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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 17:14 GMT
Is mob justice the answer or the problem?
Angry crowd in northern Uganda surrounds rebel sympathiser
Do you condone mob justice?

A 17-year-old boy from Indedwe in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is in hospital after he was beaten up and set on fire for stealing money.

In neighbouring Botswana, police in the gold mining town of Selebi Phikwe had to rescue a man from an irate crowd threatening to ''deal'' with him.

Last month in Kenya, two brothers were set ablaze and killed when a lynch mob mistook them for thieves.

Do these stories sound familiar to you? BBC Africa Live asks: Why is mob violence becoming a daily occurrence in Africa?

Countries like Nigeria and South Africa have prominent vigilante groups who hand out punishment to suspected criminals. How is your community dealing with crime?

We want to know: What would drive you to take the law into your own hands? Would you take part in mob justice, or have you ever been a victim?

Join BBC Africa Live debate on Wednesday 16 February at 1630 & 1830GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments - and your personal stories - some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.

Read a section of your comments below:

I was mobbed and almost died in hospital.
Fuad, Nairobi, Kenya
I have been a victim of mob violence when I stole money so that I could buy hashish. I was mobbed and almost died in hospital. The experience was good because I stopped stealing as I knew the next time I might be killed.
Fuad, Nairobi, Kenya

Mob justice has been a part of Ghanaian culture since before I was born. I have personally witnessed several instances where taxi drivers have parked their cabs, passengers and all, in order to join a mob action which they have no clue about. On one such occasion, an alleged thief managed to escape the original group chasing him. He then pointed at somebody else shouting "dzulo, dzulo" - "thief, thief". Within a few minutes, this innocent man was besieged by an angry mob but thankfully the police were quick to respond and saved his life.
Sheriff, London, UK

Having seen mob justice first hand on a trip to Nigeria, I can honestly say I think it is awful and too easy for innocent people to become victims. On a cross country journey, our bus was attacked by a crowd of about 100 men.The windows were smashed, the tyres were slashed and we were threatened with being set on fire. What was the crime? Apparently, a driver who worked for the same bus company had knocked down and killed an 'area boy' in that village the day before. The driver of our bus, (who was no doubt not the driver from the previous day), was dragged from our bus and beaten. I dread to think what happened to him. I can honestly say I have never been so terrified in my life.
Rachael, UK

I agree that we need to reform our legal and security systems in Africa. Mob justice is barbaric; it is living and relating like senseless animals. God will hold everyone responsible who takes the law into his/her hands to kill a fellow human being.
Osarumwense, Aba, Nigeria

Living in Tanzania, I come across mob justice all the time.
Anonymous, Tanzania
Reading your article has opened my eyes to an issue that I have been brought up with, yet never realised the extent of. Living in Tanzania, I come across mob justice all the time. Mostly the accused have done wrong, but there are those other times when they are innocent and have no way of proving it. Recently beneath my house, three civilians and one security guard were caught trying to steal. They were beaten up right in front of our eyes by the police. Next day in our local news paper it was said that the mob was responsible. I am totally against mob justice, but first you have to stop the police participation. Only then will the public stop theirs.
Anonymous, Tanzania

One day in Monrovia's most crowded market place called Waterside, a teenager ran into a woman who suspected the lad was attempting to snatch her bag. Instead of calling the police she yelled "rogue! rogue!" - an alarm which invites irate crowds to discipline pickpockets. A crowd had no sooner begun to throw blows at the poor fellow, than a team of policemen arrived and rescued him. On scrutiny, the boy who was now bleeding turned out to be half-blind - much to the horror of everybody around. He had run into the woman simply due to his poor sight. This case is a serious indictment of mob justice. Such jungle justice can't be anything worth the word deterrence; it simply gives sadists a feed day in the marketplace. It shouldn't be condoned.
Martin Toe, Liberia, Washington DC, USA

It is wrong, no matter how hungry we get.
PM, Lagos
The common man has become so desperate in his bid to survive that anyone who touches his daily bread is in trouble. I am sure that if these people didn't have to worry about their basic necessities, they would not dish out immediate justice. But this desperation should not be seen as an excuse to continue jungle justice. It is wrong, no matter how hungry we get. If we forget our values, we will be reduced to nothing. There is no way that mob justice can be condoned.
P.M, Lagos

Mob justice is not correct or fair, but it is effective and efficient. Let people work for their living and not steal, otherwise the mob is the only solution.
Momodou Sanneh, UK/Gambia

