Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Photos capture Africa’s mighty as they fall

It is not a particularly good photograph. The lighting is wrong, the resolution is poor and the framing is not balanced. Yet, of the thousands of photographs of Alpha Condé, the one above is the image by which he will be forever defined. 

It shows the former Guinean president in the immediate aftermath after the military coup which deposed him two weeks ago. Surrounded by soldiers, Condé is slouched on a couch. His shirt is not buttoned properly and he is clearly seething. 

The photo is so compelling because it captures the moment when Condé realises that everything he has worked for has been taken away from him; that the power is no longer his. He has fallen from grace, and this intimate image — stripped of the pomp and ceremony and grandeur of a typical presidential photograph — shows just how far he has fallen. 

Condé is not the first president to have his humiliation captured on camera. The images are often grainy — mutinous soldiers make for poor photographers, or perhaps they are stills taken from video footage — but what they lack in clarity they make up for in emotional heft. 

Robert Mugabe (seated) with his wife Grace.

Other classics in this genre include Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, on the sofa next to his wife Grace, surrounded by the “friends” who have been sent to persuade him to step down. On the coffee table in front of them — alongside the box of tissues provided to mop up their tears — is a folder containing the resignation letter Mugabe will sign just seconds after the picture is taken. 

Gambia’s defeated leader Yahya Jammeh waves to supporters as he departs at Banjul airport on Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Then there’s Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, face battered and bloodied, in the minutes before his death at the hands of the opposition fighters who found him cowering in a drain pipe. The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh is clutching on to the last remnants of his status and dignity as he boards the private plane that will ferry him into unhappy exile. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is in a cage in a Cairo courtroom, being made to answer for his crimes.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma.

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma has shock and fury written all over his face, as Cyril Ramaphosa is announced as the next leader of the ANC. The Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo is photographed being arrested, at home in his vest, after failing to convince anyone except his own diehard supporters that he won the 2010 Ivorian election. 

Laurent Gbagbo as he is captured.

There is something fascinating about seeing these once all-powerful presidents in positions of powerlessness; the schadenfreude, yes, but also the reminder that nothing on this Earth is permanent or immovable.

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and access the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. To follow the news, sign up to our daily elections newsletter for the latest updates and analysis.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, you can a full year’s access for just R510. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.
The Continent
The Continent is a free weekly newspaper published by the Adamela Trust in partnership with the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Malema: ANC will use load-shedding to steal votes

While on the campaign trail in the Eastern Cape, EFF leader Julius Malema, without evidence, claimed the ANC was planning to use rolling blackouts to ‘steal votes’

Khaya Koko: The looting isn’t over until the fat belly...

A song about Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane preventing looting was way off the mark in a province riddled with corruption and theft

Eskom will try to avoid blackouts during local government elections

Chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said the ailing state power utility’s staff would be on standby as South Africans cast their votes on 1 November

‘Terribly scary’: Dysfunctional municipalities are a threat to South Africa’s...

The country’s local governments are a drag on investment, a strain on the fiscus and pose a critical sovereign risk

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…