The Battle for the future of African football

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THERE IS no doubt that football brings out the flair and passion of Africans. Football has the power to unite people of diverse backgrounds. Football can also be a catalyst for socio-economic and political development.     

If football catches a cold, the entire sports movement sneezes! It is indeed an interesting time for African football with the upcoming Confederation of African Football (CAF) elections to be held in Ethiopia on 16 March 2017.  It is indeed time to “watch out for the ides of March”.

The writing has definitely been on the wall for long-time CAF President, Issa Hayatou. There is a little known challenger, Ahmad Ahmad, president of the Madagascar Football Association, who is bidding to end Hayatou’s stranglehold on the African game.

This can only be good for the African game. Even if the challenger does not win, the cage has been definitely rattled. Ahmad has got supporters in the form of the ambitious and brash president of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) and the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA), Philip Chiyangwa. The gloves are definitely off in this titanic battle for the leadership of CAF.

Will the small David from Madagascar emerge victorious or will the giant Goliath from Cameroon continue to reign with his iron fist? The result will be known soon!

There is no doubt that Hayatou has got dictatorial tendencies but Francophone Africa has chosen to look the other way when African football has been sliding down a treacherous slope of self –induced destruction.

Hayatou has always wanted to dictate what African football associations (FAs) must do or not do.

This is best illustrated by CAF’s decision earlier last year to support Infantino’s rival during the election for FIFA President.

On 26 February 2016, Gianni Infantino was elected as the ninth president of the world football governing body, FIFA.

The 115 votes that he got show that Infantino has significant backing from Africa, much to the chagrin of Issa Hayatou and company who had pledged Africa’s votes to Sheikh Salman of Bahrain. As predicted by The Southern Times Africa Sports Forum, African member federations again, rebelled and went against CAF instructions. If all African member federations had voted for Sheikh Salman, he would have been FIFA President. Africa with 54 votes, largely determines who can become FIFA President.

This was not the first time that African football associations had rebelled against the directives of the CAF president. For those who care to remember, in 1998, at the FIFA Congress in Paris, France, African FAs voted Sepp Blatter in ahead of Lennart Johansson.

Hayatou was livid when it was established that one of the campaigners for Blatter, in Southern Africa, was none other than Leo Mugabe, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA).

As punishment for Mugabe’s transgressions, the right to host the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations was taken away from Zimbabwe in the most dubious and unceremonious of circumstances, alleging that the country had not met the conditions required for it to host the continental football showcase.

Zimbabwe had and still has far better infrastructure and facilities than Burkina Faso, who hosted the event in 1998. History is repeating itself in 2017, with yet another Zimbabwean leading the open rebellion in African football.

Issa Hayatou is, no doubt, a man who demands loyalty. The consequences are too ghastly to contemplate for those who go against him. He has been at the helm of African football for the past 28 years.

His situation is not helped by allegations of impropriety levelled against him and various other African football leaders. These allegations make disturbing reading but are not entirely surprising.

It is also alleged that incidences of bribery are rampant during the time of elections of CAF elections. Brown envelopes are the order of the day.

Hayatou has steam-rollered decisions to award the rights to host the 2019, 2021 and 2023 Africa Cup of Nations all to Francophone West African countries, including his own country, Cameroon for 2019.

This has not gone down well with the rest of Africa.

Investigations that have taken place at FIFA are needed at CAF in order to safeguard the integrity of the global game.

It is a pity there is no strong CAF Ethics Committee to investigate the leadership for possible transgressions!

As the Africans say, “When a fish begins to rot, it starts with the head”. Football is indeed “the beautiful game”, “jogo bonnito” as the great Brazilian player, Pele, described. However, the game in Africa has sunken to its lowest ebb.   

CAF is not a private club for the privileged few. It is the custodian of the game in Africa.

The issue of preserving the “status quo” is not serving African football but the interests of the leadership.

There is need to rattle the cage for development to take place in any organisation because progress is rarely made when people are in their “comfort zones”.

There is need for support for those calling for change in the organisational culture of CAF.

The philosophy of “business as usual” can no longer hold water. Issa Hayatou cannot continue to be President of CAF when there are no tangible benefits on the ground to justify his leadership.

African FAs, especially those in Southern Africa, must ask themselves serious questions and as a collective must be brutally honest with each other if they want to continue to be relevant on the national development agendas of their respective countries and the sport which they represent.

To this end, Southern African FAs, and indeed the whole of Africa, must start to plan for a football life without Issa Hayatou at the helm.

He cannot be there forever. Sooner or later, he has to go and the process of building a more vibrant and transparent CAF must begin for the benefit of talented youngsters all over the continent.  It is now hashtag #Hayatou must fall time!

February 2017
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