Capital punishment in British colonial Africa was not just a method of crime control or individual punishment, but an integral aspect of colonial networks of power and violence. The treatment of condemned criminals and the rituals of execution which brought their lives to an end illustrate the tensions within colonialism surrounding the relationship between these states and their subjects, and with their metropolitan overlords. The state may have had the legal right to kill its subjects, but this right and the manner in which it was enacted were contested. This article explores the interactions between various actors in this penal ‘theatre of death’, looking at the motivations behind changing uses of the death penalty, the treatment of the condemned convicts whilst they awaited death, and the performance of a hanging itself to show how British colonial governments in Africa attempted to create and manage the deaths of their condemned subjects.
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