Agents of urban (in)security: contextualising the banning of political vigilantism in Ghana

by Mariam Bjarnesen

06 Dec 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: In 2019, a new law banning vigilantism was adopted in the West African nation of Ghana. The law followed years of debate and violent incidents related to the presence of informally mobilised so-called ‘political vigilantes’, charged with providing security during political events. At first glance, the ridding of such state-competing elements through legal measures appears unproblematic and in line with democratic values. However, as this article argues, by drawing on the case study of Ghana and the pre-2020 election phase, such legal actions against non-state actors can be problematic and, in the worst case, constitute a threat to security and stability if public trust in authorities and formal state security providers is not sufficiently solid. Grounded in a broader discussion on security in fragile contexts and urban centres on the African continent, this article analyses the consequences of banning vigilantism where formal security provision is weak or not fully trusted.

Keywords: Political vigilantism, foot soldiers, Ghana, election-related violence.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 11 (Citizenship, Marginality and Urban (In)security in Contemporary Africa)

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