Cecil: Another Example of the Ongoing Exploitation of Africa

As an American born and partially raised in Africa, and as a person who strongly believes in the inalienable rights of non-human animals to live their lives without being molested by humans, I am left with a sense of outrage following the tragic and senseless killing of Cecil, the lion. Although my desire to write this article stems in part from a visceral need to express these sentiments, I also believe that this incident has raised at least two important issues in desperate need of discussion by those of us who care deeply about the African continent and by those who chart the socio-economic and political course of the continent as well as the world public.

The exploitation of Africa by foreigners has been going on for centuries and it still continues in various forms to this date. The continent’s mineral resources are looted on a daily basis, its land misappropriated by corporations and rich countries. Until about one hundred and fifty years ago its people were treated as Untermenschen (subhumans) and transported to the Americas to work as slaves. None of these facts come as a surprise. None of these are unknown to the average person who knows anything at all about Africa’s history. Nevertheless, most people who know about Africa and people across the globe who care about Africa have remained unaware or ambivalent about the ongoing rape of Africa that comes in the form of the exploitation of her precious natural resources as well as her non-humans — animals. Africa’s savannahs have long served as the playground of rich westerners who come to murder her majestic wild cats and other animals for sport. They remain the hunting ground for poachers who kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks that are sold to people in Asia for various reasons, including the manufacture of luxury items.

African governments cannot stop illegal poaching and instead permit the hunting of wild animals on public property and also on private property, which are often utilized for canned hunting. This speaks volumes about how money, greed and corruption, combined with the persistent perception of Africa as a backward, poor, helpless and hapless continent, allows Europeans, North Americans and Asians to continue the merciless exploitation of her lands, non-human animals, and people. Non-Africans are not the only ones to blame. African elites and political leaders, as well as Africans educated in western countries and universities have internalized the ideology of western powers and institutions, and have willfully and without hesitation allowed – and in some cases, even participated in – the utter destruction and looting of the continent.

In the name of so-called modernization and industrialization, Africa’s wetlands, rainforests, and savannahs are being decimated. Meanwhile its wildlife, comprised of non-human animals that have just as much right to live an unmolested existence as humans, are being taken to the brink of extinction. Their habitats have in many cases been totally destroyed. Meanwhile, indigenous farmers that have tilled the land for centuries are forced off their lands to make way for rich Middle Eastern, Asian, and western interests. Corporations and foreign interests take over the lands and use them either to create farms for export of cash-crop production or to set up factory farms that not only condemn billions of farm animals to a life of intense suffering and misery, but also contributes significantly to the ongoing disaster known as global warming.

Unfortunately, African governments have bought into this idea that the only way for Africa to prosper is to follow the dictates of Western countries and its consiglieres like the IMF, WB, and the European Union. The fact that they have done so, and believe the only way to feed her people is to allow Monsanto and Cargill’s and their like to come in and destroy indigenous African farming, attests to Steven Biko’s astute observation that the greatest weapons in the hands of an oppressor is never his guns and armies, but the mind of the oppressed. Until Africa and her people realize that the only way Africa will create an environment conducive for the betterment of her people is if she abandons this mindless drive to imitate and aspire to catch up with the so-called industrialized countries, the unnecessary suffering and death of animals as well as human beings on the continent and the total destruction of the eco-system will continue. What is needed is to create a uniquely African approach to growth – one that provides a sustainable mode of development, fosters respect for biodiversity, follows the laws of ecology, protects her natural resources, and is based on a single, underlying principle that places the well-being of her people and of non-human animals above profit.

The other issue that Cecil’s death brings to the surface is a sheer unwillingness to change how non-human animals are treated by humanity around the globe. The death of this one animal, albeit a famous one, leads to such indignation, anger and sympathy by people across the world. Yet, these same people sit silently and go about their daily lives while millions of sentient, feeling farm animals are slaughtered, raped, skinned, beaten, and mauled on a daily basis, in the most brutal ways possible, for food and their skin. Concurrently, the daily sanitized killings of healthy homeless dogs and cats in western countries, and the enslavement and imprisonment of animals in so-called zoos and circuses continues, unabated, all over the world. Where is this indignation and world-wide protest against the slaughter of billions of farm animals? Where is the outrage over the extermination of elephants and rhinos and other endangered species in Africa? Who protests when religious fanatics participate in ritual killings of innocent animals? Why do we say nothing as innocent animals are blinded, made to swallow toxic products, cut open alive, and murdered for the sake of medical research? The litany of abuse and torture that humans inflict daily upon the earth’s non-human animals goes on and on, yet so many cry for justice only against a deranged, speciesist American dentist who feels entitled to go to Africa and pay to slaughter a fast-disappearing animal that has graced the savannahs for thousands of years.

The truth that we humans are directly participating, if not outright causing, what is called the 6th mass extinction and the fast destruction of our eco-system; the fact that we on the one hand can be beneficiaries of the worst and most brutal kind of cruelty imaginable against our fellow non-human animals while on the other hand we decry the abuse and killing of an innocent animal, is a testament to how schizophrenic our relationship is with the natural world.

I am sorry Cecil died. I am sorry that billions of non-human animals are killed, maimed, and abused for food, entertainment, medical research, fun, for religious reasons or for no reason at all; that the exploitation of Africa continues today in so many different forms. I am most sorry that the only thing I can do, besides choosing not to participate in animal exploitation and writing about it, is express my indignation and revulsion at the cruelty of the human species.

Anteneh Roba, M.D., is a physician in private practice in Northern Virginia. He is President and co-founder of the International Fund for Africa, (IFA) a registered International Non Governmental Organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, dedicated to helping both Human and Non-Human animals in Africa. Read other articles by Anteneh.