Hippos and cheetahs
Honourable Folks, George Ayittey, a Ghanaian professor of economics and author of Africa Unchained, holds no punches in his prognosis of what’s holding back Africa’s progress.
Like many of his admirers, I find what he describes as hippo and cheetah generations quite interesting.
In summary, the hippo generation is that of the older Africans—they could be politicians, civil society leaders, managers in the public or private sector or even well-read university professors—who have a colonial template for solutions to our current problems.
Such people tend to blame others, especially colonialists, for the problems rocking Africa today. They are also opportunists who tend to tolerate the status quo as long as it allows them to bask in the sun of their comfort zones.
The cheetah generation, on the other hand, is generally made of younger Africans—they could be entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, politicians or university professors—who have a post-colonial template for solutions to Africa’s current problems.
They see problems rocking Africa today as challenges for them to tackle head-on with the aim of turning them into opportunities. They do not waste time on the blame game and use whatever resources available to bring positive change. They do not sit and wait for the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or any donor to come in and solve problems for them.
They also have zero tolerance for corruption, violation of human rights and bad governance.
Allow me to modify Ayittey’s cheetah and hippo generations models a bit. First, I suggest we leave aside the generation aspect since opportunists and those who look for opportunities in the challenges of their time can be found within and across generations.
Second, let’s complicate things slightly by acknowledging that in life, we would probably struggle to find pure cheetahs without some attributes of hippos and vice versa.
With these modifications, we are able to see the cheetah in Nelson Mandela who, though belonging to the old generation and denying being a saint, is undeniably a transformational leader who laid the foundation for a South Africa where age-old apartheid is being replaced by the equality of members of the human race.
Indeed, Mandela belongs to a rare species of African political cheetahs who voluntarily step down from the pedestal of power when others such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe can kill and maim for it. He served South Africa—the biggest economy on the continent—for only one term and left while his popularity was at its peak.
The modified model also helps us see hippos in UDF young democrats and DPP cadets who, though belonging to the young generation, were brainwashed to derive a sense of pride and patriotism by defending corruption, dictatorial tendencies and mediocrity.
They patronised their master’s rallies, singing and dancing to empty songs of praise and inflicted pain, if not worse, on whoever dared challenge the status quo.
Because of hippos, Malawi which has never really experienced civil strife or gone to war with any of its neighbours since attaining independence in 1964, remains dependent on tobacco exports despite the anti-smoking campaign that has gone global and bigger with time!
We heavily depended on donor aid in 1964 and we still can’t do without it today.
Illiteracy, abject poverty and maternal and child mortality rates remain among the highest, even by African standards, despite that the war against poverty, hunger and disease started with first president Kamuzu Banda and remains a priority, enjoying the lion’s share of our budgetary allocations.
Although much of Malawi is arable land and has fresh water from Lake Malawi (not Nyasa) and Shire River running along its entire length from Karonga to Nsanje, we still starve when there is a shortage of rainfall and productivity per hectare is extremely low and dwindling further with time.
More and more of our rivers are drying up as people comb down trees and vegetation along the river banks like army worms. While our multiparty leaders brag about accomplishing whatever they promise in their manifestos, the reality on the ground is that we remain among the least developed countries based on UNDP’s Human Development Report and that we are worse off today than we were 20 years ago.
For us to move forward and develop our country, we need to nurture the cheetah in each one of us. We also need to elect leaders with cheetah attributes. If you think this is easy, PP has just elected into its executive committee opportunists who were in the forefront persecuting the opposition, media and civil society organisations when they were in DPP four months ago!
Some of these hippos actually spent a lot of money buying favours just to cling to power so they could use it to amass more ill-gotten wealth.
Hippos are opportunists whereas cheetahs strive to convert challenges into opportunities.