Porous Borders, External Players, and the Security of Ghana�s Election 2016

Two weeks ago the United States and the United Kingdom issued separate statements that threatened to revoke the visas of Ghanaian politicians who would incite violence prior and in the aftermath of the December 7, 2016 general elections.

Keen observers would agree that although these countries appeared and indeed were accused by a section of the Ghanaian public of interfering in Ghana’s domestic affairs, their deterrent statements appear to have calmed the violent rhetoric and the actual attack against political activists and civilians in the run-up to the elections.

Whilst acknowledging that the underlying motivation of states in the international arena is the pursuit of their national interests, it is noteworthy that the import of the statements that were issued by the United States and the United Kingdom were consistent with the international norm of the responsibility to prevent which is one of the three pillars of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine that was adopted by the United Nations over a decade ago.  

The other two pillars are responsibility to react (intervention) and responsibility to rebuild during and after violent conflicts, respectively.  

To be sure, the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine redefines sovereignty as ‘shared responsibility’ of states and the international community to protect human rights and the rule of law.

Thus, in the context of the potential threat of widespread violence in Ghana at the time, the United States and the United Kingdom behaved as good international citizens who sought to impress upon Ghanaian politicians and people to respect the rule of law and human rights. The diplomatic move by the United States and the United Kingdom should motivate the behavior of external players who have (in)direct interest in a peaceful, prosperous, and secured Ghana.

Informed readers would agree that the porous nature of the land borders of African states and the ethnic affiliations along these borders pose a major challenge to Africa’s international relations and national security and human security.

As colonial impositions, porous land borders are partly responsible for the irresolvable violent conflicts that are dotted on the African continent.  Not only are these porous borders exploited by criminal groups, and in some cases state actors, in the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and drugs, but as well, these largely unprotected boundaries are major sources of threat especially during democratic elections.

In the specific case of Ghana, the two major political parties—New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress— are constantly engaged in the trading of accusations and counteraccusations that foreigners usually cross Ghana’s borders to participate in the voting during general elections.  In fact the allegation of the presence of foreigners on Ghana’s electoral register is yet to be settled in contemporary Ghanaian politics.  

 Given the delicate nature of the lingering border and foreign voters’ issue, and the ramification for national and human security, the upcoming Ghana elections, in my view, provide a unique opportunity for Ghana’s neighbors and partners to play a crucial external role to ensure the integrity and transparency of the elections.  In other words, within the context of the norm of the responsibility to prevent (electoral disputes that could degenerate into violence), external players in Africa and beyond must be proactive in mitigating the perceived or real problem of foreign voters’ participation in Ghana’s elections.

An immediate step forward is to initiate a regime of high level diplomatic involvement through the issuing of public diplomatic sermons that not only impress upon Ghana’s neighbors to restrain non-Ghanaians from participating in Ghana’s elections but also facilitating the safe passage of Ghanaians who are returning to participate in the upcoming elections. 

Corollary, it would serve the enlightened interest of Ghana’s neighbors to adopt unilateral domestic policies that aim at ensuring the security, integrity, and transparency of Ghana’s December 7, 2016 elections.  Ghana should reciprocate such a diplomatic gesture in future.  This is necessary in the sense that geography alone has imposed inalienable mutual security and economic interests upon Ghana, Burkina Faso, The Ivory Coast and Togo.

Aside from Ghana’s immediate neighbors, regional bodies, primarily, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union must take keen interest in preventing undue interference by foreign voters in the December 7, 2016 elections.

These bodies must be seen to engender Ghanaian and international public confidence prior and during the elections in enforcing the democratic values that are embedded in their legal instruments especially the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.  

In that vein, these African regional bodies must go beyond the traditional deployment of election observers to making public diplomatic efforts in partnership with Ghana’s immediate neighbors to ensure that the sovereign right of Ghanaian citizens to elect their leaders is not undermined by the participation of foreign voters in the upcoming elections.  

In short, ECOWAS and AU have external responsibility to prevent electoral fraud and must be seen to be playing active diplomatic roles not only in Ghana but in the neighboring states to ensure a successful and peaceful electoral process.

Beyond Africa, it would not be out of order to call on France, who is a key player in view of its colonial past in Ghana’s neighboring states, to take the lead among other players such as the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, United Nations as well as emerging economic powers such as China and India not only to impress upon Ghana’s neighbors to ensure that Ghana’s elections are protected but also to assist these countries in their domestic plans to ensuring same.  

In short,  it may not be enough for these external players to deploy election observers without helping to secure the electoral process beyond Ghana’s borders.

Ghana’s elections security, like others in Africa, depends on both internal and external forces.  As the Electoral Commission, political parties, and Ghanaian stakeholders work within their sovereign rights, let the external players demonstrate publicly both in words and deed their ‘shared responsibility’ in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process and outcome in Ghana.  

As noted earlier, the Responsibility to protect doctrine offers the normative framework within which these external players could act to prevent potential chaos prior and in the aftermath of Ghana’s elections 2016.  When security is at stake, nothing should be taken for granted.

Edward Akuffo is an associate professor of international security and international relations at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.