“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing and nothing else…”– Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)
The brutal killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has, as with viral social media trends go, catapulted him into posthumous celebrity. Indeed, not since Mufasa and family has the world known a lion by name in the way that we have gotten to know Cecil.
Outrage surrounding the killing has been, to varying degrees and for different reasons, universal. There are those genuinely upset at the inhumane slaughter of Cecil and the general disregard for the environment. Some folks are mad because the internet told them to be. There are many communities furious at the Global West’s hyperbolically emotional reaction to the death of a lion while they turn a blind eye to the perpetual suffering of marginalized groups in Africa and in their backyards. (I mean, all my years watching Jimmy Kimmel- and I’m a fan- I never hear him talk about Africa, or seen cry… but he cried for Cecil…)
Zimbabweans- perhaps shedding insight into how other African countries feel/would feel in similar circumstances are upset that a lion generally unknown to the public in a country that has undergone an incredibly tumultuous two decades has become the point of reference for the nation around the world. One disgruntled Zimbo summed up the sentiments on Facebook when he wrote:
““Tell me about, there’s poverty, poor government, horrible economy, people starving, lack of employment and much more and what seems to be making the headlines on all major news and media channels is the death of a damn lion..oh please, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about a damn lion…”
I understand his frustration. You must. In the aftermath of a haphazard land redistribution program during the late 1990s, the Zimbabwean economy tanked to record inflation levels and has struggled to recover since. Figures have it that 84% of the population is either unemployed or works in the informal sector. The economy was decimated even further as government corruption rose to unprecedented levels and, in response to the unfavorable politics, Western governments imposed severe sanctions on the country. To make matters worse, the disastrous policy changes were draped in front of the HIV/AIDS scourge that, at its peak, plagued one in every four Zimbabweans and had reduced the average life expectancy to 27 years. Needless to emphasize, the country has had a torrid introduction to the 21st century. The fact that it takes the plight of a lion to bring Zimbabwe into international consciousness disheartening.
That said, it is the rightful place for Zimbabweans, and others who hold the plight of Africa and her people at heart, to be furious at the killing of Cecil: not because of our larger-than-life penchant for our fallen feline friend- but for the fact that his killing provides an insight into all the societal issues that are plaguing the country.
All of them? All of them.
That the dentist could come into the continent and have his way with something that meant so much- and at the very least, belonged to- the Zimbabwean people is indicative of the age-old imperial mentality with which the West has always treated the continent. From first contact, through slaver, ‘the Scramble for Africa’, colonialism, proxy wars, and neo-colonialism, Africa has remained a hunting ground in a Eurocentric, capitalist world order. We cannot view the death of Cecil as anything other than the perpetuation of the sense of entitlement that the colonial West has over the things of Africa. (sn, the dentist actually paid folks to lure the lion out, then had him shot with a crossbow before pursuing him for 40 hours and then shooting him. I’m no hunter, but the cowardice and trickery apparent in this case are the hallmarks of colonial practice!)
Heightened poverty levels historically leave people desperate and thus more prone to corrupt practices. So when the dentist paid a professional hunter $50 000 to enable him to kill the lion, the moral compass of those involved on the Zimbabwean side was shaken: $50 000 is a lot of money! The overwhelming culture of corruption across all sectors in Zimbabwe, which in itself is a direct result of the poverty, led to Cecil’s demise.
Neither the professional hunter paid to lure and wound the lion, nor the landowner, had a professional license for the lion. Only in instances of weak regulation, a defining characteristic of poor governance, would you have a foreigner coming in and paying $50 000 to unlicensed people to kill a renowned lion equipped with a tracking device! If, in his circles, Cecil was the big deal that he was, how was that order of command easy to circumvent? The death of Cecil is an indictment of inefficient, unreliable institutions.
No society that ever grew to be established and successful did so without elevating things of symbolic value to them. The Union Jack and “God Save the Queen’ were mainstays of the British Empire; the Christian cross traveled the world as the religion did; and the Pyramids speak of a majestic Egyptian past. The identity of the US has been shaped in large part by Hollywood, and Western Europe and South America duke it out for supremacy on the football field. Much like Cecil, a subjective eye may argue that films and kicking a ball around are trivial distractions from what the common man is going through- but they are not. These national symbols are the soul of our communities upon which their continued existence
Many of my fellows argue, “Well, why should we care? I never heard of this lion before he died…” I too, as an attentive Zimbabwean living in the USA, had never heard of Cecil. But how much does that matter? When King Lobengula of Zimbabwe signed off on the Rudd Concession, the agreement that essentially gave the country over to the British Empire, did he have a full comprehension of all he was giving up? When Sara Baartman was taken away to Europe into dehumanizing sexual slavery, was she a celebrity? When clandestine neo-colonial deals take place that leave the resource-rich continent at the mercy of external entities, do we always know about it? No, but that does not give imperial mindsets the right to molest, steal, and kill the African birthright.
Winston Churchill’s advisors famously proposed to him that they cut funding for the arts to fund the war effort, to which he replied,
‘then what are we fighting for?’
The same question stands today in the instance of Cecil, and other things relegated to trivia in the face of hardships. If, in the moment of suffering, we disregard entirely our environment and symbols of our humanity and nationalism, we are doomed. The renaissance of Zimbabwe lies in a vicious pride that fights for Cecil as it fights for a good harvest; fights for the national football team as it fights against government corruption; fights for the continued existence of Shona literature as it fights to educate people on HIV/AIDS prevention.
Let us be furious. It is not enough for us to cast Cecil aside as a trivial concern: he is the story of everything the country needs to be proud of, and his death is summation of everything that is askew in our beloved country.