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Rising murder cases scornful of death penalty

Cases of murder in Botswana are escalating despite the intervention of law mechanisms in the form of the death penalty.

Botswana is the only country in Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) that still upholds and practices the death penalty as other member states have either abolished the exercise in law or in practice. Indications suggest that the executions are in practice bearing no fruits as citizens continue to kill each other for various reasons – including trivial ones. Statistics turned up by WeekendPost indicate that murder has been escalating since 2015 through to 2016 and recently 2017.

According to the Botswana Police Service Annual Report for the year 2016, a total number of 278 murder cases were recorded in 2015. In 2016 the number escalated to a whooping 305 murder cases registered. Police records further indicate that during 2017 a total number of 70 murder cases were recorded from January to March, 81 from March to June and 51 from June to September summing to 202. The recorded cases from September to December were however not immediately availed to this publication upon request.

It is also still unclear how many cases have gone un-recorded between the years or in cases of when the victims have gone missing without a trace. Botswana Police Assistant Public Relations Officer (PRO) Jayson Chabota stated to this publication in an interview on Wednesday that “during the festive season police operations that ran from 18th December 2017 to 3rd January 2018, recorded a total of 22 murder cases”.

According to Chabota, this shows a glaring increase as compared to 20 cases registered during the same period in 2016. When asked on the reasons for these growing murder cases, the Police mouthpiece pointed out that “most murder cases were as a result of killings related to love affairs and misunderstandings that erupted at drinking places.” A highly regarded lecturer of Social Work at the University of Botswana (UB) Kgomotso Jongman hinted that death penalty is not a deterrent all.

“We have reached a state of hopelessness where nothing matters. Death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent but when people got nothing to lose it’s not a deterrent anymore,” he said. Take an example of a 19 year old in Mogoditshane who was on bail owing to murder, he went on and killed another person again, he highlighted while adding that “he knows he is going to be killed anyway”.

Jongman’s sentiments were also shared by Keletso Tshekiso; a reputable Counselor serving as the Publicity Secretary of the Botswana Counseling Association who was firm that capital punishment is proving to be counterproductive. She explained that “in punishment, the stimulus propelling the undesired behavior decreases the likelihood of repetition of that behavior in future. So you can’t punish a dead person because they won’t feel anything. In short you are just eliminating that individual. It may not be considered as punishment by another person until they too face death sentence. So to many, ‘capital punishment is just an angry law’ which eliminates the murderers (perpetrators) and not murder (action).”  

In addition, the professional Counselor noted that there are quite a number of reasons while people kill, like social influences, issues of power relations, cognitive and intellectual impairment and added that the reasons keep on increasing. Some human rights renowned local attorneys such as Uyapo Ndadi of Ndadi Law Firm, Tshiamo Rantao of Rantao Kewagamang Attorneys and Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners continues to call for the abolishment of the capital punishment. 

When sharing his legal thoughts to WeekendPost on Thursday, Ndadi said: “I do not know what plays in the mind of a murderer, but I doubt if a murderer thinks of the consequences at the time. He continued: “the proponents of capital punishment argue that it serves as a deterrent, does it? NO!!!” On the other hand, he stated that he knows that it is wrong and barbaric to kill, and to him it doesn’t matter under what circumstances, unless of course it is in self defence.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether the killing is as a result of death penalty or crime, it is wrong. The argument that a punishment must fit the crime committed holds true but not to the extent of repeating the crime,” he pointed out. “That is why we do not rape people who rape, steal from those who steal, beat up those who beat others (even their spouses and partners) for we know it is wrong to do so. But why do we find it okay to kill?” he asked. The esteemed human rights attorney highlighted that he is aware that the Court of Appeal has declared death penalty in Botswana to be constitutional.

“I have a problem with that because any person has a right to life and dignity. The right to life must be preserved by government as well. No one should be licensed to kill by any law. The government must take the lead in showing how precious life is, and not follow what murderers do. Otherwise it is like punishing a child for doing what you yourself do to the child or others.”

Another well regarded attorney Rantao, has in recent reports, called for the abolishment of the death penalty on grounds that it is evil, irreversible, discriminatory and just a form of retribution that solves absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, while countries across the globe continue to dispose of the practice, Botswana still continues to enforce on it having executed approximately more than 53 people since independence in 1966, most of which were said to be men. Put mildly, Botswana carries out roughly 1 execution per year.

The death penalty is provided for in the supreme law being the constitution section 4(1) which states that: “No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of an offence under the law in force in Botswana of which he has been convicted.” According to the Botswana Penal Code (which enforces capital punishment) section 202: “any person who of malice aforethought causes the death of another person by an unlawful copyright Government of Botswana act or omission is guilty of murder.”

It posits in section 203 that “subject to the provisions of subsection (2), any person convicted of murder shall be sentenced to death. (2) Where a court in convicting a person of murder is of the opinion that there are extenuating circumstances, the court may impose any sentence other than death. (3) In deciding whether or not there are any extenuating circumstances the court shall take into consideration the standards of behaviour of an ordinary person of the class of the community to which the convicted person belongs.”

