itself?

Political vigilantism often involves violence, both physical and psychological.

Vigilantes engage in riots, violent protests and property destruction. They’re also known to target elections, intimidating voters or mountingroadblocks to prevent “outsiders” from observing polls.

Vigilantes have also been known to harass, threaten, assault, and assassinate opponents.

Who perpetuates it?

Ghana’s two main political parties recruit, train and fund vigilantes.

These are young people who feel that the state doesn’t represent their interests. They also feel powerless because they don’t have many opportunities to improve their situation or are poor. These frustrations make them vulnerable to indoctrination by older generations – largely politicians – who give the young recruits ideological direction and justification for their actions.

Vigilantism has also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. Criminal justice agencies – particularly the police – are highly ineffective against vigilantes. Based on the insights I’ve gained from my research, I believe this is because of significant partisan interference in police work which has left them powerless. They either don’t make arrests or, if arrests are made, suspects are released because a politician intervened through the back door.

What can be done to put a stop to it?

Tackling political vigilantism won’t be easy because young people may feel that being a member of a vigilante group defines and gives meaning to their life. It might give them power, esteem, prestige and a sense of belonging.

It, therefore, won’t be enough to just disband the groups and give them moral lessons on the perils of vigilantism. They must be given enough support to find alternative livelihoods. Ghana could draw lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and re-settled ex-combatants after conflict.

Longer-term strategies must address the issues of unemployment and Ghana’s deeply unequal society. Unless government policies create a more equal society, for example, through better employment opportunities for young people, vigilantism will remain a stable feature of Ghanaian politics.

Tackling inequality also means more decisive action against corruption, which is widespread and vicious. Corruption allows the rich to get richer and prevents people from being held accountable for their actions. This creates conditions for vigilante activity.

Lastly, the police service must be independent, well-resourced and insulated from partisan politics. To do this, there must be an overhaul. The police service must be decentralised to improve community-police relations and the current political appointment of police chiefs should be replaced by a competitive recruitment process. A new governance structure made up of people with expertise in police work, like academics and practitioners, should be created to oversee police work.

What drives police violence in Ghana, and what can be done about it

Student protests in Ghana resulted in the temporary closure of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. The cause: police use of force in the arrest of students following a vigil to protest the possibility of all-male halls becoming mixed. The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Justice Tankebe about Ghana’s police service, and their use of force.

Does Ghana have a professional police force? What is their reputation? Is it justified?

To say a police service is professional is to claim that there’s a code of ethics that governs them, there are credible structures of accountability and that these ensure their integrity in delivering a certain quality of service to the public. These features remain undeveloped in Ghana’s police force.

The police’s reputation is it intimidates, is violent, corrupt and that it treats civilians unfairly. Earlier this year there were reports of police officers brutalising citizens without provocation. This included a video of a woman and her toddler being beaten in Accra. Police are also accused of being trigger-happy. In one incident police killed seven young men that they claimed were robbers.

This type of violence happens for a couple of reasons. I conducted two studies of Ghanaian police officers. The first showed that most police officers supported the use of force for a range of reasons. Including; they didn’t have strong bonds with the service and the rules about when and how to use force don’t have legitimacy in their eyes, so they disregard them. This lack of legitimacy was put down to the fact that there are high levels of corruption in the police force.

My second study revealed that officers were treated badly by their supervisors. The result is that officers take their frustrations out on civilians and that the supervisors lose credibility in encouraging good behaviour. Improving police treatment of civilians therefore requires paying attention to the moral climate within police departments in Ghana.

To address the problems there needs to be a proper diagnosis. This isn’t being done. Ghana’s police managers believe the issues can be traced to problems with individual rogue officers. For example, the national police chief, Asante Appeatu, said that:

we must fire the bad apples because they are dangerous.

But the problems facing Ghana’s police are systemic. There are conditions within the police service – like poor supervision, poor training, and unfair treatment of lower-ranked officers – that make misconduct more likely to happen. Focusing on individual officers diverts attention from these conditions and it also means police managers can avoid responsibility for the problems.

How does it compare to other countries in the region?

There’s no systematic tracking of police violence in the region which makes country comparisons impossible. My own work has focused on Ghana and, as Director of the African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, I have started to collate cases of police violence in Ghana. With time this will be extended to other countries so that a solid basis for comparison can be made.

