Who: President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama; Inspector General of Police (IGP), John Kudalor; Electoral Commission of Ghana; International relations and security analyst, Irbard Ibrahim.
What: President John Dramani Mahama has assured all Ghanaians that contrary to the proposal made by John Kudalor, the Inspector General of Police, social media will not be blocked before, during or after the 2016 elections1. He also stated that political parties would soon be meeting with the Electoral Commission to decide on how the election results will be declared and transmitted.
When: The president made this assurance on Sunday 14th August, 2016 at the campaign launch of the ruling party, National Democratic Congress (NDC)2.
Why: The IGP suggested the shutdown of social media in a bid to make the elections violence free. According to him, social media is a platform used by individuals to cite half truths and propagate lies which could undermine Ghana's political stability during the elections. This suggestion was criticised by many civil society organisations who described the direction as violating the fundamental human right of free speech. In the midst of the criticism, security analyst, Irbard Ibrahim, backed the call by the IGP stating that security concerns had to be considered over legal concerns3. The president stated social media would not be banned because he does not believe it would be used by Ghanaians to incite violence. He also added that the meeting between political parties and the electoral commission is critical since it would determine the credible means by which the election results would be declared.
Outlook: According to Internet World Statistics, 6% of Ghana's population is on Facebook, which could be indicative of wider social media usage4, including Whatsapp, Instagram and others. While social media does carry with it risks such as cyberbullying, sexting and the incitement of radical political or religious ideologies which promote violence, there is little publicly available information to suggest that social media activity in Ghana has led to or runs the risk of inciting a security risk ahead of the polls. That said, in the build up to what is likely to be very closely-contested elections, it is important that security agencies like the police do not relent in their efforts to detect and combat any threat to national security and political stability caused by social media, though questions have been raised regarding the police's preparedness in doing so. However, there is a fine balance between ensuring security and also guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, a topic of very recent debate in Ghana in relation to the 'Spy Bill5', which would accord powers to security agencies to intercept various forms of communication in the interest of national security.
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