It’s been a while since I’ve been at the presidential palace in Abidjan, but I was taken aback yesterday by the huge amount of hangers-on, protocol agents, etc. that tag along at these ceremonies. It’s incredible that at the very top of the state you have the most powerful people spending hours of their time presiding or waiting for mind-numbingly dull ceremonies. I suppose sociologists can tell us that it’s all about building a sense of nationalism and state authority, but honestly, it all seems so ineffective.

Yesterday’s ceremony was about the head of state presenting his new year’s wishes to the media. Fine. So you’d expect the media to be there, plus people from the government involved with the media (Ministry of Communications, CICG, etc). But in addition to this you had a whole host of ex-ministers, presidential staff, local power players etc. I’ve got no idea what they were doing at a ceremony that wasn’t even for them. Did they come for the free food afterwards? Did they come to network? Do they just look being physically close to the wheels of power? I have the inate urge to run a mile from these sort of things which are usually heavy on protocol, what the French call langue des bois (speaking without saying anything) and simply sitting around for a few hours waiting to start.

The fact that most states do a good deal of all this means it must serve a purpose. In England, they seem to have done an exceptional job in dividing the ceremonial from the management of the country – the Queen spends her days carrying our ceremonies while they people that are actually elected to run the country get on with the job. It seems a waste to carry out a democratic process to elect the country’s most popular and hopefully capable leader, and then fill their time with ceremony.

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