By now, we all know the fate of Cecil the lion and the Internet firestorm that followed. As The Guardian put it last week: “Nous sommes Cecil”.
The one quote that stood out from the many hundreds over the past week was from Zimbabwe’s Acting Minister of Information when asked about Cecil. Her response, “What lion?” And press reports confirmed that not all Zimbabweans were familiar with Cecil.
The meaning of her words were quickly interpreted by the Western press – many of whom took the comment as a callous remark or an affront.
In public relations terms, the story was getting out ahead of her fast. And just like in a road race you want to close that gap as soon as possible and overtake the story if you can.
So what was missing?
Context. It was an education moment if there ever was one. Zimbabwe has been wrestling with serious economic issues – conditions that most in the West could not believe or relate to. Passion overtook the reality of Zimbabwe’s economic conditions which if you peel back the layers of this onion, was a significant, long-term contributor to Cecil’s demise.
Understanding the near immediate, seismic shift in publicity. In many ways the Government of Zimbabwe has been handed a global platform to highlight the disparity between the reality of every day Zimbabweans and the Zimbabwe of those who visit or experience through images and documentaries about their wildlife.
Transforming that platform. An opportunity still exists for the Information Minister to get her message out by telling the story of Zimbabwe through everyday Zimbabweans and their vision for the future. And to make the country a global cause for the West to get behind – for the sake of Cecil’s cubs and other lions – and for the people of Zimbabwe.