Why do we assume that mob justice only happens in countries like Nigeria, South Africa et al? The reaction to the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles, USA was a classic case of mob justice.
Bola, New York City, USA

Anyone supporting mob justice has not seen all its permutations. If they do, they will not support it all. The one example I saw left my brain numb, and I don't think I have been the same person since. After the civil war in Nigeria, many people became very distrustful of others. In Kaduna, I saw a man burnt to death because he took a loaf of bread from his son, broke it, and gave the other half to a small girl crying for her mother to give her bread. The mother got offended and shouted that the man was trying to kidnap her daughter. The man was burnt to death because local soldiers only heard too late to do anything about it. Mob justice is not justice; I will not stand for it.
Che Sunday, San Francisco, USA

The "eye for an eye" mentality will, as Martin Luther King said, leaves the world blind.
Rudi Muller, Vancouver, Canada

People argue that mob justice discourages people from stealing and so saves the authorities the time and money for prosecution.
Chinedu Ibeabuchi, Lagos, Nigeria

When I was young in Aba, eastern Nigeria, I saw a man lynched and set ablaze for allegedly picking another man's pocket. After the man had been set on fire, someone demanded to know what exactly the man had stolen. Nobody in the crowd could say. Such killings are everywhere because the majority of people do not believe in our judicial system. The general feeling is that the accused person could walk free if handed over to the police, and people argue that mob justice discourages people from stealing and so saves the authorities the time and money of prosecution.
Chinedu Ibeabuchi, Lagos, Nigeria

I suppose if someone posed a real threat to me or my family - I'm talking about a kill or be killed situation here - then I could take the law into my hands. I don't think most people see mob justice as a first resort. But sometimes it seems like the only way for those whose justice systems have failed them.
Ngum Ngafor, Manchester, UK

I have been working in Tanzania for nearly seven months and have witnessed several mob actions. It really is not pleasant to see, but I believe it keeps the crime rate down. The corruption within the police in Tanzania is unbelievable and I have heard about cases where people have to pay the police before they even investigate. I come from South Africa where we live in fear: The courts are backlogged with cases and the justice process is extremely slow. If the vigilante groups can sort out criminals, I can live with that.
Paul Sands, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Due to corruption in our judiciary and police forces, criminals can sometime "buy" their freedom and society is left with no option but to take the law into its own hands. But this itself is a crime which should be condemned: two wrongs will never make a right.
Kisanya Vincent, Nairobi, Kenya

We need proper training on how to investigate crimes before action is taken.
John, Nigeria

The problem we have in Africa is a lack of proper investigation before taking action. For example, sometimes in southern Nigeria, somebody will go to the vigilantes to report an enemy as a thief because they want revenge. The vigilante then goes straight to the person and punishes them. I think we need proper training on how to investigate crimes before action is taken.
John, Nigeria

Mob justice is not the answer to stealing. I believe that if our law enforcement officers would go the extra mile in fighting crime, then this can stop. A lot of people get upset and end up taking the law into their own hands because police officers drag their feet in combating crime.
Onthatile BB Maswibilili, Malaysia/Botswana

When the people lose confidence in the security apparatus of the state, what else do you expect? When a neighbourhood thief is released so quickly from the police station that you get home to meet him chatting with friends, what next?
Nana Biney, Ghana

Mob justice is not justice at all. It is a feud between individuals that gains intensity as others vent their anger in the heat of the moment. It is easy to get caught up in the thrill of things and a mob can be a very appealing way to let off steam. Instead, one should think before jumping in and throwing fists. A few punches will release some steam, but the dissatisfaction with life will return when things settle down.
Keturah, USA

People take the law into their hands because the justice system has failed them. When you take a thief to the police station, you hardly reach your house again before the thief is set free by the police who have collected a fee from him. Most people in my town in Cameroon have resorted to mob justice because they are frustrated. This has reduced crime a bit. Although mistaken identity may result in the death of someone innocent, most of the time the mob is right and this is actually yielding fruits.
Teneng Lucas Chefor, Cameroon

There should be massive public awareness programmes to educate the people on the risks of mob violence.
Charles Udekwe, USA

It is a terrible thing for a mob to take the law into their hands. A lot of mistakes are made and innocent people are often victimised. There should be massive public awareness programmes to educate the people on the risks of mob violence. Today it might be a stranger, tomorrow it may be you or somebody close to you.
Charles Udekwe, USA

Mob justice is never the answer, but with an unreliable police force it becomes an alternative to discourage would-be criminals. Sometimes people have to take the law into their own hands to protect the interests of the community. Let the law enforcement officers do a good job and then there would be no room for mob justice.
Matongo Maumbi, Chikuni, Monze, Zambia!

