The Lion, The West and The Oriental Globe

By: Jahnavi, Kalyani, Pranesh, and Rishi

This photo essay looks at the life and death of Cecil the lion, who lived in Zimbabwe. The essay observes the oriental gaze of the west towards Africa that affects nation branding and global stigmatisation through the phenomenon of trophy hunting.



The stills for this photo essay are of Cecil, a South African lion who lived in the Hwange  National Park, Zimbabwe. Cecil was part of Oxford University’s conservation studies being  conducted in Hwange. In the second picture, Cecil is surrounded by Walter Palmer, the American  dentist through whose hands, Cecil met his end. Once this became news, an international outcry  with sentiments of mourning and demands for justice for Cecil began trending on the internet. By  looking at this incident and particularly these two pictures of Cecil, we aim to showcase the  culture of hunting by Westerners when they travel to Africa. We also aim to highlight the impact  of the oriental gaze of the West and its effects on nation branding and stigmatisation of the  Global South.  


Cecil was named by the, mostly native African, management of Hwange. 2 Chimuka notes that  after Cecil’s death, the Zimbabwean public viewed its name as a celebration of the British  coloniser Cecil Rhodes who has been a polarising figure in colonial history. The ‘native policy’  of Rhodes’ colonial government, discriminating against the black majority in Africa has been  considered as the precursor to the apartheid policies that shaped South African politics in the  twentieth century. 3 

Chimuka suggests that the naming of Cecil was a conscious or unconscious act of  self-othering by Zimbabweans. 4 Othering is discussed in Said’s Orientalism . It is seen as the  difference between cultures which “first creates a battlefront that separates them and second , as  inviting the West to control, contain and otherwise govern through superior knowledge, the  Other.” 5Chimuka’s understanding of self othering is related to concepts such as  self-commodification. 6 7 Therefore, naming Cecil after Rhodes could have been done by the  officials of Hwange as an act of appeasement to the Western tourists who come, thereby glorifying an important figure to Westerners even though Rhodes has a bitter history in  Zimbabwe.  

Looking at Cecil’s death itself, trophy-hunting goes back to the royal and landed classes  whose monetary superiority allowed them the luxury of trophy-hunting while excluding  indigenous people from the “spoils of land and forest.” 8 Mkono describes trophy-hunting as an  ongoing re-enactment of Western colonial history. The hunting of Cecil can be seen as a symbol  of the conquering of “subhuman” Africans. 9 The picture of two white men standing on dead  Cecil epitomizes this power relation between west and former colonies connoting that the  existence of these resources is merely for the west to exploit it.  


The concept of nation-branding is also germane to Cecil’s story. Zimbabwe’s promotion of  itself as the ‘Garden of Africa’ and a legal trophy-hunting destination 1011, has attracted hunters  like Palmer. The larger branding story is found in the backlash to Cecil’s death. Leading British  news outlets put out front page stories condemning the lion’s demise, 12labelling Cecil  specifically as a ‘national icon’ and a ‘symbol of pride of Zimbabwe’. Interestingly, this brand  image is not shared by most locals and was certainly not the result of conscious  self-representation by Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s branding efforts at that time were largely focused  on attracting investment to boost their floundering economy. 13 While it could be argued that in  several cases, a nation’s brand is largely determined by external opinion, it is significant to note  that in this case, Cecil was cast as an icon of Zimbabwe while most of the nation didn’t even  have an inkling of the lion’s existence. 14 This development is interesting as it goes against the  commonly held opinion that “nation branding must start at home before it can be done abroad.” 15 

This weight of the western perspective of other nation’s brands is serious. Nation-branding is  usually employed to improve credibility, influence, tourism, and investment at the global level.  However, in cases of tension between the western and the indigenous, self-representational  versions of the brand, promotion of the former could impact the ‘brandee’ negatively. After  Cecil’s death, there was tightening of laws in the U.S. to discourage potential trophy hunters, and  a sharp drop in international tourism in Zimbabwe. 16 This is a telling example of the fickle nature  of ownership and agency over a nation brand, with the system currently in favour of the West.  

The aftermath of “Cecil-gate”- Stigma creation and its effects  

“Cecil-gate,” as a cyber movement, was instrumental in awakening an international  consciousness around the morality of trophy-hunting. Supporters of the movement, majority of  whom were “urbanized westerners,” 17framed trophy hunting as a barbaric act of murder inflicted  upon animals who possess “intellegence, emotion and sociality” 18 creating a moral stigma against hunters and the conditions enabling them. As a direct result of the growing stigma, the  western countries of France, Netherlands and the U.S made their policies against the import of  animal trophies more stringent 19. The eyes of Cecil-gate turned towards African nations, urging  them to protect their wildlife. A representative for Hwange National Park commented, “We feel  we are now under surveillance by the whole international community.” 20In another interview,  Jean Kapata said “In Africa, a human being is more important than an animal. I don’t know  about the Western world.” This echoes the sentiment that the West seemed more concerned with  the welfare of a lion in Zimbabwe than of Africans themselves. 21 

This western stigma, framed as a moral dilemma, is perceived as “a neo-colonialist attempt by  the West to impose [the Western] value system on African Nations.” 22 The lack of African voices  in the Cecil-gate movement is remarkable as it reflects the socio-cultural positioning of Western  morality as a standard that the “backwards” African states must strive towards. When mourning  Cecil, the west dissociates from the race of the ‘self’ which was behind Cecil’s death and instead  chooses to incriminate the ‘other’.  Furthermore, many African countries lack the funds to effectively care for their wildlife 23.  Trophy-hunting, is a critical avenue of income for the economic sustenance of the local  communities. As discussed in the previous section, the western perspective on lions is at odds with the domestic. Zimbabwean locals view lions as “objects of terror” 24responsible for the  murder of their kin and while they deeply respect wildlife, this respect has not kept them from  “hunting them or allowing [the hunt]” 25. Therefore, the Western stigma attached to  trophy-hunting was entirely rejected by the Zimbabwean communities. Kapata responded to this  stigma stating that “We are not going to stop legal, well regulated trophy hunting just because  someone in America or somewhere in Europe thinks so.” 26 


This essay examined the phenomenon of Cecil’s by tracing its origins and studying its  aftermath, using the theory of orientalism. Cecil’s death and the sequence of events that  followed, represents the larger power struggle that African countries face against their former  colonizers. We showed how the image of the lion was constructed with intentions of  commodifying the self, honoring an imperialist who was behind colonial atrocities in Zimbabwe.  Cecil-gate symbolizes the power West holds over the cultural narrative of African resources and  the ability of West to portray themselves as the civilized ‘big-brother’. Further, the paper showed  how the aftermath of the event impacted the national brand and became a source of stigma  against Africans. The western criticism of Zimbabwe’s failure to preserve animal rights and  conserve the environment was detached from the socio-economic ground reality, of which the  west is largely responsible for, that required Zimbabwe to allow trophy-hunting. The stigmatized  portrayal of Africans as barbaric for failing to protect helpless animals and thereby situating the  self ,i.e. the west, as empathetic and humane highlights this oriental gaze. Thereby, through the cries of the West mourning Cecil’s death and consequently deeming Africans as barbaric we  discern a disturbing oriental gaze that humanizes animals but animalizes the human ‘other’. 


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