CAF’s Presidential Campaign: The Final Countdown

by | Mar 15, 2017

The African football confederation (Caf) 2017 presidential campaign has frequently reminded me of what was once said of an election in my trade union: “Democracy is being de-mocked.”

If public declarations of support can be believed, Madagascar FA president Ahmad (his ballot paper name) has sufficient momentum for victory. It is an “if” the size of the ego Ahmad’s self-styled “election agent” Philip Chiyangwa. But incumbent president, Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou, will need some delegates to Caf’s 39th Ordinary (ha!) General Assembly, in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this Wednesday and Thursday, to use the secrecy of the ballot to vote against such declarations, as so often happens at Fifa and football confederation elections.

Even public support has been difficult to gauge. Last month, “South Africa’s flawless support” for Hayatou was quickly exposed as flawed to the point of non-existence. And while three of Caf’s six regions declared support for a candidate, the unanimities of these declarations soon crumbled.

Cosafa, the Council of Southern African FAs, famously voted in Johannesburg on February 11th to unanimously to back Ahmad. But in a tremendously in-depth article last weekend, the Nigeria Nation newspaper’s Taiwo Alimi and Morakinyo Abodunrin reported that “three Cosafa members, the Comoros Islands, Mauritius and Zambia (were) strongly indicating switching support to Hayatou.”

On February 4th in Libreville, Gabon, the day before Africa’s Cup of Nations (Afcon) final, two regions pondered the election. West Africa’s Football Union (WAFU) endorsed Hayatou. But minutes “seen by” the InsideWorldFootball web-site said only “seven of WAFU’s 16 associations” attended, including “Liberia’s Musa Bility who has already declared he will be voting for Ahmad.”

And the Council for East and Central African FAs (Cecafa) Executive Committee (ExCo) “passed agreement in support of (Hayatou’s) candidature” sycophantically pledging the 11-nation body’s “commitment and loyalty” to his “leadership and Caf’s ideology to drive the African agenda, the cornerstone that has seen Caf grow and hold the continent together.”

However (again), Djibouti FA president, Souleiman Hassan Waberi told the BBC on March 5th: “Djibouti (is) in for change at Caf and our vote will go for Ahmad.” And he was confident that “the majority” of the other ten Cecafa members were “also backing a change.”

Ugandan FA president Moses Magogo also said that day that their ExCo decided to keep their vote secret, which Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper interpreted as “not publicly backing Hayatou” and “suggested they were likely to vote for Ahmad.” However (AGAIN), Magogo has since told the AfricanFootball (AF) website that “disclosing who we are supporting could spoil my chances” in the Caf ExCo elections, also this week.

Rwandan FA president Vincent Nzamiwta would only tell AF that: “We know the candidate we shall vote for who will stand for our interests.” And Niger’s FA chief, Colonel-Major Djibrilla Hima Hamidou, told French Radio International: “Niger will choose its candidate according to its interests; we will study the programmes of both candidates and make the choice that benefits Nigerien football.”

AF also warned, correctly, that Eritrea’s “long political differences with hosts Ethiopia could deny them chance to travel and vote.” A peripheral circumstance which could prove central. And they surmised that “many seem to have changed their minds and have remained tight-lipped on…their votes.”

Yet where individual nations, or individual characters purporting to speak on nations’ behalves, have kept loose-lipped (hello, Musa Bility), they have often declared for Ahmad. Such as Botswana FA president, Maclean Letshwiti, who modestly declared: “I am the driving force, the strategist. I keep the group together. We support Ahmad.”

Letshwiti confirmed this when speculation that he supported Hayatou’s arose from his non-appearance at Chiyangwa’s not-at-all-a-campaign-rally in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare last month. The Namibia-based Southern Times (ST) newspaper reported that Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi’s “presence in Harare…appeared to suggest he will be backing Ahmad” even though he “has not revealed whom he will vote for.”

So, Chiyangwa remains depressingly centre-stage. He and Caf Secretary-General Hicham El-Amrani remain pen-pals. But Chiyangwa’s electioneering is the current focus of his attention-seeking. And as the ST is produced by the imaginatively-titled Namibian/Zimbabwean joint-venture Namzim newspapers, it could hardly escape Chiyangwa’s oratory clutches.

He again claimed 35 of the then-54 available votes were in Ahmad’s proverbial bag, (more dispassionate sources suggest 21) adding that “people looked at us as if we were joking but I can tell you, loud and clear, that we could even get far more than that because a lot of brave men are now coming out and preaching our gospel.” He might yet declare FIFTY-five votes for Ahmad.  And the Nigeria Guardian suggested Ahmad also has 14 votes “under the umbrella of Young FA bosses from across Africa,” So, Chiyangwa might be correctly predicting “an upset bigger than anything ever seen.”

Chiyangwa went on (and on): “There is no stopping the train because we have passed the point where we could have been stopped and we are gathering momentum with every stop.” Momentum maintained by regular “Hayatou must go” articles, mostly from regions considered ill-treated by Hayatou; Cecafa, Cosafa and…Nigeria.

For instance, Brian Mukasa’s Golden opportunity for emancipation of African football, on the virulently anti-Hayatou Soka25east website (“dedicated to the East Central and Southern Africa region”). Mukasa labelled Hayatou a “tyrant” clinging “stubbornly” to power “even after surpassing the biblical allowance for human existence,” while Ahmad, 14 years younger, was “the interesting Madagascan with one name and genial comportment.”

