LESOTHO this week commemorated its 55th independence anniversary with analysts saying there was little to celebrate due to years of chronic instability which have stunted the country’s socio-economic development.
The country has not done its international reputation any favours with the succession of short-lived governments, rampant corruption in the public sector, poor infrastructure and general lack of investor-friendly policies.
“Throw in our propensity to murder each other, then you have a hellish country where no-one even angels would not dare to set foot in,” said a political commentator Sello Sello.
Mr Sello could well be right because with each passing week, more corpses are added to the long list of murders that have turned Lesotho into Africa’s homicide capital and the sixth most murderous nation on planet earth.
Unsurprisingly, the anger over the rampant killings, particularly the murders of defenceless women have prompted widespread calls for Lesotho to dust off its dormant death penalty and resume executions of convicted criminals.
The last execution was carried out on 25 November 1995. Lesotho had joined other “progressive” nations in imposing a moratorium on executions as they are considered to be a cruel, degrading and inhuman form of punishment.
However, Deputy Prime Minister and Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, is among those who believe there must be zero tolerance and swift action against the killers. His DC predecessor and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and former attorney General, Haae Phoofolo, are also convinced that executions are the only way to punish the criminals and deter like-minded people.
But analysts are not convinced that implementing the death penalty will solve Lesotho’s homicides problem.
Rather, the country must focus its energies and resources on fully equipping the entire law enforcement system- from the police to the judiciary- to fully execute their mandates to investigate, arrest and conclude trials of suspects.
“Criminals are emboldened by the knowledge that nothing will happen to them,” Mr Sello said.
“They know that the police are underfunded to investigate and arrest them. In the few instances where they are actually arrested, the criminals know that they won’t even spend a night in custody. They will be swiftly granted bail and get back to the streets to traumatise the families of their victims. Trials hardly happen due to the serious shortage of judges which has resulted in a huge backlog of over 4000 cases. Where trials are begun, they hardly reach their logical conclusion due to various challenges. If these issues are tackled to enable the wheels of justice to turn swiftly, would-be criminals would probably be deterred by the knowledge that they will be locked away from society for life or for a very long time. The resourcing of the law enforcement system should be our primary concern instead of rushing to implement a death penalty which has never been proven to be effective in countries where it is being implemented,” Mr Sello said.
National University of Lesotho (NUL) political science lecturer, Motlamelle Anthony Kapa, concurred. Professor Kapa said simply implementing the death penalty without tackling the law enforcement’s challenges in dealing with crimes was not the panacea to Lesotho’s homicides problem.
“A party in government should not be calling for the return of the death penalty,” Prof Kapa said.
“If they are serious about dealing decisively with murders, they have to start by capacitating all the institutions responsible for the criminal justice system. The immediate goal should be to capacitate the police and the judiciary.
“The police force and the judiciary have evidently failed to deliver on their mandates to fight crimes including murder. It is common knowledge that the judiciary is perennially underfunded and this year has not been an exception. For the first quarter of the current financial year, the judiciary was allocated a measly M937 366 which had to be shared by all the country’s courts including the High Court and Court of Appeal.
“With these trifling amounts they are allocating the judiciary, there is no way the huge backlog of cases will ever be cleared. This also applies to the police. They need to be capacitated to investigate the cases faster. We also need to address the root causes of murder which happen to be social ills. These murders are an indication of the ills in our society that include unemployment and poverty,” he said.
The President of Lesotho National Council of Women, ‘Mabataung Mokhatali blamed the “monstrous crimes” on the Basotho culture which did not train children, especially males, to value the sanctity of life.
There is need to revisit and revise the cultural norms to instil a respect for human lives, particularly those of women, Ms Mokhatali said.
“At times our culture works against us. Children at a tender age are taught that females are the inferior gender and that the males can do whatever they want to do with the defenceless females.
“We need to teach our children from infancy to value life. We have to be intentional about reshaping our culture and instilling respect for human life in the young generation,” Ms Mokhatali said.
Media practitioner-cum human rights activist, Ray Mungoshi, said there was no empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of the death penalty.
“Looking at the United States of America (US), you will realise that high murder rates persist in the very states that insist on the death penalty. There is no evidence that the death penalty will be effective in preventing murders in Lesotho,” Mr Mungoshi said.
His views are in tandem with those of human rights organisation, Amnesty International, which has said apart from being a cruel and degrading punishment, the death penalty has not been proven to be an effective deterrent in any country where it has been imposed.
One only has to look no further than fellow SADC country, Botswana to appreciate that executing criminals does not necessarily deter like-minded people from committing murder.
Botswana is the only SADC country that still executes convicted murders. This year it has already executed some killers.
But despite this, Botswana has clinched the 22nd spot on the World Population Review rankings of the most murderous countries in the world.
It is ranked above war-ravaged and unstable countries like Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even Iraq.
Clearly, the death penalty is not working there. It is unlikely to work here either.
If anything, Amnesty International believes the “human justice system is not infallible and sooner or later, innocent people will get killed because of mistakes or flaws in the justice system”.
“The death penalty legitimises an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.
“There is ample evidence that such mistakes are possible: in the USA, 130 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row,” Amnesty International says.
Given the lack of proof of the efficacy of the death penalty and the risk of executing innocent people along with real murderers, analysts say Lesotho should rather focus its energies on addressing the root problems behind the killings which include cultural factors. The government should also capacitate the law enforcement agencies to do their job of nabbing the criminals and incarcerating them for life or for very long periods . These measures have better chances of deterring would-be criminals, the analysts argue. The knowledge that crimes are vigorously investigated and culprits caught and punished with long jail sentences is a better deterrent than state sanctioned murders.