Africa & Beyond

The Animal in Man

Greed is not native or peculiarto humanity. Biologists have published many accounts about greedy animals. The tiger shark, the blue whale, the pig and the hyena are known for their intense, selfish desire for food. Like humans, these species of animals do not have a sharing habit. They are territorial and avaricious. The shark, for example, takes as food –and swallows – any object it sees. The tiger shark can swallow a bomb, even if it knows that it is a bomb. All manner of objects have been found in the bellies of sharks.

Yahya Jammeh

Most of the elements of greediness, however, seem to reside in the wolverine. Besides being gluttonous, it is bullish, aggressive, covetous, artful, crafty, cunning and destructive. Stealing and opportunism are also profound characteristics of the wolverine. One of the strongest weapons of the wolverine is its smelly nature. Knowing that other animals hate its repulsive smell, the wolverine habitually sprays its environment, particularly its food, with the smelly mist or liquid from its anus.

Advancing the argument that wolverines give insight into the evolution of greed, Prof Nathan H.Lents, author of Not So Different:Finding Human Nature in Animals, submits that:

“after a wolverine has eaten all it can, whether from its own kill or find, or something it has stolen from some unfortunate shlemazl it will actually spray the leftover food with its marking scent.

This hardly seems so weird. Biologists once thought that the wolverines were simply marking the food to protect its next meal of leftovers; but in reality, the wolverines rarely return to their leftovers. The distinctive wolverine scent alone is probably enough to dissuade many animals; but the spray of wolverines, unlike that of skunks, happens to be highly acidic. By spraying noxious carboxylic acids onto the leftover food, the wolverines actually accelerate the spoiling process.

To summarize, the wolverines, after consuming all they can stuff into their stomachs, try to spoil any leftovers so that other predators and scavengers cannot eat them. This fits part of our description of greed. It is about having more than others, not just about acquiring things.

Those not comfortable assigning the term “greed” to these small weasels may counter that this is just a good competitive strategy. If an animal is in constant competition with other animals for the same food sources, there is an advantage in not feeding your competition. By leaving leftovers behind, the wolverines would be helping future competitors to stay alive and live to fight another day.

My response to that is “bingo!” That is the real meaning of greed! It is an intense competitive strategy that goes beyond just getting what you need. Greed is about seeing everything else as competition and measuring what you have against what others have.

These wolverines meet human definitions of greed because they take extra measures to harm the standing of competitors, or at least, prevent them from being able to improve their own standing. No matter how much food may abound at that moment, wolverines consider every meal a zero-sum game. Out in the wild, there is no trophy for just participating, no silver medal for coming in second.

Wolverines know that wealth – likesocial standing and even access to food – is relative. It is great to be well-fed. It is even better to be well-fed while others are starving.”

The disgraced ex-president of the Gambia, Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh (Yahya Jammeh) fits the definition of a greedy person. His excessive desire to have and keep more than his fair share of the resources of the Gambia led him to the delusion that he could cling unto power even after the people of Gambia rejected him at the polls. Jammeh, obviously deluded, thought himself a god who had reduced the Gambians to spineless buffoons who would take anything from him. He had, as a 29-year-old lieutenant in the Gambian Army,seized power on July 22, 1994 from Dawda Jawara through a coup d’état.Two years later, he stage-managed an election to launder his flawed political origins. He won four of such phantom elections, stealing from the Gambians four consecutive five-year terms that kept him in power for 22 years. His luck, however, ran out when the Gambian electorate recaptured their sovereignty from him at the December 1, 2016 presidential election. For once, the cocky, prideful ruler tried his luck with a credible election that turned out to be “one of the biggest election upsets West Africa has ever seen.”Jammeh scored less than 40% of the votes. Adama Barrow, who won the majority of the votes, shared the rest of the votes with the other contenders.

Guided by common sense, Jammeh conceded defeat on December 2, 2016, congratulating Adama Barrow even before the final result was declared by the electoral body. But, like most African leaders of his era and ilk, Jammeh, decided to play god. He made a volte-face, rejected the results and called for a fresh election. His prevarication is a product of that deadly sin called greed. Like the tiger shark, he wanted the whole of the Gambia for himself. Given the opportunity, he would have swallowed the country. As this was impossible, he tried to adopt the wolverine method of smearing the country with a mist that would have destroyed the whole country. He did not want Barrow or any other person to have the Gambia that he couldnot ingest. He was, however, lucky to escape the prescribed punishment for the greedy – being thrown into sizzling oil.

The reality that there are still people in 21st century Africa who believe that they personify the state or the people – and therefore, the country and its people should bow and surrender their freedoms and defer to them in their choices –shows how much of catching up the continent has to do. That such underdeveloped minds are still within the corridors of power tells a lot about why we are so wretched.

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