A lot of horrifying and strange news comes out about Africa, and although a lot of those things are not widespread, we get an image of constant barbarism there. Among those horrifying and strange things are reasons that someone might be executed. Unlike the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea, Africa’s regimes tend to be a lot less arbitrary in their methods and their reasons for seeking the death penalty. For those living in the United States, it may come as a shock that executions in Africa are actually infrequent, but that does not get rid of the fact that they have some unusual ideas.
It may come as a shock, but issuing a death sentence in an African country may not end with an actual execution. Often times it is used as a method of imprisoning someone for life without having to worry about them getting back into society and continuing what has been deemed deviant behavior. This has made it difficult to actually keep track of executions. In the grand scheme of things, this is just as unusual as why you might be considered for termination.
Throughout the history of Africa, much like other parts of the world, the death penalty has been used as a tool for state repression; dictators have sought to use it as a way for legal atrocities. Religious, sexual, and political suppression is a normal occurrence in many African countries, even though others have made great progress. As jaw-dropping as it may be for you, the following items might get you on the wrong end of a firing squad.
Outside of Africa, only one other country has cannibalism as an offense worthy of death, and that country is North Korea. The most infamous cannibal in Africa is Joshua Blahyi, better known as General Butt Naked (pictured above). It is one of the more common portrayals of African countries is that they are filled with cannibals hiding in the bushes to pounce upon weary travellers. It may not be as big of a problem as movies, T.V. shows, games, and books show, but the countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Mauritania, and Nigeria all have it in their penal codes to have cannibals killed. The execution of cannibals within these countries is rooted within both religious and secular law. Coming from strong Abrahamic traditions, all of these countries have strong religious convictions against the consumption of human flesh. The secular element of the law has it dictated that the cannibal must have murdered whomever they are eating. Although it might not be a major problem in these countries, it is definitely weird to see such specific punishments on the books.
14. Recidivism (Repeat Offenses)
Many of you have probably heard of something called the three-strike rule, which is where you are convicted of three felonies and receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In several African countries a similar law is in place, but instead of life without parole, you get executed. This extreme punishment is on the books in Algeria, Benin, Niger with the explicit statement that it requires at least a second conviction equal to ten years. In other countries, like Uganda, they hold the death penalty for repeatedly committing certain crimes, such as rape. These countries have admitted to having problems with repeat offenders; they have had overflowing prisons at some points in their histories. Repeating offenders in these countries often receive life without the possibility of parole, particularly as Algeria and Benin have moratoriums placed on capital punishment at present. Uganda is the only one of these countries to routinely execute people, so it is somewhat unusual in and of itself.
13. Pollution Of Food And Water
This one is a rather interesting piece, especially when you consider that it does not apply to the whole of Somalia. A remainder of the 1962 penal code, Somalia has it so that any person who wantonly poisons or pollutes drinking water and food may be executed, publicly. The one condition for this is that at least one person die from an illness resultant of the contaminant. This unusual reason to kill someone is found within only two other countries in the world, the People’s Republic of China and the State of Japan. Somalia is the only country in Africa to publicly execute people and this is something which is extremely important to areas of the country. Part of the reason that this has been retained in parts of the country is because the ongoing internal conflict and rampant poverty have made it necessary to ensure that all products brought to market are as clean as possible.
Kidnapping is a serious offense across the vast majority of the continent. It is related to terrorism, sexual slavery, and acts of sedition. In countries like Nigeria, which have major insurgencies against the constitutional order, the fear of groups such as Boko Haram (which is now called the Islamic State West African Province) will target women and children to sell into servitude in order to ensure that they have a steady flow of cash to fuel their war machines. The problem with kidnapping is deeply rooted in Sub-Saharan African history thanks to the slave trade and the many civil wars which have taken place. Although countries like Nigeria, Uganda, and Mauritania have the death penalty for kidnapping (especially if rape is involved), all African states have it as a crime worth life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or similar clemency. The governments which have either type of punishment do so to discourage some of the worst human rights abuses in the world.
