Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has promised that the country’s death penalty will become a thing of the past.
In what he tagged a “big decision,” the president revealed his intention to begin active communication with the Zambian parliament to ensure that the death penalty in Zambia becomes a conversation of the past.
He revealed that the interaction with parliament will be to focus on a transition from the death penalty to preserving life and rehabilitating those convicted of crimes.
“This is important. We believe in it. Africa Freedom Day is a symbol of our collective commitment to secure a better future for all,” the president said.
The Zambian President has pardoned 2045 inmates, including 2012 ordinary detainees and 33 senior inmates, to commemorate Africa Freedom Day. In addition, he commuted the sentences of 607 convicts.
Despite the fact that Zambia has a death penalty law, no executions have occurred since the late 1990s.
The current administration will now work with Parliament to transition from the death penalty toward conserving and restoring human life while still delivering justice.
According to acting Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Ambrose Lifuna, the administration has begun to address the problem of prison overcrowding. This can take several forms, such as lobbying for community service for small infractions.
With the long history of pardons in Zambia and little to no death penalty for decades, many have questioned if the death penalty should even exist in such a nation.
Recall that one of President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s first acts after taking office in January 2015 was to commute the death sentences of all 332 death row inmates to life imprisonment. Since then, the number of people on death row has risen to around 400.
While the majority of individuals freed from death row by President Lungu were those who had benefited from his three predecessors’ refusal to execute people, the rate at which new death rows have been increasing has become a source of great concern.
While President Lungu has attempted to influence attitudes against the death sentence, he was unable to do so as reports from 2016 claimed that some Zambians were still opposed to any moves to repeal the death penalty, leaving him trapped in a state of dilemma.
However, things seem to be different now as President Hakainde Hichilema is taking an even bolder step toward his predecessor’s dream.
Sadly, what might act as a challenge to this “big decision” seems to be the problem of overcrowding. For instance, while the situation in the “Condemn Section” of Mukobeko prison is significantly worse, the situation in the rest of the prisons is also far from ideal, since Zambia’s 90 jails were built to hold a maximum of 8,000 inmates but now house more than 22,000.
According to recent media sources, all of the approximately 400 death row inmates are kept in the Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison’s ‘Condemn Section’ in Kabwe’s central city.
This part of the prison was designed to hold only 48 inmates, but it now holds roughly ten times that number, forcing inmates to take turns sleeping. Former Vice President Dr. Guy Scott described the condition as “hell on earth” after seeing the hospital a few years ago.