After watching part of a video posted on Facebook showing a man accused of theft being burned by local populations in Togo, I was disgusted. However I was not shocked as it was not the first time that I come across a video like that or hear that such things have occurred in Africa. Fact remains that I'm dismayed every time. In October 2012, four young students in their second year at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria were accused of stealing a computer and a mobile phone. They were burned alive after being stoned and beaten up by residents. The worst part of it is that those who were charged with the crime realized later that it was a mistake because these poor students were not the thieves in question. In March 2012, a video also circulated on social networks showing the assassination in the same circumstances of two young Kenyans accused of stealing a bag of potatoes. And finally in July 2013 in Togo, two young people were burned alive after being accused of stealing a motorcycle. These three scenarios are the only ones on which I accidentally landed on while browsing social networks. However, cases are legions.
This mania of burning a human accused of theft is very common in many African countries in Muslim, Christian and Pagan communities, in cities and in villages without distinction of religion or ethnicity. This therefore means that it is not a practice motivated by ethnic or religious dogmas but more or less, a cultural practice as in some ways it is accepted by the members of the community where these murders are committed.
Why people come to murder?
To kill a person because he or she has stolen is simply murder. And in many countries around the world including most African countries where these barbaric actions take place; there are laws that punish such actions. But what make people do such things in the first place?
In similar situations, I have heard people say that when you catch a thief, you better kill him right away because if you send him to the police, he will be released too early and return his dirty duties. That is, people think that legal actions led by the authorities are insufficient to punish criminals. It is true that many thieves are often released immediately after they have been arrested and thus for several reasons. The first being that the person from which they have stolen has not filed a lawsuit against them or simply withdrew their charges especially when the stolen item has been recovered or when the thief was intercepted before executing his “mission”. Second, they can be released because of lack of sufficient as not enough. Third, for those that are actually charged, penalties are set by a judge according to the severity of the crime and it is quite understandable that a judge will not keep someone in jail for more than a month just because the person tried to steal a chicken or managed to steal a sheep. Therefore when we find the thief in the neighborhood few weeks or months later, it is believed that the police failed to do his job because it was expected that the criminal would be kept there for years. And finally, the extreme corruption inked in our government and public bodies allows bribery of police officials and even the judges by criminals and or their families who as a matter of fact get away with crimes. In short, people result to murder in situations like this because they do not trust their governmental and in their judicial system.
Also, I've heard other people in these cases say that thieves must be burn to serve a lesson to other people who might attempt stealing. In other words, killing is a lesson to raise awareness on the implications of theft because it terrifies potential thieves to undertake such actions. This technique a bad practice and a lesson learned from the wild dictatorial regimes such as that of Gnassingbe Eyadema and Sani Abasha. These military-despotic regimes rule by terror and to discourage opponents, they engage in wild riots and murders of those who ever dare stand against their authority in order to terrify people and maintain them in power. Now when people engage in these practices to terrify potential thieves, we can tell how they were inspired.
What allows such practices?
The first thing that allows such killings is not the non-enforcement of laws and the reign of impunity. If our laws were enforced as they should be, thieves would be afraid to steal and “thieves’ killers” will be afraid to kill. But since people are not properly judged and punished for their crimes, they just grow. The reason why laws are not respected and enforced in several countries is the absence of rule of law. Police rarely conducts investigations to arrest those responsible for these murders. And it must be said that in some cases they are complacent to see stuff like this or even accomplices. Our states are banana republic’s where people who are in position of power hoist themselves as masters and judges.
Humans are animals in a physiological sense but they are beasts in the pure sense. And the most ferocious of all I will say. Animals kill only for two reasons: to feed and protect themselves.Their attacks vis-à-vis other animals are mainly to protect their lives and that of their descendants.But humans can kill for anything and anyhow. And more of a beast, humans are stupid. Excuse the generalization which I insist is voluntary. Humans are stupid because instead of attacking those who are destroying their lives, they attacks people are victims just like them and whose lives have been destroyed by “Ogas at the top”. They kill young people for stealing a chicken, a cell phone, a motorcycle or a bicycle. But when they see a minister, the director of a public corporation or the president of the republic who plunder billions per day, they bend to say "Hi Chief or Hello His Excellency." They allow multi-thieves who embezzle the money of the whole country to walk around freely and peacefully while they attack, brutalize and kill miserable people who steal minor things like a goat or a cellphone. This is where I find the beast and the stupidity in Humans. What they forget is that if these leaders (government officials) were not plundering their resources to build palaces in their villages, there would be less crime and they wouldn’t need to kill their fellow humans for such minor things.
The Sp, Sp Generation: Smartphones, Stupid people
We live in a generation I like to call Sp, Sp. A generation in which phones has become smarter than the people who use them and I wonder where the world is going? New technologies have many advantages, but certainly one of their biggest drawbacks is that they have been turning people into idiots. People are more interested in the number of "Likes" and "Share" they get by putting something online than they are in their own safety and that of their families and those around them.
I said earlier that this mania of burning thieves is not new in Africa. However, the innovation lays in the integration of the Sp, Sp in the cases. When stupid people are equipped with smart phones and they come across an unusual and often dangerous and serious issue, instead of having the reflex to call the police or seek for help, they choose to take pictures or record the scene in every detail in order to win "Likes" and "Shares" on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and heaven knows what else.
People post online videos of rapes, murders, babies’ abuse, violent fights and other reckless and inhumane stuff. But what leads me to say that these people are stupid is not just because they had chosen not to attend to a person or persons in danger as indicated by laws, but because they do not realize that their actions can put their own lives in danger. People who are mad harm them.Also, when viewers are angered by such violent videos and decide to take action against those responsible for these crimes; the idiot who was "smart enough" to put these things online will be the first person to be attacked. I agree that technology is useful but it becomes harmful when people make a bad and stupid use of it.
What’s the solution?
The most effective solution would be to push the authorities to take their work more seriously: that of civil protection. But knowing our countries, especially Togo, we will have to wait for a very long time before getting there.
The easiest solution I think would be to reorganize our communities the way they were before colonization. And to do so, we must restore the community chiefs / kings who are simply called “traditional chiefs" today (a humiliating name as if the Queen of England enjoyed the same as denigrating) with the authority to resolve conflicting issues of this kind. Decades ago when we still had chiefs and kings, not the toys dressed in traditional outfits we have today, people use to take thieves to the king who together with his advisors and council decides based on the laws of the land, what action must be undertaken. People were not offered to the "privilege" to kill their prisoners themselves. If we allow a judicial decentralization, there would be less chance that such barbaric acts occur in our country as it will fasten the law-enforcement process and allow the community to get involved in such matters.
To get back to the murder of these two young people who were brutally burned alive by the people of Bafilo, I would have been in Togo right now that I would have filed a lawsuit against X and require that actions be taken to arrest and incarcerate these criminals who claim to be fighting against crimes by torturing and killing their neighbors. And I hope that my Togolese compatriots who read this will take such actions.