Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gambian Kongi's Harvest: Mass Executions

By Biko Agozino

Gambia has embarked on what Wole Soyinka indelibly condemned as Kongi's Harvest: Mass Executions.

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria was reported as comparing the mass executions to the Rwanda genocide. All African states should avoid hypocrisy and appropriately respond to Gambia's display of barbarism by abolishing the death penalty in Africa the way Nelson Mandela did in South Africa at a time that the assassins of Chris Hani were still awaiting trial and could have been given the death penalty.

The reasons for abolishing the death penalty across Africa are:

1) The death penalty was imposed on Africans by colonial authorities and those colonizing countries have since abolished it in their own countries because the death penalty is barbaric and unconstitutional.

2) The death penalty leads to increased violence and homicide given that the states that have the death penalty also record higher rates of homicide. This is called the brutalization effect or the impact of state sanctioned killing on the psyche of citizens who tend to follow the example of the state by killing fellow citizens to settle disputes. Across Africa, the death penalty is no deterrent to violent crime maybe because the fear of the death penalty makes criminals to attempt to eliminate all witnesses.

3) The margin of error is huge in the death penalty and once executed, there is no way to correct the wrongful killing of innocent suspects like Ken Saro-Wiwa whereas a life sentence would give the innocent more chances of proving their innocence.

4) Violent criminals are more afraid of life sentences than the death penalty and some of them attempt suicide in prison rather than spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Life sentences would also allow society to attempt to reform dangerous criminals.

5) Nigeria should follow the good example of South Africa and immediately abolish the death penalty as contravening the human rights provisions in our constitution. Prof. Ben Nwabueze argued accordingly in his critique of the borrowing of the death penalty from the American Presidential Constitution by the drafters of the 1979 Nigerian Presidential Constitution.

6) The death penalty is biased against poor black men and is therefore arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment.

For public discussions of the scholarly evidence, see the earlier post here: 

Biko Agozino

Jonathan urges Africa to respond to Jammeh’s threats

Friday, August 24, 2012
Reactions to President Yahya Jammeh’s threat that by the middle of next month (September 2012), all death penalties would have been carried out in The Gambia continues, with the latest coming from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan, who arrived in neighbouring Senegal on a 24-hour working visit, told journalists in Dakar on Thursday that the entire African continent “should respond” to Jammeh’s threats to implement the death penalty, Senegalese daily Rewmi reported yesterday.
“Such an act would mean genocide in Africa, after that of Rwanda,” Jonathan was quoted as saying.
Jonathan’s reaction comes a day after France also condemned such a threat, saying The Gambia has applied a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1981.
“France therefore urges Gambia to maintain this moratorium with a view toward the definitive abolition of the death penalty, and not to execute these death row prisoners. It also demands that Gambia commute all death sentences to custodial sentences,” France declared.
The statement added: “France, in keeping with its opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, believes that the death penalty is a cruel punishment and that its abolition contributes to strengthening human dignity.”
It said considerable progress has been made in the fight to abolish the death penalty in recent years.
In an address to the nation to mark the Muslim holy feast of Eid-al-Fitr, Jammeh said by the middle of next month (September 2012), all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter, though he did not give the exact number of the prison inmates currently on death row.
“All punishments prescribed by law will be maintained in the country to ensure that criminals get what they deserve; that is, that those who kill are killed, and those who deserve to be put away from society are put away according to the dictates of the law,” Jammeh said.

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