In the Cold War era, the purpose of security was seen as preserving the regime of the state.1K. M. Fierke, Critical Approaches to International Security (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2007). Since the state machinery was fused with that of the regime, and any opposition to the regime meant undermining the authority of the state, security forces assumed frontline roles in the emergence and spread of autocratic regimes across Africa, serving as tools to suppress people who held dissenting views about how the state was governed.2Albrecht Schnabel, “The Security-Development Discourse and the Role of SSR as a Development Instrument,” in Back to the Roots: Security Sector Reform and Development, ed. Albrecht Schnabel and Vanessa Farr (Geneva: DCAF/LIT Verlag, 2012). The use only of force to address political differences further created a deep sense of animosity between security forces and civilians. Ironically, the obsession with building the security sector, apart from serving as a threat to the civilian populations, made the sector a threat to itself and the stability of the regimes it sought to protect.3Johnny Kwadjo, “Changing the Intelligence Dynamics in Africa: The Ghana Experience,” in Changing Intelligence Dynamics in Africa, ed. Sandy Africa, Johnny Kwadjo, Wilson, Andrew Agba, David Pukol and Laurie Nathan, Birmingham and Accra, United Kingdom and Ghana: GFN-SSR and ASSN, 2009). This resulted in several coup d’états and many protracted conflicts in Africa.

The world view regarding security in Africa today has shifted, and more human-centered perspectives and approaches have evolved. This is partly due to the reemergence of democracy and constitutional rule and has contributed to the application of democratic practices even within the security sector there.4Ibid., 95. In Ghana, the trajectory of the political process since independence in 1957 followed the authoritarian path, and the earlier notion of security forces as existing to preserve the regime of the state was manifested, as it had been in many parts of the developing world. Military intervention by these forces and their direct involvement in politics posed threats to human rights and the rule of law.5Kwesi Aning, Emma Birikorang, and Ernest Lartey, “Ghana,” in Intelligence Elsewhere: Spies and Espionage Outside the Anglosphere, ed. Philip H. J. Davies and Kristian C Gustafson (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012). After several military interventions in governance in Ghana, however, this trend was reversed with the return to democracy, hinged on the 1992 constitution. Since then, the country has largely remained stable.

Ghana has been widely viewed as a model of liberal democracy in Africa. There have been six successive elections since 1992. Two of these (in 2000 and 2008) produced peaceful transfers of power from the incumbent to the opposition party. Although the country practices multiparty democracy, two parties—the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and New Patriotic Party (NPP)—tend to dominate the political scene. The chances of the other political parties winning elections in the foreseeable future remain slim, as they seem increasingly weak and poorly organized. While many attribute the generally peaceful nature of elections to the efficiency of the Ghanaian Electoral Commission (EC), it is important to emphasize that other state institutions, such as the security forces, have played significant roles in ensuring the consolidation of democracy in the country.

Quite often, the role of the security agencies in ensuring credible elections is overlooked. This is partly because, whereas elections elsewhere have turned violent and the security forces have been in the news for the wrong reasons, those in Ghana have largely produced peaceful outcomes. Yet, without the security forces playing a key role, most of Ghana’s elections would have ended in violence as well, compromising the stability that currently prevails. This paper provides some insights into the specific roles played by the security forces during the December 2012 elections in Ghana.

Elections Security in Ghana

Ghana’s statutory frontline security bodies are made up of the military, police, prisons, immigration, and fire service. The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) is in charge of internal intelligence and is located within the presidency, and all the agencies are coordinated by the National Security Council (NSC) at the presidency.6Kwesi Aning, “Ghana,” in Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector in West Africa: Opportunities and Challenges, ed. Adedeji Ebo and Boubacar N’Diaye (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2008). The Inspector General of Police (IGP) heads the Elections Security Taskforce, an ad hoc body comprised of all the key security agencies that is responsible for all security matters relating to the management of elections.

Inherent to these security arrangements is a set of contradictions that bear close examination. First, the existence of the National Security Council and the Elections Security Taskforce suggests that Ghana operates a dual security sector system, with one system for maintaining state security and another for maintaining the security of elections. This duality of functions sometimes leads to overlapping roles between the national security structure, which is overseen by the president, and elections security, which is overseen by the IGP. The perceived duality of roles raises critical questions about the challenge of coordinating the work of both “systems.”

Second, the roles of the regional ministers and district chief executives, who are appointed heads of the national security structure at the regional and district levels, respectively, by the president, often overlap with those of the regional and district police commanders whose duty it is to spearhead the decentralized Elections Security Taskforce.

Third, the national security system is supposed to give way to the elections security system during elections. This claim is borne out only in theory because the Elections Security Taskforce, an operational mechanism for implementing elections security, is a national entity. The crucial aspects of strategic security policy regarding elections emanate from the executive, particularly the president and his political appointees, represented at both regional and district levels. This makes the decoupling of strategic and operational-level security into distinct political and professional tasks for the police more difficult.

Finally, the Elections Security Taskforce’s operational role is somewhat limited because it lacks the necessary legal backing to carry out the enforcement aspect of providing security. Suggestions about the EC’s taking charge of elections security have yet to be thoroughly debated in public.7The national security coordinator, Gbevlo Lartey, made the proposal in November 2012 at a stakeholders colloquium on elections security organized by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training (KAIPTC) in Accra. While this paper does not seek to engage in any such debate, it nonetheless recognizes the weakness in an arrangement where, for example, electoral offenses, although investigated by the police, can only be prosecuted by the attorney general’s department. The inability of the police to prosecute electoral cases in the courts deepens the perception of police inaction in the face of electoral malpractice and violence.

Operational Delivery of Elections Security

Security in the 2012 elections was structured in three tiers: polling station security, patrol teams, and a rapid deployment force. Other security-related activities were underpinned by the installation of a dedicated communications network intended to provide assistance and protection for the security personnel who were deployed on voting day.

Throughout the entire country, the police were able to identify more than one thousand flashpoints where violence and other disturbances might erupt. Within the Greater Accra Region alone, over three hundred polling stations were identified, including the Odododiodoo, Ashaiman, and Okaikoi Central constituencies in the Greater Accra Region; Akwatia and Atiwa in the Eastern Region; and Bawku Central in the Upper East Region. Arrangements in these areas involved increasing security presence to protect the ballot on voting day. They also depended on the evaluation of the level of threat in the area. Patrol teams were upgraded and mobilized to monitor volatile areas, while the rapid deployment force was put on standby to curtail any disturbances by individuals or groups.8The security plans were spelled out by Inspector General of Police (IGP) Paul Tawiah Quaye in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra. The story was also published on November 21, 2012, by the Daily Guide, (accessed January 23, 2013).

Strategic Delivery of Elections Security

The strategic and operational roles played by the security forces during the 2012 elections can be categorized into five main areas: constituency and media mapping; public order regulation; protection of key public installations; securing of conflict zones; and public education. These were addressed in all three phases of the electoral cycle—before, during, and after the elections—and are discussed in detail below.

Constituency and media mapping

Constituency and media mapping is an exercise conducted by the police to ascertain the vulnerability of communities and media platforms to violence. Conducted in every election period, the process received particular attention in the 2012 elections for three reasons:

  • Analysis of media reports highlighted violent incidents during by-elections in such constituencies as Akwatia, Chereponi, and Atiwa. Even the presence of police did not prevent the violence from occurring. These were useful lessons that needed to be factored into the security plans for the 2012 general elections.
  • The introduction of the biometric system to the electoral process and the mechanisms for making it operational posed some challenges to key stakeholders, including EC officials, political parties, the electorate, and election observers. The high value attached by the main political parties to the biometric system, especially during the voters’ registration exercise, created some tension around the entire electoral exercise. Instances of violence in some swing constituencies and/or those considered strongholds of the major parties were triggered mainly by allegations of nonresidents and minors attempting to register. Mapping these constituencies as conflict-prone areas was the first step by the police toward reducing the risk of violence in the general elections.
  • A few months before the general elections, the EC created forty-five new constituencies. Apart from the controversy over this action that threatened to mar the voting exercise, some of the new constituencies comprised parts of existing areas that had been identified by the police as trouble spots. For the appropriate security plans to be deployed in the general elections following the creation of these new constituencies, the constituency profile in the country needed to be reassessed.

It is important to note that the media landscape was monitored by the police, and constant appeals were made to the media to be circumspect in their reportage of the elections. Outlets and networks owned by known politicians were identified and political programs aired on them monitored because such media organizations tend to be partisan and provocative in their reportage. The police held regular dialogue sessions with such groups on the need to educate the electorate on peaceful conduct before, during, and after elections and to avoid broadcasting or publishing provocative or abusive content during the period. Such engagements proved useful, as evinced in the reduced level of insults during political discussions on various media platforms as the December 7 elections approached.9See the media monitoring reports on the 2012 elections issued by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), (accessed January 23, 2013).

Public order regulation

The police ensured security was adequate for political parties and candidates during the campaign period. Working in cooperation with the parties and other stakeholders, they enforced Public Order Act 1994 (Act 491) as the basis for regulating the conduct of political activities in the country. In particular, no two major political events could be held within the same venue at the same time. This was done to prevent clashes between political groups that could snowball into large-scale violence. Scheduling of campaign activities in the regions and districts was an important element for two reasons:

  • It allowed for fair distribution of elections security coordination in the country.
  • It ensured the adequate and orderly deployment of security personnel to political activities by regional, divisional, and district police commands.

