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Is the cult of personality in Africa, a model of outdated governance?

28.06.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The cult of personality is almost automatically born in every part of Africa, where the personality of an individual who aspires for, or who is in the highest office overrides the ideas or projects of society. At each birth, we witness the birth of providential men, caricatured with expressions such as the father of the peoples, the father of the nation, my political master.

This phenomenon is not only the prerogative of Africa since it has experienced its greatest flight under other skies, with mythical personality cult characters like Mao Zedong in China, Stalin in the whole of the Eastern Bloc of the Soviet Union, Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, Kim Il-Sung in North Korea or Adolf Hitler in Germany.

The cult of personality, which is the excessive adulation of a head of state in a regime or the attitude giving more importance to the image of the political leader rather than to the community, is generally maintained by various means of propaganda such as songs, venerations, images on all media and assumes a wide need for media and events.

In these highly dictatorial states, the figure of the ruler is omnipresent. Courts and administrations are no exception. Back in time, some African presidents used it as a model of governance; it has not completely disappeared today. The most illustrious of them were the Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko, the Central African President Bokassa I; nicknamed the Emperor, the Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe who declared February 21; his birthday, as a holiday in Zimbabwe, and the Burkinabe Blaise Compaore who was the pioneer of loincloths with his image on them.

The observation that Africa has totally broken the chains of presidential megalomania is not entirely true because caciques of the cult of the personality still exist there and their model of governance is not far from being exceeded by the pangs of time that have known hints all over the place. The most visible ones are still taking place in Egypt with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi and in Cameroon with President Paul Biya.

The personification of Egyptian institutions

The many democratic changes within the continent have brought with them many of the dictatorships that were rooted in the cult of personality. In Egypt, after the popular uprisings that led to the election of current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egyptians thought they would see behind them the existence of the previous personality cults handed down to their former heads of state. . Although he has only been in power for five years, the personality cult of President Al-Sisi affects almost all Egyptian institutions.

  • Shops in Egypt, pastry cooks and even toy shops have set themselves to make a grandiose cult to President Fattah. In the upscale neighborhood of Garden City, in central Cairo, a pastry shop, to demonstrate the grandeur of the president, manufactures sells chocolates with his effigy. Even Al-Sissi toys are now on the market.
  • The places of worship. While the Egyptian electoral law provides for the preservation of the neutrality of the places of prayer, it is clear that Marshal al-Sisi’s personality crosses the barriers in these places. The mosques are up to their interior, invaded by giant portraits of the Marshal. Across the country, there are also Christian-inspired posters in which it is written: “Jesus calls you to support General General Al-Sissi to preserve national unity”.

  • The world of music. There has been a surge of songs and popular performances to the glory of President Al-Sissi since his first election as head of the country in 2014. The most famous of them is the work of Shaaban Qarawan, author hitherto unknown to the general public and, with words like “in Arabic as in English, we salute General Sissi (…), a man with a solid heart, in this period of crisis” has made more than 300,000 views on YouTube.
  • Advertising abroad. We must remember the Egyptian businessman Mohamed Nabil Halawa who, to magnify the glory and boast of the ego of the Egyptian president had bought half a page of advertising in the French newspaper “Le Figaro” on the occasion of the visit of the latter in France in November 2014. This publicity showed the peaceful and smiling profile of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi stuck between a minaret and a bell tower accompanied by the personalized message:” Welcome to France at President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi … from Mohamed Nabil Halawa “.

The latest hints of the personality cult in Cameroon

In power for just over 36 years, President Paul Biya has always wanted to be recognized as the one who brought democracy to Cameroon. Faced with him as the Egyptian president, the adage that “stronger institutions are better instead of strong men” is not very valuable. We can retain among others several elements which denote the cult of the personality which is devoted to him.

  • The protocol greetings. We all still remember the reception of the Cameroon national football team by President Paul Biya the day after the victory of the indomitable lions at the African Cup of Nations Gabon 2017 and this greeting Legendary Minister of Sports and Physical Education at the time, Pierre Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt. This greeting which contributed to the perpetuation of the personality cult of the president had even been the subject of a challenge dubbed “Bidoung challenge” and had traveled around the world via social networks. Remember the gesture of the Minister of Labor and Social Security, Mr. Gregory Owona who, during the last two parades of May 20, celebration of the national unity of Cameroon has taken for habit, once arrived at the height of the place of the president, to remove each time his hat stamped with the colors of the party in power and made him a deep bow as to say “long live the king”.

  • Presidential election campaign gadgets. If the obvious tools of personality cult institutions often stop at giant photos like those littered in Paris, then there is still some time to show Westerners that Paul Biya is still the man of the situation, with scarves and others, it appears to note that during the last presidential election of October 2018 in Cameroon, the reflection was pushed to “personalized condoms” whose packaging carried the photos of the president Paul Biya. So from now on, even to engage in intimate relationships with his partner, he will first have to thank the president of the republic.

  • State donations. Despite the fact that it is well known that these donations are the result of the state coffers, fruit of the taxpayers, the ruling system always uses all means in its possession for the collective conscience to know that it is rather a personal gift from the head of the republic. The example of the donation of the 500,000 computers granted to students in 2016 is the most illustrative. For this donation, the authorities put everything in place to magnify the glory of the president in office. Thus, these bear the initials of the president as mark, “PB hev” which literally mean Paul Biya Higher Education Vision.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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