the chimpanzee and the politician


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THE leading story last Sunday about the death of Mika, ‘King’ of the Ngamba Island chimpanzees, and an ensuing power struggle within the chimp community came with two coincidences: first, the story was interestingly placed right under another about power struggles within the FDC and; second, I happened to be spending the weekend with chimpanzees in Kibale and had decided that all Ugandan politicians must go tracking chimpanzees as soon as possible.

The first coincidence is obvious enough without my having to risk being accused of insulting an entire political party in Uganda. The second coincidence had me tracking chimpanzees on Saturday morning for three and a half invigorating hours during which the analogy was formed solid.

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives, and bear many characteristics that are uncannily similar to those of human beings. But they are wild animals, and can be extremely violent and vicious – another similarity.

Our Wildlife Authority Ranger Guide, a friendly, well-spoken fellow called Gerald, regaled us with stories about the chimps (the one above is Magezi, the head of the community of chimps that I visited) and their peculiarities, affirming my thoughts about chimps and politics.

Chimpanzees are like bad politicians. People who track chimpanzees are like good politicians:

1. Like bad politicians, chimpanzees are hard to see unless habituated over time. Habituation meaning being forced to get used to human beings following them around, by those humans following them around, just like we do politicians. 2. They tend to climb high up into lofty trees and stay there out of reach of humans. People find themselves standing at a distance pointing at the bad politician saying, “He is there!” rather than interacting openly with them. 3. They screech rudely and shout a lot, unintelligibly to us. 4. They swing about from one position or issue to another almost aimlessly – like a chimp from branch to branch. 5. They also sit about for long periods scratching themselves, yawning and eating. 6. And on the ground, they shuffle past you with barely an acknowledgement and don’t give a care about what you might want or need.

People tracking chimpanzees, on the other hand, are what good politicians should be – and this is why I want to suggest that they all go to Kibale and Ngamba. The rules of tracking alone are a lesson that would be invaluable to them: 

1. You have to walk silently through the forest, without crashing through the bushes, otherwise you could scare them off – the way some politicians scare their voters off. 2. Also, you have to be silent so that you hear the chimps from afar and head in the right direction – obvious link. 3. You must be patient – you could walk for hours before coming across the chimps, just so in politics – perseverance is key in getting places.

Then the leaders would pick up on: 4. You have to walk single file, following one another, so there is always someone in front of you – just so in politics, because there is always someone who went before you whether you are President, King, MP or Chairman, and it’s important that you acknowledge them. 5. There is no need to overtake the person ahead since you all have the same objective, unless you are selfish – in politics, the objective is taking Uganda forward, and you should all move together towards it. 6. You have to follow the person ahead of you carefully, because when they stumble, you learn not to, and when they step surely, that’s what you do – obvious lesson. 7. The person walking ahead of you pushes branches and twigs that may whip back and lash you in the face if you are following too closely – keep a safe, sensible distance to avoid this, and don’t be a sycophant walking blindly.

The list goes on: 8. There should be a guy with a gun, as our Ranger Guide had, not to help find the objective, but in case of trouble – again, obvious. 9. And if you’re in the lead, always look back to make sure there are people following behind you, and if they’ve gone, find out when and why so you all get back on track.

The list is really long – but go tracking chimpanzees for the rest of it; the fee is payable to the tourism industry by way of hotel accommodation, food and tracking permits.

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