The mayor of Kabul, Afghanistan, Mohammad Dawood Sultanzoy, has come under fire after the publication on May 7 of a video showing him visiting several bakeries across the city accompanied by a man holding an umbrella over his head even though it was not raining. Afghans online said the scene made the mayor look like an “oligarch” and criticised his “aristocratic attitude”. But who is the mysterious umbrella carrier and what is his real job? 

The controversial two-minute amateur video shows the mayor visiting several Kabul bakeries that have been distributing free bread to poor Afghans amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Afghan president Ashram Ghani appointed Mohammad Dawood Sultanzoy as the new mayor of Kabul on April 1, 2020. Sultanzoy served as a member of parliament between 2005 and 2010 and then worked as a TV host. In 2019, he ran for president. He only got 0.5 percent of the vote and, in the second round of the elections, he endorsed Ashraf Ghani.

Afghanistan is the 16th poorest country in the world and 75 percent of the annual budget
comes from foreign aid. In this context, many Afghans say that having someone paid to carry an umbrella around for the mayor is a “waste of public budget for his personal comfort”, as one critic suggested.

This video mocking the mayor is set to a soundtrack of Afghan folk music. 

Many Afghans took to social media to post photos comparing the attitude of Kabul’s mayor with officials in other countries.

In reaction to these critics, Kabul city government posted a status on its Facebook page on May 7, claiming that a random do-gooder decided to “hold up an umbrella for the mayor on an extremely rainy day out of kindness”. This announcement did not mention the exact date of the event. However, there is no sign of rain in any of the other official photos that the city of Kabul posted that day. According to weather websites, May 1 was the only day that week when it rained. 

The city’s post did nothing to quell the critics. If anything, it emboldened them. Some even started trolling the city’s Facebook page.

Several other photos also show the umbrella-carrying man next to the mayor of Kabul.

On closer investigation, the FRANCE 24 Observers team spotted the man carrying the umbrella in the video standing near the mayor in photos taken at many other events, thus disproving the city’s claim that he was a random do-gooder. 

The video is low quality so it is impossible to make out the face of the man carrying the umbrella for Sultanzoy, but he is wearing a dark blue coat, a light blue shirt, a black belt, light grey trousers, white sneakers with black soles and a green surgical mask.

Our team took a look at the Kabul city Facebook page and noticed that a man wearing exactly the same outfit is standing next to the mayor in a series of official photos posted on the page on May 1. The mayor is also sporting the same outfit he wore in the video in these photos. Finally, the captions state that Mayor Sultanzoy was visiting several Kabul bakeries that distribute free bread to poor families, which is the same explanation as in the video. 

There is no sign of the umbrella in these photos. However, they do show the man seen holding it in the video standing next to the mayor, carrying a walkie talkie. 

Our team checked other official photos on the Kabul city Facebook page and spotted the same man standing near the mayor in photos taken both before and after the umbrella incident. 

FRANCE 24 showed the photos to several Afghan journalists, who said that the man was employed as a personal assistant to Sultanzoy, though the details of his job are not known. FRANCE 24 asked the city of Kabul what the man’s job was, but they had not replied by the time this article was published.