Botswana has seen a steep rise in executions since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took office just over a year ago. Human rights groups are calling on the nation to ban capital punishment.
Four people have been put to death in Botswana since President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s inauguration in November 2019, compared with two in 2018. Thirty-three African countries still retain the death penalty. But Botswana is one of only three nations to recently carry out an execution. The other two to do so – the conflict-ridden nations of Somalia and South Sudan – stand in stark contrast to Botswana’s international reputation as a peaceful and stable democracy.
Botswana’s National Assembly speaker, Phandu Skelemani, a former prosecutor, said it is normal for the number of executions to increase if there is a rise in the number of murders.
“We can’t reduce the numbers. It’s not a question of numbers. It’s a question of guilt,” Skelemani told DW.
Amnesty International has called on Botswana to stop executions pending the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes.
“President Masisi has missed an opportunity to break the cycle of executions in Botswana and demonstrate that justice can be delivered without using the death penalty,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“There is no evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime,” he said in a press statement.
With the death penalty being the mandatory sentence for murder in Botswana, it is the only southern African nation to carry out executions. Since Botswana’s independence in 1966, at least one execution has taken place each year. Mmoloki Gabatlhaolwe, a UK-based Motswana scholar, also stresses that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder.
“Killing [offenders] does not reduce crime,” he told DW. “If it really does work then it has failed miserably since killings are rising in Botswana instead of being eliminated.”
Pointing to those African countries who still retain capital punishment laws but “haven’t killed anyone for years,” Gabatlhaolwe said this is because these countries “know capital punishment doesn’t work.”
People in Botswana unmoved by the argument
Many Botswana citizens, however, support the death penalty – making it difficult for abolitionists to overturn the practice.
Francinah Silos, waiting on the street at a Gaborone taxi rank, told DW that those who “kill intentionally should be killed.” She added, however, that this shouldn’t apply to those who kill by accident for in self-defence.
Dintla Mothowabeng, also waiting for a taxi, agreed.
Human rights activists say Botswana’s death penalty has not deterred crime
“The person should not be put in prison all his life because life imprisonment wastes government funds as that person has to be fed and taken care of. That person should just be killed,” Mothowabeng said.
Even the chairperson of the Institute of Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders, an NGO founded by ex-convicts that works with former prisoners, believes Botswana’s citizens retain the right to decide how the country deals with criminals.
“Capital punishment is not the president’s, it is not the parliament’s, it is a system chosen and agreed on by Botswana citizens. The president has no powers in it, neither does parliament,” Mothei Sejakgomo told DW.
“Citizens are the ones who decided that if you kill anyone in Botswana you should equally be killed.”
Several African countries have abolished the death penalty in the past decade
Chad became the latest African nation to ban capital punishment, when it passed the law in April 2020. Others who abolished the death penalty in the past 10 years include Burkina Faso, Guinea, Congo and Benin.
Silvia Bopp-Hamrouni from the Delegation of the European Union to Botswana and Southern Africa said Botswana needs to join the trend.
“Almost 80% of African countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Botswana should follow this example and abolish the death penalty or at least establish a moratorium on executions,” Bopp-Hamrouni told DW.
“Botswana should initiate a public debate on the death penalty as it agreed to do during the last universal periodic reviews of the UN Human Rights Council,” she said.
YourBotswana’s last word
While we agree it may be high time we as a nation revisited capital punishment, it is very unfair to attribute the escalation of executions – all two of them, up by four since 2018 – to His Excellency the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi. The man has been in power two minutes, and sometimes it can feel like international media houses, who have previously claimed he is not as ‘charismatic’ as former President Ian Khama, have their knives out for Masisi. That also goes for certain NGOs out there.
We at YourBotswana are not at all political or bi-partisan but feel it is only fair to allow President Masisi the opportunity to do what he does during his tenure the way he sees fit. It may well include turning back the clock and calling curtains on decades’ worth of this archaic practice. We don’t know the man from Adam but genuinely believe if anyone can do it, it’s him. Meantime, why not also go after other countries that still have capital punishment, including America, not just those you feel are easy to pick on even though they are sovereign states?