The Confederation of African Football’s controversial decision to change the eligibility rules for contesting its presidency exposes the deep divisions within the governing body, reports our football editor, Osasu Obayiuwana.
Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote the amoral 16th century political treatise, “The Prince” – on ruthlessly acquiring power, as well as maintaining an iron-clad hold on it – would have been proud of his faithful disciples, as they followed his playbook, to the letter, at last September’s extraordinary General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the Seychelles.
Forty-four out of the 51 CAF members that participated, agreed to alter its electoral rules, which virtually guarantees that Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, the man that has ruled African football with an iron fist for nearly 25 years, has another four-year term, which will take him to a near 30-year hold on power.
The new electoral law which, according to Article 21 of the CAF statutes, will take legal effect from 2 December, states that only voting members of the CAF executive committee are eligible to contest for the presidency.
This would exclude non-voting members, like Ivorian Jacques Anouma, who is on the CAF executive committee by virtue of his place on the executive committee of FIFA, world football’s governing body.
It will also keep every national federation president on the continent out of the 2013 presidential contest. Only Burundi, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia had the courage to stand up against the amendment.
And would it interest you to know that the vote for the statutory amendment was not by secret ballot but by an open show of hands?
Augustin Senghor, the president of Senegal’s federation, gradually acquiring a reputation as a man that refuses to be intimidated by the CAF machine, made a bold statement that succinctly articulated the feelings of many in the fraternity, in stout opposition to this anti-democratic act.
A CAF executive committee member, who voted for the amendment but had vehemently protested against it, in private to me, months ago, claimed that the fear of retribution from the CAF secretariat, which had “friendly chats” with various federation presidents, ahead of the vote, intimidated many into supporting the amendment.
“The situation was difficult… Everyone was ‘called in’ and this created a fearful situation,” he said.
Mohamed Iya, the president of the Cameroonian Football Federation, FECAFOOT, whom I bumped into at Addis Ababa’s Bole Airport, on his way back to Yaoundé from the meeting, had a different perspective on it, describing it as a “fulfilling, happy event.”
But, as Machiavelli poignantly observed, “Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.”
Many CAF members have the “immediate need” to be on its prized committees; to get those plum jobs during African club competitions and Nations Cup tournaments.
And for those not out to satisfy personal interests, they are simply trying to protect their countries from being at the mercy of the powers that be, with the power to do hatchet jobs on their competitive ambitions.
In the executive committee meeting preceding the general assembly, only Leodegar Tenga, the Football Association of Tanzania president, who is also in charge of CECAFA, the Central and East African Confederation, courageously opposed the proposal.
Tenga, as honourable and virtuous as his stance appeared to be, ended up being a poster child for this ice-cold Machiavellian truism: “A man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”
And as a source from the Southern African region, also having a ringside seat in Seychelles, told me, the deafening silence of Anouma, whom he claimed did not utter a word against the proposal, killed the possibility of any stout opposition to the plan.
“Anouma, whom the new law seemed directly targeted against, refused to speak out against it, so why would anyone else stick out their neck and oppose it?” he asked.
But Anouma stoutly denied this allegation.
“I did express my opposition, vis-a-vis the amendment, before and during the deliberations at the Executive Committee meeting,” Anouma told me.
“I could not take part in the vote, since I have no voting right. Of course, people who are against me keep circulating the news that I remained silent during the deliberations but the honest members [of the CAF executive committee] and the people who know me will not and cannot say this about me.”
By pulling up the drawbridge against national federation presidents, Hayatou has conveniently put aside his past, when he used his own position in FECAFOOT, the Cameroonian federation, to launch himself to the CAF presidency in 1998, following the death of Ethiopia’s Ydnekatchew Tessema.
Hayatou has clearly forgotten what he told me, on 1 March 2004, while we shared a London “black cab”, with the banned FIFA officials, Amadou Diakite and Slim Aloulou (for their unethical roles in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding scandal), as its other occupants.
“I do not think that I would want to stay that long [in office], as I would be too old,” Hayatou said, in response to my query on whether he would want to perpetuate himself in power. He was heading for the 20-year mark then.
As my South African colleague, Mark Gleeson, publicly pointed out, in his recent piece for The Sowetan newspaper, Hayatou “suffers from kidney failure and requires dialysis every second day.”
That a man with this life-threatening medical condition opted, at the CAF congress in Gabon earlier this year, to seek another presidential term, from 2013 to 2017, rather than opt for a well-deserved retirement, is mindboggling indeed.
“After our recent meeting in the Seychelles, there is no question that we, as a confederation, have emerged with a very bad image,” Anouma admitted.
Machiavelli – whom, may I remind everyone, is amoral – provides the men of courage, vision and fortitude in the African game, disheartened with the terrible direction in which our game is clearly going, with an interesting piece of counsel that could help turn the tide of misfortune:
“A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.”
But who will have the intestinal fortitude to build the needed groundswell of support, amongst African football’s right-thinking people, in order to bring it out of this deep, dark tunnel of despair?
“After the last General Assembly, the future of African football does look very dark,” Anouma observed.
“But I think that it is not too late. I think the forthcoming election, in March next year, for the presidency of CAF, is a chance to make things right.”
Only time will tell, after the end of next year’s Nations Cup finals in South Africa, if the FIFA executive committee member’s comment is prescient or not.