Biya’s Fake Homage to Fallen Soldiers: The Embarrassment of a Nation

Fake Image of president Biya paying homage to fallen soldiers

Fake Image of president Biya paying homage to fallen soldiers

The insensitivity is simply mind-boggling and inexcusable. For a President who has studiously failed to do right, by not honoring fallen soldiers despite all entreaties, the impropriety was pathetic, disgraceful and devoid of any perfunctory exaggeration.

By this singular act of civic callousness, dancing in mockery even as the nation mourns, the Presidency advertised a certain hollowness in morality that dragged the nation down to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration. This is an unbelievable shame and Cameroonians deserve full explanation for the embarrassment.

It appears there is no limit to the odium Cameroonians would endure in the hands of Paul Biya, because just when the regime seems to have hit rock bottom in governance capacity, it somehow manages to find a further depth in ignominy. Whoever dreamt up the idea of lampooning the funeral of soldiers killed in the war against Boko Haram, with a fake picture of Biya bowing over one of the coffins, stands condemned in the strongest terms.

The picture of the president parodying homage to fallen soldiers in Yaoundé; whereas Biya was actually sojourning in Europe, exposed in spectacular fashion, the quality of Biya’s leadership and reinforced Cameroon’s image as a nation with highly dysfunctional institutions where bizarre things can happen.

In the event, the self-seeking morons and sycophants who chose to plumb the abyss of self-degradation and drag the nation down to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration, have done a great disservice to the President. This is an unbelievable shame and Cameroonians deserve full explanation for this national embarrassment and international disgrace.

Jolted by public outrage, Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma, tried to spin the faux pas by blaming it on hackers, but his unconvincing explanation amounted to a collective insult on the intelligence of Cameroonians. The recurring spectacle of Tchiroma defending the indefensible is all too familiar; but this instance is a clear example of that inherent predilection for digging a grave beyond the proverbial six feet.

If indeed, hackers hacked the presidency website and posted a picture that put the President’s image and reputation in jeopardy; then this was a serious dereliction and breach of national security that is unacceptable from an institution to whom much has been given; and from which much is expected.

It is even more grievous than the whimsical, disdainful and mundane craving by self-aggrandizing opportunists, seeking to ingratiate themselves to the President. Biya’s crisis managers must have the gumption and the circumspection to sense damaging events that may portray the President and the country in bad light, and act proactively to preempt them.

For Paul Biya, who has studiously failed to do right, by neither visiting the frontlines, nor honoring fallen soldiers despite all entreaties, this impropriety was the nadir of gracelessness. The insensitivity is simply mind-boggling and inexcusable.

It was amateurish, senseless, unimaginable, disgraceful and devoid of any perfunctory exaggeration. By this singular act of civic callousness, dancing in mockery even as the nation mourns, the presidency (which published the picture on its website before taking it down amid a hailstorm of criticism and condemnation on social media) advertised a certain hollowness in morality that challenged sundry observers to question the President’s character.

Lacking in any principled intention to honor the service of soldiers who have paid the ultimate price in defence of the fatherland, the offensive picture was nothing short of a desecration of the exalted office of President of the Republic, and a smear on an institution that symbolizes the sovereign will of the Cameroonian people.

Certainly, no modicum of morality or decorum supports this reckless display of insensitivity, but some pertinent points need to be made. One is that the quality of leadership in Cameroon has been exposed, in spectacular fashion, to the whole world. Against the backdrop of Biya’s sudden enterprise over Boko Haram, it is a sad comment on the President’s style and an unflattering advertisement of his apathetic approach to his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, that he delegates Defence Minister, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o to honor fallen soldiers on his behalf.

What convenience the Minister brings is trumped by the President’s failure to own, and be seen to own this all-important national ritual. It illustrates another poor dimensioning of the stature of presidential presence and the amplification of the absence of good personal leadership example, from the man Cameroonians elected to be their president.

