Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: African
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Monday, 13 November, 2000, 17:00 GMT
Presidential photos: A bad idea?

It is quite common across Africa to find large ceremonial photographs of the Head of State on display in public and private areas.

News and Information for Africa
Supporters argue that these photographs help reinforce national unity. However, others believe that they only lead to the creation of a cult of personality around the leader. Newly elected Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has banned photos of himself in hotels and airports.

Is this a wrong move or should other African nations follow the Ivorian example?

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.

Your reaction

Displaying presidential photographs does not benefit either the people nor their leaders in any way. This is a common practice by dictators who want to instil fear and gain respect by force. A popular leader will always be judged by his good work towards his people.
Wesley Songok, Kenya

A true leader's image resides in the hearts of his people

Cecilia M. Dube, Zimbabwe
The sight of some dictator's mug in a public area incenses me almost as much as driving along a road/street named after them. A true leader's image resides in the hearts of his people: he does not need to shove it down their throats!
Cecilia M. Dube, Zimbabwe

In Amin's Uganda, we used to have shirts bearing the photo of Obote and Pope Paul VI, commemorating the latter's visit to Uganda in 1969. Amin's soldiers would aim and fire live bullets on anyone wearing that shirt. The target was not the wearer but the photograph; and harm to the wearer is collateral. We grew wise and discarded the shirts even if it was the only one we had. Now, dare ask me what is in a photo?
Mairi Vuamai, Nimule, Sudan

What is in a photograph? A leader's image is no problem as long as the owner serves the people well.
Andrew Limo, Kenya

Hanging presidential portraits in public places just makes the president feel too powerful. It's a recipe to dictatorship.
Wilcliff Sakala, Zambia

hopefully, liberty of expression will prevail in our continent

Yves Florent, Burundi
Laurent Gbagbo's move to ban photos of himself in hotels and airports is an important step towards a true democracy. However, the fact that he had to ban it shows us how we are being affected by our leaders not really because we believe in them all the time but because we want others to see that we believe in them, maybe for fear of reprisal. Anyway, the time of Milosevic's type of tyranny is dying slowly and hopefully, liberty of expression will prevail in our continent.
Yves Florent, Burundi

The display of a leader's photograph in public places only serves to develop a personality cult which would degrade the spirit of democracy. The development and cultivation of a personality cult in Ethiopia is a good example. Mengistu Hailemariam was represented as being "super human" which he finally started to believe himself. He was so detached from reality and the public that the cult contributed to his demise. Photographs should be displayed in museums and historical texts.
Aster Aweke, USA

I don't have a problem with presidential photos, because they display the pride of the leader to a visitor or whoever is unable to get a glimpse of the president.
Benjamin Sanvee, Liberia

God Bless the Queen! If we had a Queen, I'd say yeah, go ahead and display, but for the Idis, Mugabes, I'd say aghaah!
Jbndusha, Rwanda

Presidential portraits in public places do not help national unity

Kinyera, Sudan
Presidential portraits in public places do not help national unity. Gbagbo has just done what many presidents in Africa are afraid to do. For those who will not follow suit, they should be reminded that just as fast as those photos go up, they will also come down to be trampled on their expulsion from the throne.
Kinyera, Sudan

It's right to put up pictures of leaders who've had a positive influence on peace in their respective countries. We're proud to see Nyerere's face everywhere. As an advocate for peace and unity, he reminds us of where we come from and how important it is to have peace. His smile brings peace to our hearts and if his picture can do that to the Tanzanians, then leaders who have left positive legacies should be given a chance to do the same.
Liku Irene, Tanzania/ USA

In Kenya, my country of origin, presidential pictures must be displayed on all business premises. This is not enshrined in our law but is readily enforced.
John Mbugua, UK

Well done Mr Gbagbo, popular leaders do not need to remind the people who is looking after them. Ever notice that these in these "leader photos", the president always looks younger?
Andy Smith, Zimbabwe

Mandela did not need pictures to be known!!

