“Africa is still lying ready for us. It is our duty to take it. It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes: that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race: more of the best the most human, most honorable race the world possesses.”
When Southern Africans think of the name "Cecil", images of white supremacy and fervent imperialism are hearkened in the memory's eye. One thinks of stories of old, solemnly discussed in our history classes, yet controversially celebrated; a legacy preserved. Of course, I am talking about Cecil John Rhodes, colonialist extraordinaire.
However, for the past two weeks, the world has been introduced to another Cecil; a lion, hunted and killed in Zimbabwe by an American and two Zimbabwean hunters. This Cecil has incited outrage and even tears, spurring a barrage of trending topics and hashtags, tweets, memes, and "think pieces"; invoking "breaking news" segments when there was a new development, with expert panels educating us about this Cecil's standing in its pride, the number of mates it had and its cub children.
It has taken me some time to write what I think about this whole affair because I was still in a "WTF!" frame of mind every time I saw/read yet another article about it. I needed to gather my thoughts and really think about why it left me feeling unsettled. I still don't think I can quite communicate it, but I'll try.
The outpouring of emotion that resulted from this Cecil's death was mostly confusing to me. This confusion turned to wonder, which became unease and eventually, anger.
Confusion at the enormity of the story and its global reach: WHAT IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT?
Wonder at the longevity of the story: HOW AND WHY ARE PEOPLE SO GRAVITATED TO THIS STORY? I mean, this isn't the first animal to be poached, and sadly, is unlikely to be the last.
Unease at the fact that once again, it is a stereotypical African narratives that made its way to mainstream media: THE AFRICAN CONTINENT ISN'T THIS JUNGLE HAVEN FOR ONLY WILD ANIMALS, DISEASE AND POOR PEOPLE.
And anger, due to many factors: 1. WHY IS HUNTING EVEN A "SPORT"? 2. WHY IS THE MEDIA FOCUSING ON THE LION'S LINEAGE, INSTEAD OF BRINGING MORE LIGHT TO THE ZIMBABWEAN CONSERVATION TASK FORCE AND OTHER CONSERVATION ISSUES? 3. WHY DO SOME WESTERNERS THINK THEY CAN COME ON OUR LANDS AND BREAK LAWS WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE? This lion is only one of many animals to be poached so brutally, and by a foreigner.
According to many reports, this Cecil is allegedly some sort of symbol of Zimbabwe and "Africa's most famous lion", but as a Zimbabwean by proxy, I can tell you that most Zimbabweans were not aware of its existence. The irony of the lion's name was not lost on many of us, prompting some to discuss the persisting reverence of Rhodes. Did I overthink it? Maybe.
Many Zimbabweans, and other Africans alike, were quick to denounce the compassion displayed towards the lion, and not for the African peoples and our many issues. I say, why do we need the West to show compassion for us? The West can't "save" us, but they do have more power than they should over our own narratives; narratives that even permeate our own psyches. Eg. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) is using limited monies to create a memorial statue for this Cecil. Below is a quote taken from the organization's Facebook page.
"We are in the process of having a large life size statue replica made of the beautiful Cecil to be erected at the entrance to the Hwange National Parks. We have asked the very talented John Binda of Birds for Africa to make the iconic statue for us. We will know of the costs in due course...this will be an excellent reminder to all who visit the park of where Cecil the Lion used to live..."
You see why I was in a state of "WTF!" Is this necessary? I mean, will this investment lead to increased tourism? Will all those people mourning the lion make that long trip to Zimbabwe to pay their respects to this precious life lost?
Anyway, back to singular narratives, I also hate the overwhelming attention given to poverty. Of course I prefer the positive attention, but I do have to contend with the fact that our states do have some real issues to fix. How about when foreign media discusses the bad, they also add a spin about the good that occurs far more frequently eg. entrepreneurial African millennials making positive contributions, making their mark in their communities and in the world, despite bad governance and limited opportunities for growth. The day I will not have a big issue with Africa's media portrayal is the day our own media houses gain the leverage to showcase our true stories impactfully with global reach. Slowly, but surely!
Another gripe I have is that, in general, people have become so numb to human suffering that the shock of it does not bother us as much anymore. We have become so accustomed to hearing about armed robberies, mass shootings, terrorist kidnappings and bombings, that when there's human affliction, we relegate our feelings to, "Oh, that's typical of that region of the world" and don't stop to really examine how it can be avoided in the future. Perhaps it is some type of coping mechanism [avoidance]. On the other hand, animals seem to hold a bigger space in our skeptical hearts, with the launch of online petitions and celebrity campaigns when animal "rights" are violated. Wow.
This topsy-turvy world gets crazier by the day.