Many African journalists are anti-Hayatou, if not necessarily pro-Ahmad. And cautious journalistic voices, such as veteran-Nigerian Paul Bassey and British-Nigerian Osasu Obayiuwana, seem rare. However, journalists have approximately zero votes, as they did when disgraced gnome Sepp Blatter won persistent Fifa presidential re-election in hostile media environments

Ahmad has considerable high-profile, low-relevancy support. As Cameroon football legend Samuel Eto’o said, straight *cough* from the footballer’s lexicon: “No institution resists the laws of cycles and change.” He hoped that change would “help African football evolve.” But his hopes jarred with his insistence that ex-competition draw compere Gianni Infantino’s “arrival” as Fifa president had “reignited innovation.”

Unlike runaway trains, young umbrellas, fuming journalists or eloquent ex-Barcelona strikers, support from Infantino…and his Secretary-General appointment, Senegalese box-ticker Fatma Samoura, matters. Both are obliged to be neutral. But both were at Chiyangwa’s not-a-campaign-rally-oh-no. And both have protested their neutrality…perhaps too much.

During his recent co-incidentally-during-the-election-campaign African tour, Infantino labelled his presence a “duty” as “the president of 211 associations” to “see for myself” local FAs at work, including some “who don’t even invite me.” He insisted, so it must be true, that it wasn’t for “the Fifa president to comment about Caf elections,” as “delegates have the rights to exercise their rights democratically to elect their leader.”

Meanwhile Samoura offered a straightforward “I am neutral,” adding the party line: “I want the one who represents the future of African football to be elected with a solid programme” (to) “enable this continent to continue to be a pool of talent (and) remain the Africa of which everybody dreams.” Bless.

Ahmad’s actual campaigning remains lower-key than Romeo Challenger’s contributions to Showaddywaddy songs (there’s obscure cultural referencing for you). While Hayatou’s campaign profile has been lower-key than what Bobby Farrell mimed to on Boney M records. And, like Boney M, Hayatou is facing allegations of “dirty tricks.”

Allegations against Hayatou opponents have suddenly become newsworthy days before the election. The dismally-irrepressible Bility (possible nickname: “no discernible A”) has been accused by ex-Liberian FA ExCo colleague Rochell Woodson of financial embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. And allegations that Chiyangwa “bought” his 2015 election as Zimbabwe FA (Zifa) president hit last week’s headlines, despite being made by his opponent, Trevor Carelse-Juul, last September.

This could be co-incidental rather than co-ordinated, of course. But they could also be in response to allegations that Hayatou is trying to buy Thursday’s election. Soka25east reported that $2.5m had been set aside “to influence delegates in Hayatou’s favour.” And, under an article sub-heading Slush Funds to the Rescue, “usually dependable sources” confirmed a “storming” of Addis Ababa “with bags of dollars for delegates,” allegedly from Angola and Caf media marketing partner Lagardere Sports.

So, on Sunday, Caf’s PR machine rushed to Hayatou’s defence over the “appointment of Lagardere Sports as marketing and media agency for the main regional football competitions up to 2028.” Egypt’s Competition Authority (ECA) alleged in January that Hayatou had breached Egyptian competition law in appointing Lagardere.

Caf’s angry press release on the “unsubstantiated charges and allegations” suggested they’d taken dismissiveness lessons from Chiyangwa. And a theme quickly emerged. The ECA and Egypt’s public prosecutor had “presented (the charges) in the media, through appearances on talk shows” and “attempted to conduct a trial by media, offering Caf no right of defence and serving it with no formal charges other than through the media.” (sub-text: “stay classy, ECA”).

Caf did “categorically assert” that the ECA claims were “groundless…vigorously contested” etc…blah… But in case there was any doubt about the real issue, they claimed that “the timing” of this “media campaign” underlined the ECA’s “attempt to disrupt and undermine Caf at the time of its presidential elections.”

Some smart money remains on victory for the electoral equivalent of the “Hayatou Express,” the car/plane combo which transported Hayatou and other “dignitaries” speedily across Gabon for Afcon 2017 matches. The idea of giving Hayatou “one more time” and letting him be president for his native Cameroon’s 2019 Afcon is gaining traction. And there’s still plenty of other money with plenty of talking to do in Addis Ababa.

Hayatou’s re-election, given Infantino’s “neutrality,” would herald the “interesting times” of the Chinese proverb for African football. And that uncertain prospect may still sway people towards the Ahmad/Chiyangwa ticket. But some things ARE certain.

Neither candidate is what Africa needs right now. Hayatou is a self-serving dictator in ill-health, the “iron fist” of so many articles about his 29-year rule over Caf clearly getting rusty. Ahmad, tainted by direct financial association with disgraced Fifa ex-vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam, is a stop-gap holder of Infantino’s 2019 electoral interests until someone credible emerges…or Chiyangwa, who will continue to attract attention, unless/until he dissolves into scandal.

There is a feeling that Hayatou will somehow prevail, although that might just be indigestion. And whatever Thursday’s result, the losers will complain.

Thanks to Taimour Lay of the Africa report (africareport.com) for his help with the tricky knowledgeable-sounding bits of this article. Please read his take on Africa’s current football politics in the latest (April) issue of “When Saturday Comes” magazine, to see how it should be done. And if my predictions turn out to be wrong…they were his, really).

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