Biya should visit the frontlines, to send the strongest signal yet to all Cameroonians that he not only cares as their President, he is taking full command of the war against Boko Haram. The hubris oozing out of his spin-doctors, notwithstanding, the buck stops on the President’s desk. Biya as commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces, must, on his honor, ensure that this act of cyber brigandage should not go unpunished.

Biya is the only one who can stem the current of pestilential perfidy. But as has always been the case with other issues, including most recently, the admission scandal at IRIC, involving the untouchable Higher Education Minister, Jacques Fame Ndongo, the President’s inability to lead by example remains one of Cameroon’s huge challenges.

While some will dismiss the odious act of photo-shopping the image of the president as simply bizarre, desultory and even comical, the brazenness, callousness and audacity of the act, is a bad joke taken too far. It is surprising that this indiscretion escaped the attention and advice of professional journalists in the civil cabinet, like Joseph Le, Nicholas Amayena, Christopher Lobe and Churchill Monono or, perhaps, worse still, enjoyed their approval.

Whatever the case, this debauchment is a clear demonstration of how low the image and reputation of the presidency has now gravitated. From the public debate the scandal has generated, Cameroonians are not questioning the right of the President’s men to launder his image.

Far from it; that much is expected of sycophants. The concern, instead, seems to be that there should be some decorum and decency, especially when it concerns soldiers who fell in the line of duty.

The main grouse, and validly so, therefore, remains that in the case at hand, all virtues were totally discarded. And the reprehensible action has no redeeming value, as it is neither edifying to the country, nor to Biya’s image as an absentee commander-in-chief. A majority of Cameroonians with a conscience have been left to wonder how the highest levels of their government can be so imprudent.

Indeed, more sinister motives can be inferred from this buffoonery but far more than anger or anything else it engendered, questions must be asked: what manner of man indulges in such despicable and indecorous conduct?

What goes on in the mind of such a person? Pray, on whose authority did the webmaster indulge in such high level official rascality and imprudent display of statecraft? How can anyone justify such a willfully unscrupulous and vainglorious desire to propagate untruth in the name of the President? The motive aside, this sad episode advertises a certain pettiness at the highest level of the nation’s leadership.

Without equivocation, the absence of stately comportment by persons who, by authority and common trust are saddled with the responsibility of running the nation’s affairs has rendered the country a fertile ground for breeding the improbable. This is a tragedy Cameroon can do without.

The Presidency must strive to shore up its reputation and improve its image management. By their perfunctory action, the Presidency impoverished the sobriety and dignity of the office of President of the Republic in ways that ridiculed not only the President, but the entire country.

It will be dignifying if a thorough probe is done to reveal the perpetrators of this national shame. For, after all is considered, the presidency, is a call to national duty and only the ready, willing, and able deserve it. The office of the President is a tough, thoughtful and burdensome position that demands self-discipline, gumption, prudence and sagacity.

A President should not do, and must never condone in his aides and hangers-on, the conversion of their public offices into a platform to advertise their profligacy to embroil the country in governance anomie. This picture scandal is a telling sign of a weak governance culture that does no good to the President’s reputation or the country’s image.

This was an affront to the nation and Cameroonian leaders at all levels must hide their heads in shame. Biya must free himself from the fantasy of presidential prestige and demonstrate that he understands his responsibilities as commander-in-chief. He owes the fallen soldiers and their hurting families a moral duty to preside at events honoring them.

Paying due honors to fallen soldiers not only wipes away the tears of a bereaved nation, it re-assures the troops that the president is with them in battle. Finally, Cameroonians may have borne the picture insult with equanimity, but let the President not be in any doubt that the country has been mightily insulted. The nation has been so contemptuously taken on a merry-go-round of untold shame and embarrassment. And never again should it happen.

Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai is a public intellectual and graduate of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government where he was Managing Editor of the Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy. A former Research Analyst for Central Africa with Freedom House, he is a consultant and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Talk back at [email protected]

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