For decades, Kenya has grappled with the question of capital punishment, a practice deeply embedded in the legal system but fiercely contested in the court of public opinion. The death penalty handed to one, Joseph Kuria Irungu, alias ‘Jowie’, for the murder of business woman Monicah Kimani, has evoked this discussion among the populace. So, what does the death sentence actually entail in Kenya?

Under the penal code, the death penalty is retained in Kenya for the offences of murder, robbery with violence, attempted robbery with violence, and treason. These offences attracted a  mandatory death sentence until  2017, when  the Supreme Court declared the ‘mandatory’ nature of the death penalty unconstitutional.

President Mwai Kibaki in 2009, vacated the sentences of 4,000 death row inmates who were awaiting execution and commuted their sentences  to life imprisonment.In 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta commuted the death sentences of 2,747 inmates on death row to life imprisonment.

In the same vein, the fate of Jowie Irungu and his fellow convicts on death row, lies in the hands of the president. The president has the prerogative to commute their  death sentences to life

imprisonment as his predecessors, and the choice to sign or not to sign their execution warrant, lies within his discretion. Currently, there are 127 people on death row in Maximum Security Prisons across the country. 

At present, the death penalty remains a legal practice in 17 of the African Union’s 54 member states, including Kenya. However, executions have not been conducted in these countries for at least 10 years. Conversely, 11 member states continue to sentence individuals to death and have executed prisoners.

The issue of capital punishment sparks significant controversy. Critics argue that executing the perpetrator often fails to prompt any meaningful change in the individual, unlike the potential for rehabilitation if they are allowed to live, even within prison confines. Additionally, research indicates that in certain instances, individuals sentenced to death are later discovered to be innocent, a situation with irreversible consequences.