Did you know that hyenas have intelligent hunting skills? "They surround a toothless old hyena at the edge of the thorny hedged cattle kraal and bite it so hard, that the only escape is to push through the sharp thorns. Once an opening is created; an army of fierce hyenas will go into a meat grabbing spree," narrates Songol; a lady residing in Baringo district of Kenya's Rift Valley. Mostly associated with cowardice, hyenas will bite off cows' udders and goats' bowels before they even seek to kill their prey. Hyenas also scavenge for food from graves and feed on the left overs by lions and cheetahs.
Now, something happened in Africa. Our old kingdoms and chiefdoms were hunted down in the late 18th century to produce modern states. On their departure, the hunters (colonialists) left a big carcass that we literally refer to as governments. Employing the hyena strategy and armed with axes and machetes, African elites have been fighting over the carcass the mzungu hunter left for over 45 years now. No time has been spent by Africans to sharpen hunting tools and move deep into the forest to get their own animals. They have all taken up the hyena instinct of scavenging what the colonialist left behind.
Reports from United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to the effect that corruption absorbs up to 30 per cent of most African countries' Gross Domestic Product, and that the continent looses $148 billion a year must serve as a wake up call to our "hyena culture." So fixated are we in looting and collaborating with those who plunder Africa that instead of pushing for productivity and cut down on lavish expenditure on political elites; we simply play hyena games on peoples' earnings. Taxes are increased not to offer services to Africans but simply to feed the carcass chopping frenzy.
A young breed of hyenas is springing up and learning the art of circling old ones for another meat grabbing spree! The crime rate has soared as unemployed youth seek relevance in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. The outlook is not promising when one considers the fact that Africa's youth are sinking deeper in alcohol consumption. According to The Sunday Nation (April 5 2009), an estimated 70 per cent of young Kenyans under the age of 29 are abusing alcohol. That is a threat to energy and minds needed to join the productivity sector. It has become common practice to meet young people in bus parks, and public places demanding for ashara or kinde (10 shillings) to enable them submerge their frustrations in alcohol.
As political elites fight for spoils in government, mineral concession contracts and land leases, they neglect the need to build Africa focused institutions that ought to nurture more game for hunters. According to the African Commission, close to two thirds of the African population are aged below 25 years. The figure is projected to hit slightly over 650 million by 2015. Imagine 650 million hunters unleashed to the African forest that is continuously being plundered and destroyed by political elites feeding on 54 carcasses! If the young men who beg for kinde got hold of a loaded AK-47 and a machete; what will be the result? To add fuel onto the fire; companies are being taxed to help run expensive government programs, forcing them to lay off another team of professionals into the unemployed sector. The mix is a time bomb!
Faced with financial crisis and economic slowdown, countries that command 85% of the global economic output assembled in London last week to come up with strategies to safeguard their interests. Should Africans, the African Union, and African countries continue with business as usual under the circumstances? To paraphrase the United States of America President, Barack Obama, the threat facing Africa offers a great opportunity for people to offer leadership.
Time is up for Africa to refer to those who simply bring home meat from a carcass that other people hunted as leaders. Africa cries for institution building that will reframe our minds to reclaim the youth's place as an asset in society rather than a threat. Institutions would make it easier, say, for Africa to develop a sound alcohol policy and avert the threat posed by substance abuse on the continent. Too much focus on external assistance has destroyed local investors by driving the majority to informality and forcing our mind to neglect our abilities to harness nature to our advantage.
If Africa does not take quick steps; the continent will be faced with two types of future leaders: those who watch too much TV soap operas and movies becoming celebrity political leaders; and those hooked on demanding kinde becoming the voters. The kinde and celebrity leadership will provide a perfect avenue for the continent to be sold in exchange for exotic whisky, mirrors and guns. In such a scenario, an external hyena need not use an old guard to gain entry; it can simply walk in and grab yummy meat! Let us get rid of the hyena culture and save mama Africa.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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