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The Paradox of Botswana’s Death Penalty

by Mary-Jean Nleya- LONDON – Mareeg.com-In Sub-Saharan Africa, a region with no shortage of development challenges, Botswana stands out for its strong economy, stable democracy, and commitment to the rule of law. But by one measure – its support for capital punishment – Botswana is frighteningly narrow-minded. If the country of my birth is to retain its reputation as one of Africa’s most liberal states, it must confront its affinity for the gallows.

According to Amnesty International, most of Africa is abandoning the death penalty. Today, just ten African countries allow for capital punishment, and only a handful ever use it. Botswana – an affluent, landlocked, diamond-exporting state – is among the leading exceptions. After a lull in killings in 2017, Botswana has resumed executing convicted murderers; Joseph Tselayarona, 28, was executed in February, while Uyapo Poloko, 37, was put to death in May.

Botswana’s legal system – and the basis for capital punishment – is rooted in English and Roman-Dutch common law. According to the country’s penal code, the preferred punishment for murder is death by hanging. And, while the constitution protects a citizen’s “right to life,” it makes an exception when the termination of a life is “in execution of the sentence of a court.”

But the country’s relationship to the death penalty predates its current legal statutes. In the pre-colonial era, tribal chiefs – known as kgosi – imposed the penalty for crimes such as murder, sorcery, incest, and conspiracy. To this day, history is often invoked to defend the status quo. In a 2012 judgment, the Botswana Court of Appeals wrote that capital punishment has been imposed “since time immemorial,” and “its abolition would be a departure from the accepted norm.” After Tselayarona was executed, the government even tweeted a photo of then-President Ian Khama under a caption that read, “Death penalty serves nation well.”

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