Over the last decade, Zimbabwe’s international reputation in the global media has been largely coloured by its politics.
Now however, the southern African country is in the global news for a surprisingly different reason. The story of the illegal hunting and killing of Cecil the Lion, has sent shock waves across global media platforms.
As it turns out, and unbeknownst to many Zimbabweans, Cecil the Lion was well-known within his reserve for his black mane and as a subject in an Oxford University study.
He was killed by American dentist and trophy hunter, Walter Palmer, who has issued what can only be described as a now infamous apology for the act.
The vociferous global anger in response to this incident has brought the important issue of trophy hunting in Africa to the forefront.
From the Zimbabwean perspective, the general public is surprised by the story of Cecil the Lion. Very few Zimbabweans knew about him, but many are aware of the lucrative business of safaris and attendant trophy hunting concessions.
Lucrative but murky sector
Over the years, this public knowledge of trophy hunting has been spurred on by Zimbabwe’s controversial fast-track land reform programme – proprietors of safaris and game reserves have clashed with government officials over the lucrative but somewhat murky sector.
Further allegations of the government selling at least 20 young elephants to China on the cheap from the Hwange National Park, have only served to heighten public suspicions of the evident lack of transparency in the wildlife and safari businesses dotted around the country.
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While the rest of the world contends with the sad loss of Cecil the Lion, Zimbabweans have to deal with the harsh economic realities that they find themselves in on a daily basis.
These include continuing high unemployment, eviction of informal traders from the central business districts, and endemic rural and urban poverty.
However, this does not make the issue of accountability and transparency in Zimbabwe’s safari hunting business any less important.
There have been numerous accounts of poaching in the country’s national parks.
These cases of poaching have generally been low profile and perpetrated by definitely poorer poachers from the national parks’ neighbouring communal lands.
But, for the most part, its been rare to hear accounts of the rich and well-connected getting caught up in poaching activities. At least until Cecil’s tragic end.
What has astounded some Zimbabweans is the fact that this particular lion has become a global sensation – far beyond the other issues affecting their country, for which they would like the international community to demonstrate solidarity.
While there is a general consensus that killing a wild animal illegally is wrong and that perpetrators must be brought to justice, there are other issues that Zimbabweans hope would grab the world’s attention just as powerfully as Cecil has.
These range from the need for increased assistance to alleviate the country’s ongoing economic crisis to issues relating to human rights and good, responsible governance; for example, an issue like the case of missing Zimbabwean activist Itai Dzamara.
Cecil’s death provides the people of Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, the opportunity to lay claim to the responsibility to protect their land, wildlife, cultural heritage, and environment.
Social media conversations have disputed the domestic popularity of Cecil and pointed out the somewhat problematic global reaction to his death – but all in good humour.
Cecil the Lion and Cecil the Colonial
The local state controlled media has sought to juxtapose the lion’s name with that of the pioneer of the country’s colonisation, Cecil John Rhodes, and has made inferences that perhaps that is the reason why the incident has become a globally debated issue.
The more unpalatable truth for Zimbabweans is that the world often views them through a “Lion King” lens, and not from a political perspective.
As with most sub-Saharan African countries, the global image of Zimbabwe will always include narratives about our wildlife and geographical environment.
This is not a bad thing in itself because these natural resources are important to many African economies, and are cherished as a part of the African identity.
That being said, how these creatures and landscapes are managed by both governmental and private tourist industries must be the subject of a much more rigorous debate.
Zimbabweans might not get the opportunity to partake in such a debate given the lack of transparency that shrouds trophy hunting and wildlife conservancies, along with other governmental processes and institutions – but Cecil’s case may be a perfect excuse to pull back the curtain.
Opening the door for Zimbabweans
Perhaps it will even open the door to Zimbabweans’ ability to confront other issues important to their lives, such as the desperately struggling national economy and the ongoing and oppressive succession politics in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.
Cecil’s death also provides the people of Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, the opportunity to lay claim to the responsibility to protect their land, wildlife, cultural heritage, and environment – particularly within the context of the challenge of continued extermination of native species, decimation of historic lands, pillaging of its abundant natural resources by outside forces, and the general destruction of the environment through climate change.
While Zimbabweans may remain surprised at the global attention given to this crime committed in one of their national parks, they would do well to advise the rest of the continent, and the world at large, that this incident should be used to draw as much attention as possible to the many other struggles and challenges faced by the African people and the continent.
Takura Zhangazha is an independent blogger based in Zimbabwe.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.