CAF’s Presidential Election: Who Really Won?

by | Mar 23, 2017

So, my “gut” feeling about Issa Hayatou’s re-election to Africa’s Football Confederation (Caf) presidency? Indigestion after all.

Thursday’s election in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa contained triumphs for Fifa president Gianni Infantino and president of Zimbabwe’s FA (Zifa) and the Council of Southern African FAs (Cosafa), Philip Chiyangwa. Caf’s actual new president Ahmad was carried shoulder-high around the African Union building’s Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall. But the REAL winner? Nah.

Ahmad’s rise without trace to Caf power echoed Aleksander Ceferin’s rise to Uefa power last September. Both had Infantino’s overtly-covert backing, ensuring their election regardless of their campaigning. And both have past “issues” undermining their claims of long-distance from international football administration’s “old ways.”

Hayatou’s defeat, in itself, was a “good thing.” He is not well. He was recently described, possibly for the first time, as a “gangling Camerounian” (admittedly by Nigeria’s virulently anti-Hayatou Vanguard News publication). And African football needs a president backed by Fifa’s president, which Hayatou clearly isn’t.

Infantino had already removed him from any Fifa position useful to African football’s interests, notably the Fifa financial committee presidency. And with lucrative extra World Cup finals’ places available, Caf should benefit if Infantino doesn’t hate its president’s guts, especially as their award will be (geo)politically and financially complex. Yet Infantino will back Ahmad only as far as it enhances his own re-election prospects in 2019.

In this regard, nothing…at…all has changed since Africa benefited from Blatter’s patronage whenever they served his electoral interests. When Blatter judged those interests better served by improved Fifa finances, he voted for Germany as 2006 World Cup hosts ahead of South Africa, despite public promises to the contrary (google “Oceania representative Charlie Dempsey” for that story).

Meanwhile, pre-election rumours abounded that Ahmad was under preliminary Fifa Ethics Committee investigation for an involvement in the disgraced award of the 2022 World Cup finals to Qatar, the subject of The Ugly Game, The Qatari plot to buy the World Cup, by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert. One chapter, Cocktails, Conspiracy and a Million-dollar dinner, detailed Caf’s 2010 Congress in Angolan capital Luanda, sponsored by…Qatar’s World Cup bid.

Qatari Fifa vice-president Mohamed Bin Hammam, though not officially on the bid team, was in Luanda’s Talatona Convention Hotel, with “personal assistant Najeeb Chirakal.” And “knocking on the door to Bin Hammam’s suite were…familiar figures” including “Seedy Kinteh of Gambia” (very determined nominative determinism) and “Ahmad Darw, president of the Madagascar FA.

“Darw informed Chirakal that Bin Hammam had ‘promised to give him help’ with his own re-election. Asked…how he would like the money paid, he provided two options: ‘by bank draft or I can take it in Paris…arrangements were made…to meet Darw in Paris…to hand over the cash.”

On March 15th, Bloomberg News correspondent Tariq Panja quoted a source “familiar with the information” who said Ahmad was “approved to run” for the Caf presidency, “by…(Fifa)…but the ethics probe is separate.” Ahmad allegedly “sought and received money” from Bin Hammam. And, under the lyrical sub-heading Email Trove, the source claimed the investigation was based on “emails published by the Sunday Times” which were the basis of Blake and Calvert’s tale.

It remains unclear if “Ahmad Darw” is now Caf president. Chirakal is “banned for life from football-related activity” for involvement in “several unethical payments…on behalf of a third party to various football officials between 2009 and 2011.” But the InsideWorldFootball (IWF) website’s Andrew Warshaw wrote: “It has never been proven that (Ahmad) was that person.” A “completely different Mboto Gorge” denial (see Black Adder goes Forth for details).

Ahmad’s immediate popularity is politically expedient. He lost a 2016 Fifa Council seat election to Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi. Yet Nyantakyi lauded Ahmad last week as “a good candidate, with a good message, and the timing could not have been better.”

The 47-year-old Ghanaian was among a consistently-reported “younger generation of FA presidents” supporting change at Caf, if not necessarily Ahmad himself. “We are very happy that African football has been liberated,” said 48-year-old Rwanda FA president Vincent Nzamwita. “It’s time for some new ideas,” said 52-year-old Isha Johansen, Sierra Leone FA boss.