A distinction must be made between mob justice and other alternative justice systems in Africa. Most vigilante systems are quite different from an irate mob dealing spontaneously with a criminal who has been caught red-handed in a crowded area like the marketplace. Vigilante systems are more like security outfits organised by members of a community to actively police their neighbourhood. Plus it is worth pointing out that no country has a perfect system; they are continually being improved.
Sonny, Lagos, Nigeria

Mob justice might deter 'little' thieves in countries like mine, Nigeria, but I believe it should be stopped since it doesn't work on the big-bellied, rich organised criminals who have the best security officials.
Okafor David, USA/Nigeria

Mob justice is not good. It has never resolved anything. I have come to interpret mob justice as a pathway to revenge. I have talked to participants in mob action and they told me that all they wanted was to vent their anger. Mob justice is a result of the failure of law enforcement agencies and governments to justly prosecute those who commit criminal acts against the weak in the society. When the law starts to protect the 'higher-ups' and people with connections to government, then mob justice becomes the only way out for the downtrodden.
E. Julu Swen, Monrovia, Liberia

Common people are worst affected when the justice system doesn't work. In Dar es Salaam where I live and work, mob lynching is no longer news to most of us, especially those living in highly populated areas. Such areas are home to a massive number of unemployed youths some of whom turn to criminal activities like petty theft. Losing a thousand shillings (less than one pound sterling) through theft may not sound much to someone living in a posh area, but it may mean a whole family missing out on their dinner in a poorer area. Should we be surprised if such victims participate in mob lynching?
Wesley Nsomba, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Although crude, it serves a very useful purpose in discouraging criminals.
Ohagwam Franklyn, South Africa

The abolition of the death penalty for capital offenders in South Africa and the unreliable judicial systems in most African countries can be very frustrating. People, therefore, resort to mob action which is aptly termed "jungle justice" in Nigeria. Although crude, it serves a very useful purpose in discouraging criminals in certain areas like Ajegunle in Lagos, Nigeria.
Ohagwam Franklyn, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mob justice is simply the easiest and fastest way of choosing jurors to serve justice. When government fails, do you expect the people to sit and watch?
Blessing Young, America

I really love the topic of mob justice as I feel it is apt. I am in an internet cafe at the moment writing to you and a gunshot rang out not too long ago. Reason: factions of a local vigilante group are at each other's throats. Some of these groups engage in extra-judiciary killings which are exceedingly abhorrent. But these events raise pertinent questions. What is it in our law-enforcement arrangement that makes citizens reluctant to hand criminals over to the police? And doesn't this penchant for mob justice show that people have lost trust in judges?
I. Chukwudi. Lagos, Nigeria

In most cases, what we call jungle justice, that is dealing with a thief on the spot, serves as a deterrent. When such a thief is handed over to police they may later release him or her due to a lack of proper evidence. But, I have seen cases where innocent citizens have been killed due to mistaken identity. The only means of correcting it is for the government to reform our justice system.
Eleso Sunday, Abuja, Nigeria

Anyone who practices such evil acts should be prosecuted.
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA

The practice of mob justice should be discouraged because it can lead to the killing of innocent people. Anyone who practices such evil acts should be prosecuted.
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA

What alternatives do the masses have when the police fail to protect them and the judicial system fails to put criminals behind bars? No one seems to care about the common people on the street. Mob justice is not the answer; it is a symptom of what is wrong in Africa. We need serious reforms.
Stephen Gitau, Kenyan, USA

Mob justice is sadly inadequate because it lacks the careful examination and deliberation required to discover the truth and respond with appropriate action. Mobs are driven by strong emotions and reason is abandoned. Mobs can get the wrong people and they mete out a "justice" that is usually far more violent than the crime. Even in countries where the justice system is inadequate, mob "justice" is usually just another face of crime: it is lawless, violent, cruel, and arbitrary.
Clint, Los Angeles, USA

In all cases mob justice is not justice at all but a mass crime. Those that carry out the 'mob justice' have neither investigative ability nor intention to investigate. The victim has no opportunity to defend themselves and even when caught red-handed, the execution style punishment does not fit the crime. This in some cases can be regarded as gang violence. This is the result of the lack of trust in the government security system. What a shame!
Greg, Cameroon & USA

When justice is not transparent, then the mob comes in. This is not only in Africa but around the world.
Henry Williams, New York/Sierra Leone

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