Is the government taking steps to address police violence?

Rhetoric about curbing police violence haven’t been matched by concrete action or strategy. The government’s approach is reactive, responding to public pressure to investigate instances of police violence. There are no efforts to delve into the broader issues and to develop national standards.

If this type of impunity persists, the rule of law loses credibility and police become part of the problem rather than the solution. Unless government takes steps to address police violence, the situation is bound to worsen.

There are a few things that can be done.

Firstly, there needs to be independent and credible oversight institutions that can investigate serious cases of police violence and other forms of misconduct. For instance in England and Wales, the independent office for police conduct investigates misconduct by individual officers while the inspectorates of criminal justice regularly inspects police forces with the aim of improving policing and ensuring public safety. Ghana needs similar institutional arrangements.

Ghana’s police also need to develop a strategy for dealing with public disorder. This should guide the training of officers on how best to handle public order so that they can manage situations, like the one at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus, discretely. It was clear from the way the police behaved that they reacted impulsively, escalating tensions. Policy direction and regular training will help avert unnecessary violence.

Thirdly, part of the problem with the police in Ghana is that they confuse legality with legitimacy. They believe that just because their orders are lawful, they are legitimate and deserve public compliance. This mindset means they pay only lip-service to the hard work of understanding and engaging with local communities, taking complaints seriously, improving treatment of civilians, and holding officers to account.

Finally, police legitimacy needs to be part of a strategy. Unless police officers command legitimacy –- that is, they are perceived to be effective, to act lawfully, and to treat civilians fairly –- violence will remain a stable feature of their interactions with civilians. The strategy should involve training which puts more emphasis on building better relationships with civilians through fair treatment – explaining decisions, listening to civilians, being respectful, trustworthy, and being impartial. It could also involve investing in equipment – like body-worn cameras by officers – to track and capture data on interactions with civilians. These significantly reduce the use of force by police.
Source: The conversation

Ghanaians want death penalty expunged from justice system — Survey

A survey conducted by the African Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research (AFRICPGR) has revealed that majority of Ghanaians want the death penalty expunged from the criminal justice system.

Findings of the survey, which were presented at a workshop at the University of Ghana, Legon, yesterday, showed that of the 2,460 views sampled, 48.3 per cent of the respondents supported calls for the abolishing of the death penalty while 19.7 per cent were in favour of its retention.

For those who disapproved of the sentencing of persons convicted by the courts to death either by hanging or firing squad, they recommended the replacement of that sentence with other forms of punishment such as life imprisonment.


The survey was led by two directors of the AFRICPGR, Dr Kofi E. Boakye and Dr Justice Takebe, and was presented to students of the University of Ghana as part of activities marking the 16th World Day of the Death Penalty, which was on the theme: “Living conditions on death row”.

The findings were presented by a lecturer at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Ghana, Dr Francis Annor.

Death row

Taking the participants through conditions in Ghana’s prisons, a Deputy General Staff Officer of the Ghana Prisons Services, Chief Superintendent of Prisons Mr Thomas Mahama, said Ghana’s prisons were currently holding a total of 170 persons on the death row, including seven women.

They were all sentenced to death for murder.

He said Ghana had not executed convicted persons on death row since July 17, 1993, after the execution of some 19 prisoners on that day.

In recent years, he said, some persons on death row had had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment after 10 years in custody, while others had been given 20-year terms. Others were also released through amnesty granted by the President.

He admitted that persons on death row went through trauma and stress as “they do not know when they will be executed”.

Mr Mahama suggested that such persons be given the needed attention to reduce the trauma and stress they went through if abolishing of the death penalty was not enforced in the near future.


A lawyer and advocate for the abolishment of the death sentence, Ms Joyce Adu, who chaired the function, said the death penalty was enshrined in the Constitution of Ghana and was recognised by the courts.

She expressed concern that although Ghana was among the countries that had abolished the execution of prisoners on death row, it was yet to stop sentencing convicts to death by getting rid of the punishment from its legal system.

“Death penalty was to serve as a punishment that would deter others but it has not been effective as murder cases have not reduced over the years,” she said.

