The Death Penalty in Africa

Karimunda, Muyoboke
This study begins by addressing the issue of the death penalty in Africa prior to foreign legal influences. An Africanist view exhorts retentionist countries to repeal the death penalty simply because it is an imperialist legacy. The argument opposes those who contend that abolition is un-African. Retentionists retort that the death penalty is rooted in the culture and religion of Africans and abolitionist arguments are dismissed with charges of neo-colonialism. Establishing the deliberate exclusion of the death penalty in traditional Africa goes beyond abolition. It also implies that although painted as repugnant, primitive and savage, indigenous laws were imbued with more human values than Asian and European laws which influenced, accommodated and later suppressed them. This study has found no definitive conclusion to this conundrum. In most organized states the death penalty was imposed for several offences. In other states, some of them strongly centralized as well and among numerous Bantu tribes, homicides were redressed by compensation. Tribes with no death penalty were compelled by catechist preaching and often by sword to convert to foreign religions that had a passion for retaliation. Later African people were barricaded inside arbitrary boundaries established by the colonizer who applied the death penalty without distinction to those who were used to it and those who had rejected it due to its outrageous effects. Whether provided for by foreign religious or secular laws, the death penalty served and continues to serve the same purpose, political domination. All African independent leaders retained the death penalty primarily as a response to any challenge to their authority. In other words, they maintained the status quo. Thus, instead of being a neo-colonial dictate, abolition is one of the steps towards a complete political independence. Politicians have used the death penalty in order to secure their insolvent regimes. Abolition has often corresponded to moments of liberation from tyrannical regimes. Therefore, the more Africans embrace democracy and dispose of their predators, the faster the movement of abolition will be. Resistance to abolitionist calls is already crumbling and it is anticipated that the Arab awakening will increase chances of abolition in African Islamic states. That alone would marginalize remaining retentionist countries.
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland