And there he was; Sir David Attenborough, arguably the greatest broadcaster and naturalist of our time, in the same room as I was this past Tuesday afternoon at the Rwanda High Commission in London.
Here he was discussing conservation and wildlife efforts in Rwanda ahead of the annual event of naming gorillas, fondly known as Kwita Izina.
At the invitation of Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sir David, arguably the world’s leading natural history documentarian and presenter, described Rwanda’s conservation and wildlife efforts in a manner so simple and yet colossal: “a marvelous example in the world.”
Such a précis from a man who has seen it all shouldn’t be taken lightly. Over the last decade or so, Rwanda has invested greatly, both financially and mindset-wise, to conserve our ecosystem.
Under the tutelage of Rwanda Development Board, all conservation and wildlife efforts appear to share a similar objective: maintain, enhance, and sustain the ecological integrity, health, and productivity of Rwanda’s ecosystems.
And the results of such efforts are visible, particularly in the country’s leading national parks; Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park, and Akagera National park.
Likewise, having interacted that Tuesday evening with several key figures in the world of conservation and wildlife, it was clear that many regarded Rwanda as East and Central Africa’s trendsetter in conservation and wildlife efforts.
And there is evidence to back up that claim. Contrary to fears harboured by conservation and wildlife experts, including Sir David, on the potential decline in gorilla numbers in the region, especially due to habitat loss, poaching, regional conflicts, oil and gas exploration, and diseases, Rwanda has given hope to the world by successfully circumventing such hindrances and posting improvements instead. Today, there are approximately 600 mountain gorillas in Rwanda compared to 254 in 1981.
Is this a remarkable accomplishment? Absolutely, especially when you consider that mountain gorillas are now categorised as critically endangered species, owing to decades of persecution and dissipation of their habitats by humankind.
In total, it is estimated that there are only 900 of mountain gorillas left in the world.
The success Rwanda has registered vis-à-vis conserving wildlife, particularly mountain gorillas, in many ways ensures that nature will be available for future generations – Rwandans and non-Rwandans – to enjoy and know the importance of wildlife to humanity.
The efforts to conserve nature drill in us the approach to understand absolutely that in order to benefit from nature either financially or ecologically, we must first understand nature’s importance to humanity’s survival.
Thankfully, in Rwanda we understand this link, which helps to explain the continued efforts to nurture and preserve nature.
And speaking of preserving nature, there is something else we cannot afford to be complacent about: our pursuit of economic development. The pursuit is without end.
At the same event, I met Henry Bonsu, a Manchester-born Ghanaian broadcaster and international conference host, who is a well-known television personality and knows a thing or two about the narrative of ‘Africa Rising’.
As Henry and I shared a few stories on what is happening on the African continent, I felt it was a good a time to ask something I have always wondered about Ghana.
You see, I have always wondered why some African countries such as Ghana, Zimbabwe, and a handful of others appear to have hit a glass ceiling in their efforts to develop.
Don’t get me wrong, I realise that by a distance, Ghana for instance, is a model for many countries on how a country can achieve both governance and economic maturity. Ghana is now considered as a middle-income country, albeit at the lower end of the spectrum.
However, personally, given what they were capable of, I have always thought that these countries could have done much better than what they have managed to achieve.
I always thought that given the peace and political stability of these countries, a middle-income status at the lowest end of the chain isn’t satisfactory. So, I asked Henry, why has Ghana appeared to stagnate, did they give it their all?
Complacency, replied Henry. From Henry’s point of view, the reason why Ghana hasn’t achieved its full potential is all down to complacency – the belief that ‘we made it’ and yet, all they did was achieve the basics.
Henry pointed to the frequent power cuts in Ghana and asked “how can you declare that we made it when it is a common occurrence that when one town or city has electricity the others are in darkness?”
Henry also added that the problem of complacency isn’t unique to Ghana but widespread in other African nations, nations that appeared as the beacon of Africa three or four decades ago. In some of these countries, leaders are now telling their starving citizens to eat rats and grasshoppers.
Almost immediately, my thoughts turned to Rwanda. After all that has been achieved, how can we ensure that as a promising nation of go-getters we never become complacent the same way and fail to reach our full potential?
Stay hungry. We must remain ever hungry for more success because we cannot at any given point accept that just because we have achieved this or that, that’s the end of it. We should always view every success as a mere first step of a hundred more steps.
To sum up, we have to consolidate the gains of the past, and at the same time, understand that these can only be preserved by achieving even greater things.
When we approach development that way, the approach will help us take effective measures to speed up delivery of key projects to enable weaker areas to level up and benefit all sections of our society.
Such a mind-set can go a long way in helping us to avoid pitfalls our fellow African brothers and sisters have fallen into. As go-getters and dream chasers, complacency should be off the table.
The thing to always remember is that whenever an achievement is registered, there is always scope for more. After all, the golden rule is that each generation should be better off than their parents. If our children and grandchildren aren’t better off than we are, then we will simply have failed them.
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