/ 12 December 2023

What do lying buffalo have in common with politicians?

Cape Buffalos (syncerus Caffer) Resting On An Islet In The Chobe River, Chobe National Park, Botswana
What lying buffalo have in common with politicians isn’t a derogatory statement; instead it's about looking at common traits that animals share with humans and just making sense of it all. (Photo by: Sergio Pitamitz/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

On the 6th to the 9th November 2023, the Digital Communication Network (DCN) together with World learning held an event in Zambia under the theme Harnessing the Digital Revolution: Fostering Resilience and Development in Africa. Where on the first day of the forum I was on a panel that discussed the threats and opportunities of new technologies. So what do lying buffaloes have to do with this, you ask? 

It starts here, a tour of the Chaminuka Game Reserve where we came to a stop of laying buffalo. lying about and taking it easy on a sunny Tuesday. When out of the blue, one of the participants made a rather thought provoking comment: and I quote,  “These buffalo remind me of our politicians.” I  laughed of course.  But after that fullfiling laugh I  found myself thinking about her comment and trying to make sense of it. 

The animal kingdom sounds like a fascinating place. It consists of species that play a role in maintaining the balance of prey and predator. The maintenance of the balance is a collaborative effort of many different kinds of animals that come in different shapes and sizes but have similar characteristics. For instance, their bodies are made up of many cells, and they have nerves and muscles to move and respond quickly to the world around them. All animals eat food to get the energy they need to live and to watch over themselves and their families. 

The same sentiments can apply to humans. But because humans dominate over other living creatures,  responsibility comes with complex problems that often stem from traumatic experiences or events.

My first assumption about what my colleague meant was about lying buffalo was making a comparison with the slow progress of some politicians in ending food insecurity, crime, poverty, unemployment and so forth. 

Which gets me to the second point of what buffalo and politicians have in common. Buffalo are among the most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa.

Researchers have also pointed out that buffalo use five distinct vocal sounds. They produce an extended “maaa” noise as they approach drinking holes. Researchers think it is an expression of happiness, satisfaction or anticipation. The animals utter powerful grunts and growls to communicate hostility, mainly to other buffalo. And when predators such as lions or crocodiles approach the herd, they make long “waaa” cries. This can be compared to the way politicians communicate information that concerns the public through all kinds of media.

Buffalo are also considered to be moody, dark and tough. Much like elephants, they never forget a wrong. They are known to ambush and attack hunters that have wounded them — even years later. That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think? 

So how does all this compare with politicians? First, we need to consider the noise that politicians make concerning matters they don’t agree with, especially matters communicated in parliament. Second, we look at the greatness of a grudge that some politicians hold even after years of being out of office. The moodiness, toughness and darkness can be found in some characteristics of politicians; anyone who has observed a politician may agree with me.  

What lying buffalo have in common with politicians isn’t a derogatory statement; instead it’s about looking at common traits that animals share with humans and just making sense of it all.

Rethabile Tsephe is a freelance writer and researcher associated with the Global foundation for cyberstudies and research in Washington DC.