Today I was told a story about flying out of Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The plane, a Boeing 737, bound for South Africa, was on the runway, accelerating to take-off. Halfway down the runway, the plane started to shudder and skid. The engines were screaming and the plane was shedding speed rapidly. The passengers on-board were starting to panic. Eventually the plane stopped. Everyone was looking around bewildered wondering what was going on. The pilot came on to the radio, “Sorry about that ladies and gentleman, but a hyena just ran across the runway. We had to avoid hitting it!”
Can you imagine being the hyena – this massive white tube bearing down on you. What would you do? Stand and live on a hope and prayer? Run? The hyena has no idea of the complexity of issues that would emerge if the plane hit it. The hyena is probably only focused on survival. Yet the hyena could possibly alter the course of history forever: for the air industry in Botswana, for the passengers on the plane and for the aviation industry world-wide! It does not know this.
There are some striking comparisons here. Just maybe small under-developed nations can alter the course of history forever. Maybe they should not just live on a hope and prayer that the bigger developed economies will choose to avoid them. Maybe they have a bigger role to play than they could possible know. Maybe they should find out.
Probably the biggest difference in this comparison is that the hyena has no agenda, no need for greed and no intent in being politically dominant. So maybe the under-developed countries can learn something here. If you act in a way that furthers your survival and that of your people, just maybe the bigger economies will take time to avoid causing you harm.
The next thought that crossed my mind; what is it that is valuable about a hyena? It is life, a gift of nature that is considered sufficiently valuable that it should be saved by the pilot. The pilot made that decision and had little time to change the course of the plane on the runway, yet he did. The hyena is a highly specialized predator that brings value to Botswana in many ways; it cleans the bush of dead animals, it balances the eco-system and generates tourism revenue. So keeping it alive was worth the effort.
Maybe there is another lesson here. Maybe building valuable industries such as a really good, strong IT sector may make the bigger economies look at Africans in a different way. Maybe we can bring that balance to the world-economy the same way the hyena does to the eco-system. Maybe we should stop trying to compete with low-end under paid mass jobs but rather focus on niche specialisations which make us sufficiently valuable that the big economies value us – so much so that they will make sure that the plane does not hit us.
Maybe I am just rambling – but it got me thinking.
Mike – May 2012