Many death row inmates, she said, did not receive adequate legal representation for their trials even though they had a right to a government-appointed lawyer.


African Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research Statement on Pronouncements by Hon. Speaker of Parliament on the Death Penalty

1. The Africa Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research (Africpgr) has taken note of comments by the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye, on the death penalty in Ghana. A report on Starr FM’s online portal on 25 September 2018 quotes the Honourable Speaker thus:

I believe the State of Ghana must have it [death penalty] in its pocket reserved so that where necessary, the most heinous of crimes can still be subject to such executions. These are parameters that some of the Human Rights advocates don’t seriously examine and we must be very mindful of them in the future.

  1. On this view, Professor Oquaye believes that retaining the death penalty as a ‘Sword of Damocles’ can have deterrent effects. Africpgr welcomes the intervention by the Honourable Speaker to the extent that it brings this important topic back into the public discourse. However, Africpgr believes Professor Oquaye’s views are problematic: first, they are at odds with research evidence on the deterrent effects of the death penalty; second, there is no research evidence to support the position that having the death penalty as a fallback sentencing option deters violent crime; third, his views are contrary to the recommendations by the Constitutional Review Commission and the subsequent official position as expressed in the Government’s white paper; and finally, his views are at odds with the sentiments of the majority of Ghanaians.
  2. In 2015, the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice (now Africpgr) conducted a household survey of 2460 residents of Accra on a range of topics on the death penalty. The study, which remains the first and only methodologically sound study of public opinion on the death penalty in Africa, revealed the following:
  3. The majority, 48.3%, were intensely opposed to the death penalty; 32.1% expressed moderate support, while only 8.6% indicated intense support, and 11% indicated they did not know enough to express a view.
  4. When asked about their views on the Constitutional Review Commission’s proposal for the abolition of the death penalty, 53% supported abolition for genocide, 53.9% supported abolition for murder, and 60.9% supported abolition for treason.
  5. There were no differences in opinions between those who had been person had been victims of violent or property crime, and those who had not been victims.
  6. Concerning the preferred alternative to the death penalty, two-thirds of those surveyed indicated a preference for life without parole (70.2% for genocide, 66% for murder, and 65.2% for treason).
  7. A major concern for people who oppose abolition has been the possibility of backlash effects. The results of the study provide evidence to counter the argument that there could be a backlash following abolition by aggrieved parties who might seek revenge.
  8. It is clear from these findings that Ghana is one of the few countries where government can be confident that the majority of the public would not oppose abolition. Nor would abolition produce backlash effects. On the contrary, the evidence shows Ghanaians do not see the act of killing fellow citizens as justifiable punishment by the State.
  9. Africpgr believes research evidence such as that reported here should inform the public debate about the death penalty. Without consideration of public input, sentences such as the death penalty risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. Moreover, reformation is the fundamental principle on which Ghana’s criminal justice system is based. The death penalty undermines that principle.
  10. Africpgr wishes to take this opportunity to invite parliamentarians, criminal justice professions, the media and the general public to a workshop to mark the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty. The theme for the workshop is Living Conditions on Death Row, and is to be held on 10 October 2018 at the Department of Political Science.



Justice Tankebe



Dr Daniel Marshall’s new book Privacy and Criminal Justice with Professor Terry Thomas has been published.

Dr Daniel Marshall’s new book Privacy and Criminal Justice with Professor Terry Thomas has been published.

With the advancement of modern technologies and increasing need for global approaches to crime prevention and investigation, privacy has become a subject of much debate in political and public discourse. The book explores how privacy is realised and intruded upon throughout the criminal justice process. Building on the work of law and surveillance studies and the need for agencies of the state to keep a watchful eye on certain people, the book examines legislative and technological developments that facilitate state agencies of surveillance to combat serious crime and ensure the safety and rights of its citizens.


This book offers a comparison of the differences between the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres, and questions the need for law enforcement to intrude upon both. Beginning with the origins of the concept of privacy, before addressing more current thinking, the authors examine the notion of privacy and policing, using both direct (e.g. ‘stop and search’ methods) and technological interventions (e.g. telephone interceptions and Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras), privacy in the space of the court, looking at what restrictions are placed on press reporting, as well as considering whether the open court ensures fair trials. Particular forms of offending and privacy are also considered: anonymity for sexual offence defendants, for example, or weighing the terrorist’s right to privacy against the safety and security of the general public.