Ziangoh, Cameroon
During the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, I was positively embarrassed to find that of the close to 200 nations that marched past, Cameroon was the only country whose athletes wore uniforms carrying a picture of the President. If you want to be popular lead your country judiciously. Mandela did not need pictures to be known!!
Ziangoh, Cameroon

Africans like citizens of other civilised nations owe their allegiance to their beloved countries and continent, not to incompetent megalomaniacs. Africa needs patriotism, not cultism. Maybe all those 'presidential' photos should be replaced with flags?
Cyril, Ghana/ UK/ USA

When Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, he used the presence or absence of his portrait in German homes as a control measure to communicate to the German people that no opposition would be tolerated. Looking back on recent leadership in African countries it is not difficult to imagine a similar scene repeating itself, where the absence of a portrait is used to root out even the weakest opposition in the form of persons with political dispositions other than their leader. It is the place of a leader to work for his/ her people not use them as a vent for her/ his vanity. Laurent Gbagbo has made a revolutionary move; the response of other African leaders will reflect their understanding of leadership.
Ifedayo Oladapo, Denmark

Presidents are not the most benevolent people in the world

Peter Kaiza, Tanzania/ England
Presidents are not the most benevolent people in the world. Indeed, the political game very often involves ruthlessness, lies and hypocrisy. Displaying ceremonial photographs of the Head of State in a manner of all-knowing, all-good demigods is the antithesis of what many politicians are. Africa has seen enough of that. Politicians must now realise that they are not judged on how many of their pictures appear in public but on what they do for the people.
Peter Kaiza, Tanzania/ England

I think it would be more appropriate to post pictures warning about the dangers of Aids, suggesting prevention measures and the President's agenda for the development of the country.
Ikwang Lukudu, Sudan/ New York

African Presidents realise that the more we see their pictures hanging everywhere, the more we get mad.
Albert Gui, Ivoirian, Canada

I disagree with portraits of Presidents or Heads of State being displayed in public places. I think this is done to reinforce their presence all over the country and intimidate people. I don't see pictures of Prime Minister Helen Clark in public places in New Zealand. True democracy is yet to prevail in Africa.
Ngozi Penson, Nigerian resident in New Zealand

What Gbagbo has done marks the start of a revolution in African politics

Bitrus Cobongs, Nigerian in the USA
What Gbagbo has done marks the start of a revolution in African politics. Many leaders have deified themselves; some to the extent that no organisational leaders are addressed "president" of their organisation or association because there should be only one president in the country. This is primitive behaviour in a civilised world.
Bitrus Cobongs, Nigerian in the USA

The best place to display any respectable image should be determineded by the people.
Alpha, Sierra Leone

If our Presidents performed well, we would, as individuals, display those portraits out of pride. The decision on whether or not to display a portrait should be left to individuals. Public money should not be used for self-serving portraits of leaders who secretly wish to be some form of a deity to their own people.
Abisai Mushaka, Zimbabwe

I think it is proper to display OFFICIAL pictures of a president in significant state institution reception areas and in diplomatic missions abroad but certainly not on domestic highways, airports or shopping malls. After winning the election, why should they continue advertising themselves? Those who do so must pay for public space like any advert/ banner.
Brian Ndoda Biyela, South African in USA

Gbagbo is the man! Portraits of presidents should not be hung in any office except their own. I agree that they become despots and some have even gone as far as printing local currency with their portraits.
Walter, Zimbabwe

You could feel a real revolution in the style of government was taking place

Paolo Scattoni, Italy
In 1991 during in a stay in Eritrea, I was positively impressed by the absence of photos of the very popular president Iasaias Afewerki. You could feel a real revolution in the style of government was taking place, based on national unity and not a personality cult.
Paolo Scattoni, Italy

Photographs of presidents in public places is a sign of dictatorship, and it's an abuse of the minds of the people of that country.
Abdi Fatah, Somalian

Gbagbo's portraits will only serve to infuriate the opposition who do not recognise the fairness of the Ivorian election. In my opinion it's a politically smart move.
Samuel Baah, Ghana/ USA

If national unity is the goal, then use the nation's flag

Knut Blom, Norway
I think it's the right move. If national unity is the goal, then use the nation's flag. Hopefully it will outlast both democratic leaders and dictators.
Knut Blom, Norway

Côte d'Ivoire has made a good choice in following Eritrea's example. A country is more than a 'President'. Photos are only appropriate to monarchies.
E. Yosef, Eritrea

Hanging photographs of the Head of State on display in public places appears to be an expression of solidarity with the person in power. Where there is a dictatorial regime or a country that has just witnessed a revolution, sometimes under the guise of democracy, hanging photographs of the Head of State may be an indication of the popularity of the revolutionary leader. This may explain the reason why the practice is very common in African and Arab countries. The new President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast appears to be changing the 'norm'.
Damilola Oljide, Nigerian/ Melbourne, Australia

Frankly I fail to see how the photo of one man reinforces national unity

Sam, Ghana/ USA
Frankly I fail to see how the photo of one man reinforces national unity. If anything what it does is create an aura of omnipresence in the minds of the people. Either Laurent Gbagbo is playing political smarts or he is a genuinely humble leader.
Sam, Ghana/ USA