11. Inciting A Foreign Power To Invade Spain
This one is probably the most absurd and the saddest entry on the list. In the Equatorial Guinean penal code, any person who incites a foreign power to invade Spain is to be executed. This is more than just a little weird, don’t you think? That would be like being killed by a bystander for calling the police. The weirdness of this law is not in that it exists in Equatorial Guinea, but that it was never stricken from the penal code. The continued application of the colonial Spanish Penal Code is something which sets Equatorial Guinea apart from most other countries. There have been no executions or trials for this law since the end of the colonial period, I doubt anyone has been willing to try it. As funny as it sounds that it would be illegal to incite a foreign power to declare war on a country other than your own, apparently it’s enough of a problem to warrant having that law still.
The primary victims of this policy are women, particularly those who live alone and are regarded as social outcasts. It may seem strange, but witchcraft was a very serious crime in the Central African Republic until 2010 when the penal code was decreased. How serious? Witchcraft was worthy of the death sentence according to the government. They considered it to be a crime on par with terrorism. So why do they think that? Well, witches are often times blamed for mysterious deaths as well as HIV/AIDS. Although the official punishment for this crime was formally death, it was commuted to life imprisonment at the worst. Generally, the accused receive 1 to 5 years imprisonment with a fine up to $1,500. There is, on the other hand, bad news. That bad news is that the government often times turns a blind eye to vigilante activities and pro-government militias who execute alleged witches.
Three countries in Africa issue the death penalty for homosexual behavior; those countries are Sudan, Mauritania, and Nigeria. What some people may find surprising is that there are different treatments assigned for same-sex acts for men and women. In Mauritania, gay men face execution whereas women face imprisonment; women also face retribution inside and once released. There are also different punishments based on religion. Using Mauritania once more, Muslim men who participate in homosexual activity are to be publicly stoned to death, whereas non-Islamic men receive the firing squad. Unlike Mauritania, the death penalty for homosexual acts has never been enforced. Nigeria is the most unusual of these three states in that only 12 of their states have such a punishment. In the northern most states, which have adopted aspects of Sharia law, it is possible to execute gay men. Although there is a high rate of anti-LGBT sentiment in Africa, few states legally sanction their deaths.
8. Apostasy (When You Renounce Your Faith)
One of the more “normal” additions to this list is apostasy. In our modern day and age, only the countries of Mauritania, Sudan, and Somalia have laws which prescribe the death penalty for those who formally renounce their faith; assuming that they practice a form of Islam. Apostasy is punishable by death a total of 13 recognized countries in the world. To much of the world, this is a completely barbaric practice, however, in these countries, it is seen as protecting society from corruption. Within each country, there are different interpretations with Sudan having the loosest definition of apostasy. One of the primary examples of this is Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag. Mariam Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy for converting to Christianity, which was further cemented by her marriage to a Christian man. In Africa, Sudan is the most likely state to enforce their laws on conversion. Mauritania, on the other hand, tends to use the law to suppress freedom of speech more so than simple religious persecution. There are no records of apostates being executed although it remains on the books.
7. You Work As A “Lady Of The Night”
There is a certain level of value placed on women’s sexuality and it is usually seen as being a property of the father. This traditional concept has made it so that prostitution is worthy of extreme punishment. The two African countries (Sudan and Somalia) which have it in place have it so within the framework of Sharia courts. In Somalia and Sudan, both the selling of sex and running a brothel are punishable by death, however, the latter is if it is the third offense. Being a “John” does not automatically qualify one for the proverbial chopping block. Procuring sex from a prostitute can constitute the death penalty if one is also found guilty of adultery, but this is rare. Of the two countries which routinely execute women for being prostitutes, Sudan does the most. Sudan has received numerous petitions from human rights groups the world over; Amnesty International says that the Republic of Sudan is rather problematic.
