Credit: Contributed

(GIN)—While American leaders bicker over the fate of the death penalty, with 17 inmates going to their deaths so far this year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed documents commuting all death sentences to life imprisonment. 

The documents, signed this week at State House, Nairobi, affect some 2,747 death row inmates—2,655 men and 92 women. The last commutation of death sentences was in 2009 by then President Mwai Kibaki, who commuted the sentences of more than 4,000 prisoners. 

Invoking the Power of Mercy under the Constitution, Kenyatta also signed pardons and released 102 long-term inmates. 

Power of Mercy entails granting pardons to reformed and rehabilitated convicted criminal offenders deserving early release from prison. 

In a related matter, Kenya’s High Court last month approved a petition by law student and death row inmate Wilson Kinyua on behalf of 11 death row prisoners that challenged conflicting sentences given for similar offenses. Kinyua has been a student of the UK-based African Prisons Project and has since received a Diploma in Common Law and is pursuing a master’s degree at the University of London. 

The petitioners, led by Wilson, argued that for the death sentence to apply, one should first have the opportunity to defend oneself after the case hearing through the process of mitigation. 

The favorable ruling means that mitigating factors and other pre-sentencing requirements have to be received and considered by the courts for a fair trial to take place—abolishing the mandatory death sentence currently prescribed for a capital offense. 

The court, however, did not rule against the death penalty across the board, stating that “the death sentence is not a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” The court added, “However, it just cannot be meted to any person convicted of a capital offense.” The judgement has been suspended for 18 months for the law to be reviewed for inconsistencies. The petitioners, however, are calling for an immediate resolution to their cases.

Advocates for ending the death penalty include Hands Off Cain, whose petition seeking the abolition of capital punishment can be found at http://www.handsoffcain.info. 

Executions in Kenya are carried out by hanging.

RISING SEA LEVELS THREATENING GHANA’S COASTAL VILLAGES

(GIN)—Fuvemeh, one of Ghana’s coastal villages, is vanishing because of coastal erosion. 

Waves have taken large parts of the village into the sea. What was once a thriving fishing community was 3 miles from the coast a few years back. Now the waves are just a few feet away. 

“This used to be a very beautiful village—a lot of coconut trees, sea turtles, sea gulls, dolphins, sharks and whatnot,” recalled local resident Frank Kofigah. “It’s been horrible. As a result of climate change we are suffering.” 

The only school in the area and a temporary replacement have also been washed away by the waves, resident Bright Agbeko told the Ghanaian news site MyJoyOnLine. 

Fuvemeh was once a thriving community of 2,500 people, supported by fishing and coconut plantations that are now completely underwater. But in the past two decades, climate change and industrial activity —such as sand mining and the construction of dams and deep-sea ports, which trap sediments and prevent them from reaching the coastline—have accelerated coastal erosion, observed Matteo Faggoto of Foreign Policy magazine. 

“Gradually but inexorably, the ocean has swallowed up hundreds of feet of coastline, drowning the coconut plantations and eventually sweeping away houses,” Faggoto said. 

Thousands of communities along the western coast of sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania to Cameroon, are at risk of being washed away. 

Sea levels around the world are expected to rise by more than two-and-a-half feet by the end of the century, but they are expected to rise faster than the global average in West Africa, according to the West African Economic and Monetary Union. 

Kwasi Appeaning Addo, a professor in the University of Ghana’s Department of Marine and Fisheries Sciences, shared his fears. “In West Africa, infrastructure and economic activities are centered along the coastal region, so as sea levels continue to rise, it threatens our very existence and source of income,” he said. “We are sitting on a time bomb.” 

Residents of Fuvemeh have been appealing to government for a sea defense wall to protect the coastal belt because they are not ready to relocate, as suggested by the Municipal Assembly and Member of Parliament Clemence Kofi Humado. He warned that should residents continue to live in the affected areas, their lives may be endangered. 

“If we can’t find a balance between our insatiable appetite for modernity and allowing nature to replenish itself,” said Fredua Agyeman of Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, “we will always run into problems, no matter the advancements in modern science or engineering.” 

Local climate activists include the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement on Facebook.