Of “Institutions” & Mob “Justice” in Ghana

A look at data and precedents does not suggest that trust in hard institutions must grow considerably before deviant attitudes such as suspect lynching can be changed.

There is nothing that shows that suspects are more likely to be lynched in neighbourhoods with high incidence of crime, which could then be interpreted to mean high grievance levels due to disappointments in policing.

East Legon for instance is notorious for car break-ins and burglaries but is not noted as a hot zone of lynching. We also know that mob violence erupt frequently in contexts that could not have derived from disappointing encounters with the Police.

For example Kobina Aidoo just reminded me of the likelihood of a driver involved in an accident involving a pedestrian or a motorist considered a “resident” of certain parts of Accra being lynched.

We have also seen many instances of similar mobbing up in situations where “sexual deviance”, not usually a province of the Police, is alleged, most recently in a well known inner city suburb abutting the Kanda Highway.

The facts and data simply do not support the view that distrust in *formal/hard institutions* is the primary driver of spontaneous retributive violence in Ghana.

There is however a very strong case to be made that changing worldviews and belief models (“soft institutions”) is a more effective approach.

Until the mid-nineties, it was commonplace across urban Ghana that a widow would be ejected from her matrimonial home by members of the deceased’s family.

Many have credited the interstate succession law as having contributed immensely to considerably reducing the scale of this problem.

The truth however is that many similar laws passed to address similar problems have not achieved any concrete outcomes. The problem of public financial malfeasance, for example, has grown in intensity as public financial administration laws have multiplied.

Nor is there evidence to suggest that interstate laws were enforced any more rigorously than other laws passed in that era.

What was different about the interstate reform agenda however was the role of the women’s movement, today a pale shadow of itself.

Women’s empowerment enjoyed the concerted support of artistic institutions (I recall at least six major drama pieces with widow maltreatment as the theme in a two year stretch in the early nineties) and mass mobilisation forces within the women’s movement.

Efforts were made to “construct” an alternative worldview and belief model that was pitted against “available belief models” then rampant that a man’s assets belonged to his extended not nuclear family.

This deliberate and sustained problem-solving approach offered a hyper-rational alternative to the dominant hypo-rational system of widow marginalisation even though strong vested interests were at stake and stood to lose from the changing mindset.

The success of the Interstate Succession Law was thus the product of soft institutions not hard ones. In fact the growing trend of spousal rights & assets protection by the courts derive clearly from the availability of attitudinal content in support of such moves, at least in comparison with the situation three decades ago.

What does this mean? It means that hard institutions (Police, Courts, Departments, Regulators etc) require “building blocks” and “mortar”. They cannot operate without an adequate pool of normative resources mined by soft institutions, particularly “thought movements” and “organised social forces”.

Suspect lynching is but one minor symptom of a wide range of hypo-rational belief models in circulation that can only be suppressed by alternative systems of thought organised by soft institutions and then reinforced by hard institutions.

In fact, it may turn out to be far simpler to address suspect lynching through basic, multi actor, educational campaigns than it would be to address far more pernicious problems such as procurement malfeasance and galamsey.

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