The technique for the execution of death sentence in Botswana is also pronounced under section 26(1) of the Penal code which posits that “when any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he shall be hanged by the neck until he is dead.” Meanwhile, on behalf of government, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Edwin Batshu is adamant that the death penalty will continue to be practised.

He said this when speaking at the 29th session of the third cycle review report of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) two weeks back at Geneva, Switzerland. He stated at the high level meeting that “Botswana’s view on “the question of death penalty” remains unchanged, and the death penalty remains a competent sentence under the laws of Botswana.”

He continued to highlight that, in that regard, “government holds the view that the death penalty is not a human rights violation, or a form of torture, but rather a matter of criminal justice. Like every country, we retain the sovereign right to independently decide our own criminal justice system, including the retention of the death penalty,” he maintained.

He also explained that while the country does not begrudge those who have abolished it or imposed a moratorium on executions, it equally expects that they too should respect their right to determine whether it abolishes or retains it, as a criminal justice sanction, in accordance with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However Batshu said the Botswana government was however aware that there could be some genuine concern about the application of the death penalty in some parts of the world.

He further told the global gathering that “let me assure you that in Botswana, we have robust laws and institutions including an independent judiciary in order to ensure that there is no arbitrary imposition of the death sentence. Nonetheless, Government intends to hold public debates on the death penalty over the coming period, and Botswana would welcome technical and financial assistance to carry out such an exercise.”

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Understanding the US Electoral College and key election issues 

28th October 2020
Mark J Rozell

The United States (US) will on the 3rd of November 2020 chose between incumbent Donald Trump of the Republicans and former Vice President Joe Biden of the Democrats amid the coronavirus pandemics, which has affected how voting is conducted in the world’s biggest economy.

Trump (74) seeks re-election after trouncing Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden (77) is going for his first shot as Democratic nominee after previous unsuccessful spells.

US Presidents mostly succeed in their re-election bid, but there have been nine individuals who failed to garner a second term mandate, the latest being George W H. Bush, a Republican who served as the 41st US President between 1989 and 1993.

Dr Mark Rozell, a Dean of  the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University  in  Arlington, Virginia describes the complex US electoral system that will deliver the winner at the 3rd November elections.

“The founders of our Republic de-centralised  authority  significantly  in  creating  our  constitutional  system,  which  means that  they  gave  an  enormous  amount  of  independent  power  and  authority  to  State  and  local governments,” Dr Rozell told international media on Elections 2020 Virtual Reporting Tour.

Unlike  parliamentary  democracies, like Botswana the  United  States  does  not  have  all  of  the  national government elected in one year. They do not have what is commonly called mandate elections where  the  entire  federal  government  is  elected  all  in  one  election  cycle  giving  a  “mandate”  to  a particular political party to lead, and instead US have what are called staggered elections, elections over time.

The two house Congress, members of the House of Representatives have two-year long terms of office. Every two years the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election, but senators  serve  for  six  years  and  one  third  of  the  Senate is elected every  two  years.

For this election cycle, US citizens will be electing the President and Vice

President, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the open or contested seats in the Senate, whereas two thirds are still fulfilling the remainder of their terms beyond this year.

An  important  facet  of  US electoral  system  to  understand  given  the  federalism  nature  of  the republic, the US elect presidents State by State, therefore they do not have a national popular vote for the presidency.

“We have a national popular vote total that says that Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump or in Year 2000 that Al Gore got a half million more votes than George W. Bush, but we have what is called a State by State winner takes all system where each State  is  assigned  a  number  of  electors  to  our  Electoral  College  and  the  candidate  who  wins  the popular vote within each State takes 100 percent of the electors to the Electoral College,” explained Dr Rozell.

“And that is why mathematically, it is possible for someone to win the popular vote but lose the presidency.”

Dr Rozell indicated that in 2016, Hillary Clinton won very large popular majorities in some big population States like California, but the system allows a candidate to only have to  win  a  State  by  one  vote  to  win  a  100 percent of  its  electors,  the  margin  does  not  matter.

“Donald  Trump  won  many  more  States  by  smaller  margins,  hence  he  got  an  Electoral  College majority.”

Another interesting features by the way of US constitutional system, according to Dr Rozell, but extremely rare, is what is called the faithless elector.

“That’s the elector to the Electoral College who says, ‘I’m not going to vote the popular vote in my State, I think my State made a bad decision and I’m going  to  break  with  the  popular  vote,’’ Dr Rozell said.

“That’s constitutionally a very complicated matter in our federalism system because although the federal constitution says electors may exercise discretion, most States have passed State laws making it illegal for any elector to the Electoral College to break faith with the popular vote of that State, it is a criminal act that can be penalized if one is to do that. And we just had an important Supreme Court case that upheld the right of the states to impose and to enforce this restriction”

There are 538 electors at the Electoral College, 270 is the magic number, the candidate who gets 270 or more becomes President of the United States.

