As a Zimbabwean recently forced to leave my home country and work in South Africa as a houseboy, with little to nothing to hope for in life, I wished that some day, Zimbabwe's strife might be thrust into the world's attention. For years, especially since the rigged and violent 2008 presidential elections, it has seemed that the world has forgotten that Zimbabwe is still under the control of a homicidal regime, in the form of dictator Robert Mugabe. Influential world leaders have gone silent on the issue, while we continue to experience new forms of misery every single day spent under the Zimbabwean sun.
Then, this past week, for the first time in decades, Zimbabwe was all over the news after American Dr. Walter Palmer went trophy hunting in one of our game parks and left with a lion's head. Palmer's killing of Cecil was a heartless act, and I personally find killing wildlife for anything other than for food senseless and disgusting.
But I also found the massive outpouring of anger in the United States and Europe bewildering, and frankly, a saddening classic case of misplaced priorities. In the United States, where a counter-narrative did emerge, people asked why there was no similar outrage for the killings of black Americans. But, I must ask, amongst this whole story, where is the outrage for the plight of everyday Zimbabweans?
We love our wildlife in Zimbabwe -- they are part of our heritage and history. The connection is deep -- every Zimbabwean has a totem that that connects them to a particular animal. My own clan name is Nyoni, a Shona name for a legendary bird. This animal name invokes my ancestral connections in my family.
I have a neighbor, whom I affectionately greet in the morning by his clan name Nzou, a Shona name for elephant. Thomas Mapfumo, a popular traditional Zimbabwean musician, is known by his totem name of Mukanya, or baboon. Many in Zimbabwe revere the lion, known by its Shona name: Shumba.
Our connection, respect and deep-rooted reverence of wild animals is well-established, and goes back centuries before the colonial era. We, of all people, understand how angry people are with Palmer and his actions. One of our own was killed by someone from the West.
But the mob rule outrage and massive online campaign response to Cecil's death feels like an overreaction, especially considering the fact that the lion died in a country whose economic and political realities has contributed to thousands of human deaths and destroyed the dreams of a generation.
Though condemnation of the killing is warranted, it is the amount of coverage and outrage in the media that has left Zimbabweans puzzled. Isn't it incredibly sad that the most covered story from Zimbabwe in the last decade has been about the death of a lion?
In case our angry and saddened Cecil-sympathizing friends in the West have forgotten, Zimbabwe is the country that is governed by the octogenarian maniac known as Robert Mugabe, who has spent the last 35 years rigging elections and plowing Zimbabwe's economy into the ground. Cecil the Lion lived in a country home to some of the poorest people in Africa, and who literally live by the grace of God each and every day.
Cecil the Lion lived in a country that recently lost its currency to world-record inflation, and now suffers from the effects of dollarization, which has brought New York City-level prices with it. Cecil the Lion lived in a country where three-quarters of the population lives on less than one dollar per day.
Is the plight of Zimbabweans so unimportant that when the country makes headlines, it is about a lion being trophy-hunted by an American dentist? Is Cecil's life is more precious than that of the 90 percent of Zimbabweans who are currently unemployed? Is Cecil's life more important than that of over 25 percent of Zimbabwean children who die of malnutrition every year?
The moment that Cecil's death broke, the Internet went into overdrive shaming Walter Palmer, and rightfully so. On social media, I saw pictures of protestors, young and old, at Dr. Palmer's offices. How many of these idealistic protestors know that Zimbabweans have daily problems getting enough food or receiving adequate health care? How many of the celebrities who tweeted their solidarity with Cecil would care that I was forced to flee my native land for South Africa, like almost two million of my compatriots in the last five years, because I could not find adequate work, despite my college education? How many of them, if they knew, would care to publicize my situation with as much passion as they did for Cecil?
I used to wish that the world would finally wake up to the tragedy of Zimbabwe. This past week, they did. But it was about a lion, not about its people. I wonder what would happen if the attention catalyzed by Cecil was directed toward the repressive policies of the Mugabe regime?
I wonder what would happen if all the celebrities who wrote about Palmer brought light to the strife of everyday Zimbabweans? Last week, Ricky Martin tweeted out "Justice for Cecil the Lion NOW" to his 12 million Twitter followers. If he called for justice for the millions of Zimbabweans forced to flee the homes into xenophobic neighboring countries, would that be good as well?