The gorilla, ecosystem and nature lessons on interdependence

There are comments that you hear in passing that stick with you. A colleague once observed that in Africa, we have this peculiar problem of everyone trying to have their own show. Most of us would rather start from scratch and set up their own outfits rather than seek opportunities to cooperate and share resources even when it is clearly the optimal and effective option. Economics calls it comparative advantage principle.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

There are comments that you hear in passing that stick with you. A colleague once observed that in Africa, we have this peculiar problem of everyone trying to have their own show. Most of us would rather start from scratch and set up their own outfits rather than seek opportunities to cooperate and share resources even when it is clearly the optimal and effective option. Economics calls it comparative advantage principle.

Could the ‘I, me and myself’ attitude be because we are fairly new countries with states that are seeking their place under the sun? Just like when a child learns to walk they will be all over and nowhere in particular? That we have a lot to prove (especially inwardly to) justify our very independence. In itself, independence is good, but it is only a beginning.

Remember the term ‘ecosystem’ that you were taught in school?  Basically, the ecosystem is defined as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. It is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system.

But this is not about biology; let’s get on to more interesting things, the big picture.

When you go to Musanze, the interdependence that is in a business ecosystem between man (and indeed the Rwanda as a country) and mountain gorillas plays out interestingly.

F.J Moore coined the term ‘business ecosystem and defined it as   “an economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organisations and individuals—the organisms of the business world. The economic community produces goods and services of value to customers, who are themselves members of the ecosystem. The member organisms also include suppliers, lead producers, competitors, and other stakeholders...”

Back to Musanze: of the mountain gorillas cousins (we share 98% DNA), it is only us who are not extinct. The Bonobos, Orang Utangs and the western gorillas are all endangered species. Unfortunately, this extinction is due human activities: a case of cousins killing cousins, sometimes directly. Luckily for the mountain gorilla of the Virunga massif, this trend was reversed in the late 70’s. This is primarily attributable to the activities of legendary conservationist, Dian Fossey, who the locals still call Nyiramacibiri the organization she founded the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI). The population that had shrunk to 250 is now at just over 480…and growing.

In so saving the gorillas, and with the Rwandan government creating an enabling environment for tourism- security, progressive economic environment, good tourism marketing, the gorillas have contributed immensely to putting Rwanda on the tourism map and earned the country valuable foreign exchange (about 180 billion francs). In ecosystem they call it symbiotic relations- the gorillas are our business partners.

We need to be aware of our business ecosystem and participate therein effectively. This is one the key reasons the business sector sets up associations, chambers and federations like the Private Sector Federation (PSF). It is also the reason our countries formed the East African Community (EAC).

Unfortunately, for the most part, our outfits tend to be, at best, more structural than organic. Members are not actively interacting with members and the outer world. This should change. There is a lot to be gained.

For example, when we organized a workshop in Musanze for DFGFI we invited among others Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) and the Private sector Federation (PSF). It turned out that KIST has a lab that DFGFI can use for research. In fact they have always had it and DFGFI not knowing this has been sending samples to Germany.

PSF has always needed maps of the Virunga Massif which DFGFI has but never got them because ignorance stood in the way. Likewise PSF has detailed data on tourists which both RDB and DFGFI could use.

All this and more came out during a three hour workshop…how much more could come out it the interaction was continuous.

This interdependence is what is embodied in this year’s commemoration theme ‘striving towards self reliance’. Self reliance does not mean not working alone. Rather it means, in the words of Kenya’s new President, Uhuru Kenyatta. ‘…relations based on mutual respect and reciprocity’. This is different from the begging arrangements that we call development cooperation that comes with strings attached.

It begins with you and me. Flow with nature. Independence is good, but power is in interdependence.

 

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