If however there are more candidates, and  this  happens  extremely  rarely,  and  a  third  candidate  got  some electors  to  the  Electoral  College  denying  the  two  major  party  candidates,  either  one  getting  a majority, nobody gets 270 or more, then the election goes to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives votes among the top three vote getters as to who should be the next President.

“You’d have to go back to the early 19th century to have such a scenario, and that’s not going to happen this year unless there is a statistical oddity, which would be a perfect statistical tie of 269 to 269 which could happen but you can just imagine how incredibly unlikely that is,” stated Dr Rozell.

BLUE STATES vs RED STATES

Since the 2000 United States presidential election, red states and blue states have referred to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.

Many  states  have  populations  that  are  so  heavily  concentrated  in  the  Democratic party or the Republican party that there is really no competition in those states.

California is a heavily Democratic State, so is New York and Maryland. It is given that Joe Biden will win those states. Meanwhile Texas, Florida and Alabama are republicans. So, the candidates will spent no time campaigning in those states because it is already a given.

However there are swing  states, where  there is a competition between about five and 10 states total in each election cycle that make a difference, and that is where the candidates end up spending almost all of their time.

“So  it  ends  up  making  a  national  contest  for  the  presidency  actually  look  like  several  state-wide contests with candidates spending a lot of time talking about State and local issues in those parts of the country,” said Dr Rozell.

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Masisi to make things right with Dangote

26th October 2020

High Commissioner of the Federal Government of Nigeria to Botswana, His Excellency Umar Zainab Salisu, has challenged President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi to move swiftly and lobby Africa’s richest man, Nigerian Billionaire, Aliko Dangote to invest in Botswana.

Speaking during a meeting with President Masisi at Office of President on Thursday Zainab Salisu said Dangote has expressed massive interest in setting up billion dollar industries in Botswana.  “We have a lot of investors who wish to come and invest in Botswana , when we look at Botswana we don’t see Botswana itself , but we are lured by its geographic location , being in the centre of Southern Africa presents a good opportunity for strategic penetration into other markets of the region,” said Salisu.

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Dow wants GBV culprits isolated

26th October 2020
Unity Dow

As murder cases and violent incidents involving couples and or lovers continue to be recorded daily, Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Dr Unity Dow has called for more funding of non-governmental organizations and accelerated action from government to come up with laws that could inhibit would-be perpetrators of crimes related to Gender Based Violence (GBV).

Just after Dr Dow had deposited her views on this subject with this reporter, a young man in Molepolole opened fire on a married woman he was having an affair with; and ended her life instantly. While it is this heinous cases that get projected to the public space, the former minister argues that the secrecy culture is keeping other real GBV cases under wraps in many spaces in the country.

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said there is GBV all the time in all kinds of places. “We have become accustomed to stories of rapes, marital rapes, defilement of children, beatings and psychological violence and even killings,” she said.

Gender-based violence is a phenomenon deeply rooted in gender inequality, Dow is worried that there is absolutely no social punishment for perpetrators; they will continue to have the same friends, jobs, wives, homes, as before. Yet another factor, she said, is that there is little or no “justice” for victims of GBV.

The renowned activist said justice for GBV victims is not just the jailing of the perpetrator. “Justice for victims means an agile, victim-friendly, accessible (time, money and procedures) and restorative justice system.”

Asked what could be leading to a spike in Gender Based Violence cases or incidents, she observed that there is no one factor to which this spike can be attributed. “The most obvious factor is stress as a result of economic distress and or poverty. Poverty makes one vulnerable and open to compromises that they would otherwise not make. For perpetrators with anger management issues, economic stress leads to lashing out to those closest to them. Another factor is the disintegration of families and family values,” she opined.

According to Dow, no government anywhere in the world is doing enough, period. “We know the places and spaces where women and girls are unsafe. We know the challenges they face in their attempts to exit those spaces and places.” The former Judge of the High Court said GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in the culture of silence.

Asked what could be done to arrest GBV cases, Dow said it is critical to involve and fund civil society organizations. She observed that much of the progress done in the area of women’s human rights was during the time when Botswana had strong and funded civil society organizations.

“The funding dried up when Botswana was declared a middle-income country but unfortunately external funding was not replaced by local funding,” she acknowledged.

Further Dow said relevant government institutions must be funded and strengthened.

“Thirdly, create a society in which it is not okay to humiliate, rape, beat or kill women. You create this by responding to GBV the same way we have responded to livestock theft. We need to create agile mechanisms that hear cases quickly and allow for the removal of suspected perpetrators from their homes, work places, boards, committees, etc.”

The former Minister said the much anticipated Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Gender Based Violence will have its work cut out for it. According to Dow, GBV is not just a justice issue, it’s not just a gender issue, but rather an issue that cuts across health, education, labour, economic, housing and politics. “As long as any one believes it is someone else’s problem, we will all have the problem,” she said.

In her view, Dow said every work, educational and other place must have a GBV Policy and/or Code of Conduct. “It is important that we acknowledge that the majority of men are law-abiding. The problem is their silence, in the face of injustice,” she observed.

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