What are your views on mob (in)justice?

Curtsey of my pen and my paper

Mob (in)justice on the Kisumu adulterous couple

I received an e-mail containing an online report by a Kisumu paper. The story, set inKisumu,Kenya, has three main characters; a police detective, his wife and his uncle who is a Bishop. The uncle is allegedly found having sex with his nephew’s wife.

The officer works on a tip off and lays a network with taxi drivers and hotel attendants. He then uses his pistol to force his way past reluctant hotel attendants to the lovers’ room, where he raises an alarm which attracts a hostile crowd.

These extracts from the report are captured on camera. ‘…En route to the (police) station, the charged crowd compelled the duo to walk naked and at one time forced them to kiss each other. The bitter and marauding crowd even chained the two as they braved the sweltering heat…The duo were battered seriously and blood could be seen marooning their faces and chests.’

If the allegations are true, they go against many cultural and religious values and should be condemned in the strongest words possible. However, it is the acts in the second part of the story – arrest, prosecution, judgment and punishment – illustrated by chilling photographs which changed my attitude.

Using e-mail circulation lists, I conducted a survey about other people’s views. A friend suggested that I should find out if there is a significant difference in views between people (African) who have lived in the West for a significant time and those who have mostly lived inAfrica. I requested the respondents to e-mail back a conclusion of either ‘justice’ or ‘injustice’. ’Injustice’ was the unanimous ‘verdict’ irrespective of where people lived.

In fact, some respondents were enraged by the e-mail and opted to express their views through strongly worded statements instead of sending the requested one word response. For example, one wrote, ’…Injustice of the highest degree, actually it is abuse of human rights…’ Another wrote, ’…It’s humiliating and abuse of victims’ human rights. By the way what right have those ‘holier than thou’ crooks have to parade people alleged to have committed adultery naked in the streets?’ Another reply was, ’…This is really terrible! I think you should bring the case immediately to the attention of the HR on torture.’ Another response was, ’I expect the good people of Kenya to condemn this barbaric act in no uncertain terms. And the government should take a stand against those perpetrators…. I used to have a lot of respect for the people of Kenya!! But as for this one it’s just below the belt.’

The article reports that the officer was applauded for restraining himself despite the provocation. That was wrong. With his ‘gun power’, he had an option to move the suspects straight from the room into a vehicle and then to the police station, without involving the crowd. Had he pursued this dignified choice, I would have applauded him as well.

Instead, he chose to turn a private matter into a public one and get ‘justice’ by manipulating a crowd, because as a police officer, he knew that there is no provision in Kenya’s constitution to cater for such offences. He also knew that he would potentially face a death sentence if he pulled the trigger. By inviting the crowd, he became an accomplice to a crime. His use of both a pistol and position was an abuse of office and a crime in its own right.

What did the husband achieve? Perhaps his short term objective was to ‘teach the suspects a lesson’. Otherwise, I don’t see any achievement. A survey respondent concluded that ‘… this act alone promotes the cheating as the two cannot be separated after this humiliation. The husband has not achieved and gained at all. There is after all no love any more between the wife and the husband.’

The adultery verse in the Bible came to my mind as I digested this story. The Pharisees take an adulterous woman to Jesus. Jesus requests that the person throwing the first stone at her in accordance with the law be without sin. Convicted by their own conscience, the Pharisees start walking away one by one, leaving the woman alone with Jesus who tells her to go and sin no more.

Jesus neither spoke against nor disagreed with what happened here. He simply requested that in this particular case for this particular woman that the person throwing the first stone at her in accordance with the law be without sin.

In order to get a non-Christian perspective, I asked my friend, a Moslem from Zanzibarwhat the Quraan says. He enlightened me that the Quraan states that whoever is caught sleeping with somebody’s wife (husband) should be stoned to death. But, he immediately asserted that, ‘…if this Islamic law were strictly enforced, “all” (he presumably meant every married adult) would to be stoned to death’. I disagree with his use of the word “all” and prefer to replace it with “many” because I know that not all wives and husbands are unfaithful in marriage.

The reasoning behind this Law and Punishment is that any man (woman) who seduces another man’s wife (woman’s husband) away from their marriage vows and from their marital bed, has caused that person to basically kill their love for their wife (husband).

As you read this article, you are probably thinking about someone you known very well who would have been found at fault if this law was enforced. Culprits among the ‘most powerful’ politicians would include Bill Clinton, the formerUSApresident, and John Major, the former British Prime Minister. The sports world would include Tiger Woods and David Beckham. Even the British Royals, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana (RIP) wouldn’t escape.

The Infidelity law is most strict in Islamic States. It is relaxed in many non-Islamic countries and in some instances only used to justify divorce settlements. In countries where there is no provision that caters for such cases in the constitutions, only institutional (religious, cultural, military) values set against such acts exist.

Elders of some cultures devised simple solutions to infidelity-related potential conflicts. For example, if a child resembled a relative, friend or neighbour, the Bagisu elders’ approach was to state that the man in question ‘walked behind’ the child’s mother when she was pregnant. In reality, however, that man could actually have been the biological father of the child. The philosophy is that the act isn’t a worthy justification for starting a conflict. Consequently, many potential ‘wars’ were prevented.

However, the elders didn’t stop there. Like Jesus who told the adulterous woman to go but sin no more, the elders cautioned wives not to let men ‘walk behind’ them, and equally advised men to avoid ‘walking behind’ other people’s wives. Unfortunately, the tolerance that the elders demonstrated is being replaced by intolerance of the younger generations, especially when acting as crowds.

Apart from organised and institutionalised crime, crowds are the main perpetuators of cruel injustice, committed as a result of the so called ‘mob justice’. When a crowd is given the slightest opportunity, as is the case in this story, it undertakes all the police and judiciary roles of arrest, prosecution, judgment and punishment.

Where the law exists, it should be pursued through the right channels – the police and the judiciary institutions, which unlike the one sided account of events in this case, enable both sides of the story to be heard. If there is no law to cater for such offences, individuals or crowds should not be allowed to create their own laws. In particular, mob justice should not be let to thrive. This view is well expressed by a respondent who summarised that ‘…there has never been room for mob justice in the world. It was actually mob injustice especially on such a private matter. I condemn this barbaric act.’

The media has an important social responsibility role to play in this process. National governments don’t have enough resources for surveillance. Most countries particularly in the West now rely on closed circuit television. But because of resource constraints, it is available only in specified locations. Fortunately, the media is sometimes present during certain mob acts, which it captures on tape and/or camera.

Once the media has achieved its primary objective of reporting/publishing a story, it has a social responsibility to share the detailed information with the relevant authorities whenever necessary. Where a crime might have been committed, the information should be forwarded to the police. The photographs in this particular instance clearly identify certain members of the crowd who subjected the suspects to physical abuse. Such information can prove invaluable to the police, especially if it turns out to be the only authentic evidence that can be used to bring the culprits to justice.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence in the Kisumu report which suggests that the press took that extra step to perform its social responsibility role. While it correctly used words such as ‘barbaric’, it didn’t take the lead to both condemn and campaign against the actions of the crowd. Moreover, no part of the report suggests that the press took the initiative to share its information with the police. This amounts to a missed opportunity.

As we start a new decade, the media should seriously take on its social responsibility role and work in partnership with the relevant government institutions to make the world a better place to live in.


2 responses to “What are your views on mob (in)justice?

  1. bedsidereadings

    October 9, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Dr. AB,
    Could you please post the results of the Statistics Survey findings, of those who were for and against mob justice?



    • bedsidereadings

      October 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm


      I will create a page for the responses.



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