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Why our budding economy is inspired by animals...

By XN Iraki | Published Tue, April 18th 2017 at 09:55, Updated April 18th 2017 at 09:59 GMT +3

In the last 100 years, the habitat for wild animals has shrunk significantly. In the past, the animals roamed wild and free to quote Kenyan musician, Roger Whitaker. We also lived in peace with them, we knew our place, and they knew their place. That was close to how it was on creation day.

That changed, thanks to rapid population growth aided by advances in medicine and basic hygiene. When you talk to your grandparents, they have memories of high mortality rates, often attributed to bad omen, witchcraft and other dark forces. But talk to those in their 50s and above, chances they came from big families with sometimes over 10 children.

We can’t also rule out our greed and failure to appreciate that animals and vegetations have as much right to this planet as us. Short-termism; failure to think beyond one generation lead to destruction of animals habitats that include water towers.

In the race for space, wild animals lose. Lots of their former habits became farmland. Without industrialization, which has contributed about 10 per cent of the GDP consistently in the last 50 years, farm became the refuge for most people; it still is despite all the hype on urbanization.

Running across Kenyan communities and beyond, are stories or folklores about animals. Some like the lion is depicted as strong. The hyena is stupid and greedy while the hare is cunning. In the folklores, some animals get more publicity than others.

Surprisingly despite shrinking habitat and competition from modernism, we still admire and get inspired by animals, particularly the wild. The hare and lion and hyenas now compete with superman, batman and Tom and Jerry for the attention of our kids. Most think that before long all the folklores will be sadly forgotten.

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Look at the logos of the newly constituted counties after 2010 constitution; wild animals dominate. Wajir logo has a camel and a giraffe. Laikipia has a Rhino and Elephant. Mombasa has sea horse. Kitui has giraffe. Machakos has a cow. Baringo has ostrich. Check the rest...

Even a superpower like USA has the eagle on its coat of arms.UK has a lion and horse. We have a lion and a cock, a jogoo on our coat of arms. The inspiration by animals at national and local levels probably derives from our folklores and the acceptance that animals are better than us in certain ways.

Common feature

Our admiration for animals has been taken to another level. How do you explain the present of full size “animal” carvings at Statehouse, petrol stations and some buildings? One building on Kenyatta Avenue has a full-size giraffe inside.

Animal carvings are also common in our homes and also among the curio dealers. Could our admiration for animals be a subconscious reaction to their threat by extinction?
It goes farther we love using animal names in our business and symbols in elections. Simba, Ndovu, Kifaru, Twiga, Chui are very popular.

The small animals are discriminated. Ever come across a business name like panya, siafu, and mosquito (though Britons had a Bomber by that name WWII).

In adverts big animals get disproportionate airtime. Just like in our society, it is hard for the small animals. In movies and documentaries big animals are popular. Interestingly, small animals like the mouse are popular with kids. Do you watch cartoons?

Jog your memory. Do you recall your English lessons? We had as strong as a lion not superman and as cunning as a fox not a conman. Animals again...

Our admiration for animals is even reflected in some of our names! Many Kenyans and other nationalities are named after animals. Njogu (elephant), Mbogo (buffalo), Nyang’au (hyena). Belio (elephant), Nzoka (snake), Mbiti (Hyena), Nzau (cow), Kalondu (sheep). Add your community names here....
There could be another reason why we admire of animals; they reflect our society, with its inequality, its violence, death, renewal, and subjugation by nature and its forces.

Economists need to start borrowing more from nature, beyond behavioural economics in their modelling. If we spent more time studying animals, we could understand economics better, the same way biologists use guinea pigs to understand the human body. Which animal behaviour mimic stock exchange? What about addiction? What of value addition? Doesn’t the hunting pride reflect team work (or synergy) at its best? How about deciding when to compete and when to cooperate-like hyenas and lions do.

The connection
Our admiration of wild animals cuts across classes, races, and nations. That seems to suggest that after all, we are all humans.

Advances in technology do not seem to attenuate our connection to nature from forests to water and the animals therein. Maybe John Maynard Keynes was after all right when he talked of “animal instincts” when referring to our emotions.

Finally a bonus on non-animal names. Noted how Christian names in Kenya are localized: Frida and Ephantus from Mt Kenya. Pamela and Wycliffe from Western Kenya. Truphena and Duke from South Western Kenya. Cleophus from Machakos region. Gaudentia from Taita area, Tecla and Sharon from North Rift. Let me stop. NCIC should not read this...