Capital punishment in Kenya

This author has on more than one occasion argued against the death penalty, arguing as others more eloquent and read than I have, that the death of one innocent person outweighs all the benefits to society achieved through the death penalty. There are many places in the world where the death penalty is still in the statute books. There are occasions I have been almost persuaded that having the death penalty is good so there is a way to deal with politicians and the corporate types who collapse banks with people’s savings and the like. I believe, however, that an active volcano would do just fine for this group of miscreants.

But I digress. Capital punishment was introduced in Kenya by the Brits (remember they came to civilize the Africans: sarc) in 1893. While it’s use was not so prevalent in the early days of the colonial state, it got to a crescendo during the emergency years and from what I have read, many Africans were hanged on very flimsy grounds, rules of evidence were swept aside and the conduct of the cases were such that the accused in many cases were not represented. In short, there was miscarriage of justice in the interests of the crown.

It appears also that its application was racially motivated or biased, if the comments of the District Commissioner for Nyeri is to be believed. In 1921, the DC is reported as having said

sometimes i wonder whether in this country, capital punishment is not inflicted on natives more often than is necessary to attain the ends of justice. (Hynd, 2012).

In my conclusion, my other argument for abolishing capital punishment in Kenya is because it is a colonial relic instituted not so much for the interests of justice but law and order.

Hynd S (2012) Toward a History of Violence in Colonial Kenya. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 45 1 pp 88-101

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

22 thoughts on “Capital punishment in Kenya

  1. jim- says:

    To top it off, death is no punishment at all. Rewarding criminals an early exit? But, Iโ€™m not in favor of it because of the whole freewill thing, plus I just canโ€™t quite enjoy capital murder the way some do

    Liked by 1 person

  2. renudepride says:

    The simple reason that capital punishment is “on the books” (or exists) in no way makes it justifiable. Regardless of heritage, it is a mindless statute that hardly solves any problem whatsoever. Good posting, O Exalted Holiness! ๐Ÿ™‚ Naked hugs!


  3. Ron says:

    I’m still on the fence. Be they innocent or guilty, is confining people to a small cell with other violent offenders for the remainder of their natural lives any more humane than a quick execution in front of a firing squad?

    As to the origins of capital punishment, the written code dates back to at least the Babylonian empire (which most likely also deemed itself civilized for its time); so it’s hardly a British invention. Not to mention that the linked article states capital punishment was employed by African tribes prior to colonial rule, and more importantly, employed more frequently immediately following independence.


    • makagutu says:

      Why do you present it like there are only two possibilities. They can be confined in a big cell.

      I am not saying the code is an invention of the Brits. I am saying its large scale use in the continent and Kenya specifically has a British origin. And in the linked article, the author says very clearly that the use was in extreme cases. In the period of 1952-59, over 1000 people were hanged without fair hearing. Its use after 63 can be seen as an extension of colonial rule to secure the govt of Kenyatta that the Brits had put in place.


      • Ron says:

        Small rooms become a pragmatic necessity when housing a large number of inmates, given that taxpayers bear the costs of maintaining their room and board. But that’s a side issue; because regardless of room size the question remains: how is lifelong confinement without opportunity of reintegration into larger society any less cruel and unusual than instant death?

        To the second point,

        I don’t dispute that the British protectorate abandoned its commitment to due process. But saying that “capital punishment was introduced in Kenya by the Brits (remember they came to civilize the Africans: sarc) in 1893” implies that it was either non-existent or inconsequential prior to colonization — which is clearly not the case. And while legally sanctioned state executions might have ended in the 1980s, the extra-judicial police executions that have replaced them represent an even graver travesty of justice.


        • makagutu says:

          There are people incarcerated for petty offences like possession of weed or soliciting sex. Maybe if the justice system worked well, we would be trying rehabilitation or something else but we seem to be stuck in the same thinking that informed the inquisition.

          As to the second point, that which I wrote can be found in the British archives. They actually said that & I don’t dispute the travesty that extra judicial killings are, on the contrary, I condemn those too. This post however wasn’t about extra judicial killings. And yes, in many societies in Kenya, death penalty didn’t exist. In that article, they gave the example of the Kikuyu, that is just one out of about 44-56 groups( depending on who you ask) who live in Kenya


          • Ron says:

            I agree that penalizing consenting adults for engaging in activities that do not cause harm to others is ludicrous. And having thieves and vandals pay restitution to their victims would be preferable to placing them in prison. Ditto for crimes of passion. But what do we do about violent offenders and sociopaths who cannot be reformed?


        • Barry says:

          Capital punishment was taken off the statutes here in the 1960s although the last execution was 10 years prior.

          While murder is a life sentence here, that does not mean a life behind bars. Without extenuating circumstances that could increase the minimum non-parole period, a prisoner is eligible for parole after 10 years. Most murders here could be termed crimes of passion, and the chances of an offender committing another crime, let alone another murder are minimal. Besides they are aware that any straying from the straight and narrow will result in their parole being withdrawn.


          • Ron says:

            Fair enough. But how do you handle violent offenders and sociopaths who cannot be reformed?


            • Barry says:

              Carefully ๐Ÿ˜

              For a range of violent crimes and for serial offenders, the courts can impose preventative detention if it’s deemed appropriate. It’s not like a life sentence where you are you are release by remain on parole for life and can be recalled at the discretion of the parole board. With preventative detention, you’re held in a secure facility until you’re no longer considered a risk to society. No time is specified. If you are released, then you are a free person.


  4. Eric Alagan says:

    Cost consideration + expedience = leads to capital punishment

    First show me a country that has flawless police investigation; flawless prosecution/defence mechanisms; and flawless judges; and flawless laws and legal processes – then, and only then, can we even discuss the merits of capital punishment.

    Instead what we have are states – including my country, Singapore, which inherited the death penalty from the British colonial masters – that succumb to cost considerations and expedience.


    • makagutu says:

      There has been arguments that having someone on death row is much more expensive than life imprisonment but I have not looked at these calculations.
      However I agree with you on the larger point about it being a travesty in many cases.


  5. Capital punishment in Kenya โ€” Random thoughts – Truth Troubles says:

    […] via Capital punishment in Kenya โ€” Random thoughts […]


  6. Thank you very much for this great post! I really enjoyed reading it and learning from your thoughts! I have recently published an article on my blog regarding my opinion on the death penalty. If you have time, it would be great if you could check out my post and let me know your thoughts! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚


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