Sodomy is a term with a legal definition is as broad as the Congo river; it is almost always used to target lesbians, gay men, and transgender people. Those countries in Africa who have legislated the death penalty for the crime of sodomy are among the most active participants. Those countries which prescribe death for acts of sodomy (which are generally loosely defined) generally do so under the pretense of protecting the morals of the people and protecting the children. This type of logic has been used routinely to oppress members of the LGBTQ community for many years all across the globe, but the de jure method has generally been prison terms, institutionalization in a mental hospital, or exorbitant fines. Those countries whose legal systems advocate that “sodomites” should be killed are Mauritania, Sudan, and Nigeria, all of whom have been named on this list already. In each of these countries, public opinion supports having laws against sodomy.
Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Mauritania, and Nigeria are the five countries in which adultery, by a woman and a married man, is punishable by death. At first glance, one might assume that all of these countries have Sharia courts to determine punishments, but the presence of the Christian-majority South Sudan makes this all the more unusual. The laws regarding public decency and good conduct are what have retained this particular punishment. In these countries, adulterers are to be killed by stoning them. The way that this punishment is carried out is by having the hands of the offenders bound behind their back with them buried up to their necks, after which stones will be hurled at their exposed head. The gruesome nature of this type of execution is designed to keep the state-sanctioned views of morality in check. South Sudan has simply retained aspects of Sudanese law, most likely due to the ongoing civil war there.
One of the stereotypes that continue to haunt Africa is that treason can include execution for just about anything. There are very few places in Africa where this continues, the biggest offender being Equatorial Guinea. One of the many shocking things about the country is that its leader has a cult of personality which is almost on par with North Korea’s! President Teodoro Obiang’s personality cult is so pervasive that questioning any aspect of it may count as both subversive activities and reason. Teodoro Obiang, also known as “El Jefe,” is not the only country in Africa to see rather dubious laws regarding treason. In the past, the Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko took it a step further to have a political rival, Pierre Mulele, publicly executed in the most brutal of ways for treason (he did, in fact, lead the Simba Rebellion) after being lured to the capital of the Congo-Kinshasa on the grounds of being granted amnesty. Although Mulele is one of the most famous people to be executed in the Congo, the Mobutu regime took steps to make refusal to give up land to the state treason and punishable by death. Most states are not cruel like Zaire, thankfully.
To most of us in the western world, we’ve grown to be indifferent or only mildly shocked whenever someone does what we may consider blasphemy, however, a grand total of 11 countries across the world may seek to kill you. From those 11 countries, 3 of them are in Africa, namely Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia; once again, Nigeria is the most unusual of the three. Nigeria’s constitution allows for secular law to coexist with Sharia law should a state adopt it, but laws against religious freedom exist within the Nigerian Constitution because it is still punishable to “insult religion.” The normal course of punishment within the Nigerian states which have it so that blasphemy is punishable by death is to simply have the perpetrator convicted to prison for several years, however, this is not always the case. In Nigeria’s 12 northern states it is not unheard of for those convicted of blasphemy to be killed by a vigilante mob violence.
2. Drug Trafficking & Possession
Drug trafficking and drug possession for distribution are treated with a position extremely similar to those found in Southeast Asia. With major drug manufacturing operations taking place across the continent, it stands to reason that extreme measures would be taken to nip it in the bud. One of the most common drug classifications are amphetamines, these are often mixed with the consumption of other drugs, like cocaine and alcohol. One of the most publicized uses of the drugs are for child soldiers in order to both make them vicious and hooked so that they do not try and leave the military or militia unit. The path for which the largest amount of drugs travel are from West Africa to East Africa, particularly Ethiopia; the largest market for drugs, however, is South Africa. The use of drugs is also common among enslaved people as it makes them more dependent upon their captors.
Another odd addition to this list is brought to you by none other than the Central African Republic. Charlatanism is described as any sort of confidence trick which is used to obtain money, fame, or some other advantage. I know that those of us who’ve been taken advantage of might feel like killing the swindler, but it’s rather extreme to be put to death for it. There has not been any given reason from the Central African Republic’s government as to why they may seek such punishment for scammers, but we can guess that it is a real problem there. What is known is that there is a high correlation between those convicted of witchcraft and those convicted of charlatanism. Although there are numerous people sentenced to death every year, there has not been an execution in Central Africa in almost four decades, so lengthy prison terms and large fines are the preferred methods to deter and combat fraud.