The presidential campaigns of the various political parties were coordinated so that no more than one campaign team and its supporters was allowed to remain in one region or district. Similar regulations were applied at the parliamentary level, except that the localized nature of the parliamentary elections placed more responsibility at the district command levels of the police force. The police assigned a security detail to each of the parties throughout the campaign period and made arrangements to secure rally grounds for each political activity, as long as the parties notified the police before such events were held, as stipulated by the public order. 10Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA)A, Political Parties Code of Conduct, (Accra: IEA, 2012) (accessed January 23, 2013). Notwithstanding the measures for securing rally grounds and giving close protection to party stalwarts, however, some politicians still made inflammatory statements on campaign platforms. The measures also could not prevent recklessness during political rallies by party supporters on motorcycles or keep party foot soldiers from destroying posters and billboards belonging to political opponents. Such outcomes represented a dent in the effectiveness of the elaborate security arrangements.

Protection of key installations

Special security arrangements were also made to protect critical installations. Printing houses for producing ballots, for instance, received special protection from the security agencies. All election materials were transported under close security protection to and from the EC offices and various destinations, such as polling stations, collation centers, and police stations in the regions and districts. The carrying of these materials across difficult terrain or to remote areas involved the use of security escorts, including military support. On the polling day, about 30,000 security personnel were deployed to protect about 26,000 polling stations during the voting. 11See “Election 2012: Ghana Has Over 1,000 Flashpoints—Police,” Daily Guide, November 21, 2012, (accessed January 23, 2013).

Another installation given top-priority security coverage was the EC headquarters, whose location in Accra puts it at the heart of Ghana’s electoral process. The office, which hosts the EC commissioners and is often the source of decisions concerning the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), receives, collates, and declares presidential results. On many occasions it has been thronged by supporters of the major political parties, demanding “fair” conduct of the elections. Some of the EC’s regional and district offices have faced similar threats from party supporters.12GhanaWeb. “Police Stop NPP Protestors from Storming EC Office in K’si,” general news, December 18, 2012, (accessed January 23, 2013). In the 2012 elections, the security presence at the EC headquarters was extended beyond the period for the declaration of results and installation of the new government,13Ghana MMA, “Police Explain Continued Presence at EC Headquarters, January 15, 2012,” (accessed January 25, 2012). possibly because the EC was (and remains) at the center of an electoral dispute being contested at the Supreme Court. Moreover, the involvement of the Supreme Court meant security coverage had to be extended to the court facility.14Ghana MMA, “Police Justify Heavy Security Presence at the Supreme Court Premises,” January 16, 2013, (accessed January 25, 2012).

Securing of conflict-prone zones

A key function of the security agencies has to do with the provision of security in post-conflict areas. Even where the source of the conflict was chieftaincy, land, or communal violence unrelated to politics, elections could trigger more violence.

In the 2012 elections, areas such as Bawku, Dagbon, Hohoe, and Chereponi were identified as security zones because of the conflicts that had occurred there in the past and the fragile nature of the peace. Extra security arrangements were made to ensure the elections and the campaigns preceding them did not reignite conflict, including “light peacekeeping” operations led by the military, immigration control at border towns, search and retrieval of small arms and light weapons, peace education campaigns, and pursuit of justice, reconciliation, and mediation. Actors involved in the peace education campaigns and mediation and reconciliation efforts included the Peace Council, Office of the Chief Imam, traditional authorities, and civil society groups. To a large extent, these security measures were successful in helping prevent violence during the elections in these fragile areas. In fact, the conduct of the elections there turned out to be most peaceful in the country. It is worth noting that the work of the regional and district security councils may have superseded that of the Elections Security Taskforce in these areas.

Public education

Public education is an important element of security provision, especially during elections. Each step of the electoral process has its special security arrangements that need to be communicated to the public. In Ghana in the 2012 elections, all the security arrangements were explained to the populace by the public affairs directorate of the police. Press conferences were held periodically to review the security situation and to outline specific security measures for the elections. Relevant information was repeatedly conveyed to the political parties and the general public, such as the agencies and the numbers of security personnel to be deployed on polling day. People were also made aware of election-related offenses and public order regulations.

In addition, workshops, conferences, roundtables, colloquia, and symposia were organized in different parts of the country to train, sensitize, and educate key stakeholders, such as civil society groups, media organizations, political parties, and electoral officers, about elections security. Joint exercises were held to demonstrate the level of preparedness of the security agencies for the elections and were reported in the media. One clear benefit of such public education on the elections was that it helped prevent friction among the security agencies, media, and political parties.


Although security preparations may appear intimidating or even be glossed over in the celebrations that follow successful elections, they constitute a vital aspect of the democratic project. As countries consolidate democracy, the nature of security challenges may change, and the emphasis of security provision may be driven by less militarized systems than initially. To the extent that the 2012 elections in Ghana witnessed minimal incidences of shooting, ballot box snatching, vandalism of property, and other acts of violence, the strategies mounted by the security apparatus achieved the overall intended goal of a peaceful election. It stands to reason that security, despite being a sensitive and often overlooked issue in electoral studies, is nonetheless central to democratic consolidation.

Ultimately, even though key players such as the EC, political parties, election observers, media, civil society groups, and the general public contributed to the peaceful outcome of the elections, the continued peaceful environment in the country has been made possible by the vigilance and professional conduct of Ghana’s security forces.

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