Botswana urged to abolish death penalty after latest execution
The new president of Botswana is facing pressure to abolish the country’s death penalty after last week’s surprise execution of a 44-year-old man for murder.
Mooketsi Kgosibodiba, a bricklayer, had been on death row since 2017 after strangling his employer in a row over stolen cement. Last week the government made the unexpected announcement that he had been hanged in Gaborone central prison.
It was the first execution since October’s presidential elections and Botswana is the only country in southern Africa still consistently executing people, bucking regional and global trends, according to Amnesty International.
Amnesty has joined Botswana’s human rights lawyers and the EU in calling on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to revoke capital punishment.
Before the death of Kgosibodiba, two others were hanged in Botswana in 2018. Amnesty has said that executions are often undertaken without prior notice, with families of those convicted only notified after execution.
Internationally, Botswana stands out for its strong economy and stable democracy, with Masisi enforcing progressive new amendments and reforms within the country.
But Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for southern Africa, said that “by signing Kgosibodiba’s death warrant, newly elected President Mokgweetsi Masisi has missed an opportunity to immediately demonstrate strong leadership by abolishing the death penalty”.
A human rights group in Botswana, Ditshwanelo, said it noted the execution of Kgosibodiba “with concern and great disappointment” .
Executions across the world dropped by almost one-third in 2018 to the lowest figure in a decade, said Amnesty. Of the 29 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that still retain the death penalty in law, only four – Botswana, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan – carried out executions in 2018, although at least 4,241 people were known to be on death row.
Although Botswana and Sudan resumed executions last year, having not carried out any in 2017, the overall number of known executions in the region went down from 28 in 2017 to 24 in 2018.
As Amnesty International has reported, capital punishment has been on the decline across the continent and death sentences have fallen from “1,086 in 2016 to at least 878 in 2017”. In 2018 the Gambian government announced a moratorium on the death penalty, moving towards abolition, and Tanzania and Burkina Faso are rethinking their positions.
The death penalty in Botswana has been enforced since independence in 1966. Since then the country has averaged one execution a year – most infamously Mariëtte Bosch, a South African woman executed in 2001.
Muchena warned that capital punishment was not justice, and that “the world is moving away from this abhorrent and degrading form of punishment. There is no space for the death penalty anywhere in the world.”
Ian Khama, Masisi’s predecessor, said last year that the death penalty was one tool to combat the growing murder rate in the country and added that the government had “no plans to either abolish the death penalty or impose a moratorium”.
Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch director in southern Africa, said that the decision to execute Kgosibodiba has undermined existing human rights protections. There is now “serious doubt to the prospect of a moratorium or complete removal of the death penalty”, he said.
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