The last court-imposed execution was carried out in Malawi during 1992. Some 15 people were on death row at the end of 2017, and though the number has increased since then there have been no further hangings. However, the question of whether the death penalty will ever actually be carried out has now been given a new urgency, following the sentence of a man convicted for murdering a fellow villager with albinism in the apparent belief that this would make him rich. Sentencing the accused, the judge reasoned that the whole country lived in fear because of “devilish, primitive” crimes against albino people, and that the courts had a duty to impose the ultimate sentence as a deterrent.
The appropriateness of the death penalty as a punishment for even extremely violent murder has been raised at the Supreme Court in Kampala. Members of Uganda’s apex court were considering the case of a 63-year-old woman who murdered and dismembered her husband. Though she was originally condemned to death, the five Supreme Court justices have replaced that sentence with a 30-year jail term. Their judgment illustrates the continuing conflict in the courts of Uganda about the place of the death penalty and the circumstances under which it should be imposed. It also shows the close attention trial courts need to pay to the balance between mitigating and aggravating circumstances, and to the sentencing guidelines, if they are to get the punishment correct.
After a cattle-rustling raid into Zambia by uniformed Angolan soldiers armed with assault rifles, a local man who was part of the group has been convicted and sentenced to death. It’s an unusual case for several reasons. For one, it is rare for such raids to result in a conviction. But the case also highlights the delays experienced at the Zambian courts. Here, the Zambian Supreme Court, the highest in the land, took more than four years to hand down its decision in a case that did not involve particularly complex questions of law. The delay should also be of concern since it involved a death penalty matter.