All these photos typically do is bolster the vanity and insecurity of the continent's leaders. When, as frequently happens, they go beyond this and impose their features on their countries' banknotes, (thereby unwittingly contributing even more to their depreciation) the practice becomes even more objectionable. Africa needs to put a stop to this form of personality cult. Well done,President Gbagbo!
Rob Carter, USA/ ex Zimbabwe and Kenya

I do not think having the photos of presidents or dictators has any impact on the national unity of a country. I will neither applaud nor condemn the new Ivorian president. It must be the choice of the people. I know that in Ethiopia there are people who post the photograph of the late King Haile Selassie, 25 years after his death. Let the choice be left to the people - to post or not to post.
Worku Mengesha, Ethiopia

The display of a leader's photograph in government offices is a good idea

Ajibola Robinson, Nigeria-USA
The display of a leader's photograph in government offices is a good idea; the Head of State deserves to be recognised and respected. Even out here it is common to have the leaders' photographs on the walls in normal reasonable sized picture frames. However, when these pictures are displayed at every nook and cranny in the country, on larger-than-life billboards and on building sides, how can one not imply that the intention is to denote the leaders as demi-Gods?
Ajibola Robinson, Nigeria-USA

What you need to do is include pictures on currencies - and probably statues in public places - to see that the phenomenon is not unique to Africa. Look at countries like the UK (home of the BBC) and other advanced countries (with current or posthumous pictures as in the case of US) to assess this issue globally rather than have another go at Africa.
S.S. Adzei, Ghana

It's a common thing in any country to put photographs of the Head of State in government locations. However, in Africa, most leaders use them as a symbol of power. Therefore, it's hard to tell them or encouraged them to take their own pictures down from public owned sites.
Amanuel, USA

National unity is embodied by a country's flag

Mbida Claude, Cameroon
I think Gbagbo's move is positive. In our home in Yaounde, the president's photograph lies on the floor, near the bathroom door. It is the only space we could afford for the 40x50 cm framed picture of President Paul Biya. National unity is embodied by a country's flag, which will stand for generations.
Mbida Claude, Cameroon

Gbagbo has done the right thing. A president is merely the first among equals, a servant and representative of his country. He is not some demi-god or the great provider. The sooner this message sinks in, the better.
Harald Kruemmer, Germany

People have had it with presidential pictures hanging over their heads while stupid policies put their future in jeopardy.
Lou Niantie, Canada

Just as it is commonplace to find pictures of the Queen on walls in Britain, this is nothing more than a sense of belonging - and anyway why is it that everything Africans do must be degraded as tribalism, cronyism etc?
Adeniyi Kolawole Oke, Britain

It is normal to have a picture of the Head of State hanging in public buildings and embassies all around the world

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Ghana/ UK
It is normal to have a picture of the Head of State hanging in public buildings and embassies all around the world - that is not the reason for the cult of personality. If African leaders respected their constitutions and people, and stopped casting themselves as messiahs then maybe this foolishness would disappear.
Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Ghanaian resident in the UK

Personally, it is no use having pictures of presidents. The most painful point is when the people, whom the person is supposed to serve, have not being paid, can't find a daily meal yet while en route to work or to visit a friend or family member, see a photo of the president, beautifully dressed and healthy.
Carr S. Kpanyor Jr, Liberia

President Gbagbo has hit the right button on this one! Mobutu, Nkrumah and Cote d'Ivoire's own Houphouet-Boigny became despots largely as a result of such subtle appeal to the psyche. National unity is achieved through a leader's foresight in a policy of inclusion. His ubiquitous image in public places or on the national currency has never made the grade to unite the population and rule wisely.
Zac Adama, Ghana/ Canada

The only place presidential photographs should be placed is in different government department offices and military units

Mani, USA/ Sierre Leone
The only place presidential photographs should be placed is in different government department offices and military units to show the chain of command. His or her picture should also be at the airport so that international passenger entering the country know what the president looks like. However, it should not be posted all over the city or the country as if he was god.
Mani, USA/ Sierre Leone

I am a Sudanese studying in the UK. I went around the country but didn't see a portrait of Prime Minister Tony Blair on the streets of London, Oxford or any other cities in Britain. But in African cities it is a show of prestige that the president is in control.
Stephen Okot, Sudan (studying in UK)

Bravo Mr. Gbagbo!!
Kate Delaney, USA

They can have their portraits displayed all day and all night, as long as those displaying them do not use public funds for their procurement. If a symbol of national unity is to be used, it should be a coat of arms and nothing more.
Mukhtar Dan'Iyan, Nigeria (currently in USA)

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other African stories