A timely discussion into the right to privacy in prison and during community sentences is also included, offering convincing analysis on the importance of rehabilitation, giving consideration to police registers and the storage and maintenance of criminal records by the police and their possible future use. A diverse investigation into the many facets of privacy, this volume will hold broad appeal for scholars and students of terrorism, security, and human rights.


Dr Marshall is a Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moores University and Associate at African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research.


Privacy and Criminal Justice



Dr Tankebe: 2017 Dae Chang Lecturer at Michigan State University

Dr Justice Tankebe (Lecturer at THE University of Cambridge, UK and Senior Fellow at the Africa Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research) delivered the 2017 Dae Chang lecture at the School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University. The title of his talk was In their Own Eyes: An Examination of Police Self-Legitimacy.


Dr Tankebe discussed the centrality of self-legitimacy in Max Weber’s comparative study of legitimation. The lecture also focused on the nature of self-legitimacy, the factors that sustain it and how self-legitimacy matters for understanding police ethical behaviour and moral commitments to citizens. Data presented showed supervisor and peer recognition were key predictors of frontline police officers’ self-legitimacy. Self-legitimacy, in turn, was shown to influence officers’ commitments to fair treatment of citizens.

Dr Daniel Marshall gives invited talk at the School of Law, University of Leeds

Dr Marshall, Associate at African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research and Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moores University, was recently invited to speak at the postgraduate Matriculation ceremony at the School of Law, University of Leeds; one of the leading law schools in the UK.


As an alumnus (2007) Dr Marshall reflected on his time at the law school and how his MA Criminological Research has enhanced and shaped his achievements. Some of the key influences as a student at the law school were exposure to specialist and experienced staff, the diverse and international student population, and the high standard of education received. On completion of the MA, Dr Marshall received a competitive ESRC studentship to undertake his PhD at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University.


Discussing his research and entrepreneurial ventures, which include founding and working with multiple international organisations working on a range of issues related to children’s rights, youth crime and justice, privacy, colonialism, innovative justice and enterprise, Dr Marshall spoke of the positive work being undertaken by the African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, and its evolution since its inception in 2012.

Dr Thomas Akoensi speaks on public satisfaction with police at the European Society of Criminology conference, Cardiff (Wales)

Ghanaians are less likely to be satisfied with the police when they take bribes from citizens. However, when the bribe produces positive results (e.g. catching a thief) it leads to an increase in satisfaction. That is the conclusion in ‘Determinants of Police Satisfaction in a developing country: A Randomised Vignette Study’, a study presented at the just ended European Society of Criminology conference in Cardiff, Wales.

Two criminologists— Dr Thomas Akoensi (Fellow at African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, and lecturer at Kent University) and Dr Amy Nivette (Utrecht University) —analysed data from a household survey of 559 residents drawn from varying neighbourhoods of differing socio-economic status and ethnicity located in Accra (viz, Nima, Chorkor, Teshie-Nungua Estates and East-Legon). They randomly assigned residents to receive scenarios depicting real-life citizen-police interactions. Among the scenarios were interactions in which police took bribes but proved incapable of solving a crime and those in which police took bribes but solved a crime. The results showed that satisfaction with police was higher among those who were exposed to the bribery and effectiveness condition compared to the bribery and ineffectiveness condition.

The implications of the study’s findings are that police reform aimed at improving citizens satisfaction with the police and ultimately police legitimacy should not focus on improving the way the police treat citizens alone (i.e. procedural justice) but should concurrently address police effectiveness at fighting crime and establishing a baseline of security and safety for its citizens (i.e. police effectiveness). It appears that some citizens are willing to bribe the police to solve their crime problems for them; what they do not like is bribery that produces no results. This has an important implication for efforts at improving police integrity and public confidence. The results suggest fresh thinking in current efforts at eliciting public support against police corruption and improving confidence in the police.

The results of the study, funded by the Oxford University Press John Fell Fund, are to be published in Policing and Society: An International Journal. The authors hope that they will be able to secure more funding to continue with the next phase of their research by replicating their study in other parts of the country.