Most vocal was Chiyangwa, because OF COURSE HE WAS. He told South Africa’s kickoff.com website: “Hayatou was too old to play with the youngsters around him.” And having called Hayatou an emperor, Chiyangwa added that “my whole team is in there, they are in charge and they’ll determine how football is run in Africa” after last Thursday’s Caf Executive Committee (ExCo) elections.  Yes. HIS whole team. HIS.

“We got (South Africa FA president) Danny Jordaan, the guy from Nigeria [Amaju Pinnick], the guy from Liberia [Musa Bility],” he said, like it was a good thing. Oh…and “a sister of mine from Sierra Leone [Johansen] was “in there,” another relative (alongside “uncle” Robert Mugabe).

Jordaan and Bility would worry any team leader. Jordaan is inextricably linked to the “old guard” by the mysteriously arrival of $10m in the proverbial back-pocket of repugnant ex-Fifa crook, Jack Warner, which merited its own chapter in the now-legendary 2015 indictment of Fifa associates.

Jordaan was also a Fifa Council candidate, until the official candidate list revealed that he…wasn’t, “hours” before the results of candidates’ integrity checks were announced. Jordaan claimed a “tactical” withdrawal, which appeared vindicated when he topped the Caf ExCo poll. “The speculation is that (he) has something to hide,” South African radio station Jacaranda FM understated nicely.

Bility countered recent financial skulduggery allegations by…admitting to the most morally repulsive one, sharing part of a $50,000 Fifa grant, in aid of Ebola awareness, among “his inner circle” (IWF, 15th March) while trousering $35,000. He told Liberian radio station Fabric 101.1 FM that the money was for “Ebola awareness work in their respective communities,” a “highly-contested claim” (IWF).

Chiyangwa, meanwhile, is STILL pen-pals with Caf Secretary-General, Moroccan Hicham El-Amrani. A week before the election, he claimed his “legal team is preparing to go into battle” against Hayatou and El-Amrani. “They shouldn’t dare me with silly innuendos (and) nefarious allegations. If necessary following any deliberations prejudicial to my interests and standing, I will take legal recourse. (They) will be held personally liable for defamation.”

However, this didn’t stop Caf’s ExCo discussing disciplinary action against Chiyangwa. The charges appeared related to a “ten-minute explosive” Nigerian radio interview, where he labelled ExCo members “cowards” and “cronies” and called Hayatou “our old man who does not listen to anybody.”

Caf’s referenced an “attack” on “the honour of Caf, its president and members of the (ExCo).” But Chiyangwa was predictably dismissive. “(The charges) will die at the congress. They are after me, but I’m after them at the ballot box.” The elections were “the decider” and after them he would “sleep well and they will be miserable.”

Accusations simultaneously (handily?) emerged that Chiyangwa committed “several violations of Zifa and Fifa statutes during the 2015 Zifa presidential elections.” These came from election loser Trevor Carelse-Juul and his election agent Trevor Makombe, who “lodged a formal (written) complaint” to Fifa last month.

But impropriety allegations are set to hound Hayatou into enforced-retirement. Recent court hearings revealed “internationally unknown” Egyptian sports marketing company Presentation Sports’ claims to have outbid Lagardere Sports by $200m for Caf competition broadcast/marketing rights until 2028, days before Caf/Hayatou accepted Lagardere’s bid.

Caf accused Presentation of trying to undermine Hayatou’s election chances. But while Presentation said it “will continue criminal proceedings against Hayatou because the crime and the sanction are personal,” they added that “the continuation of civil proceedings against Caf” depended on Caf’s future actions. Caf made a stand-out assertion that Presentation submitted their offer FIFTEEN MONTHS after Lagardere’s deal was signed. And claims and counter-claims will surely persist.

“Inside reports” of the “true story” behind Ahmad’s “surprise” victory are everywhere. And with so many “Hayatou: My part in his downfall” articles about, you wonder why the “winds of change” sweeping a disgraced “old guard” away needed so much plotting and strategizing to blow over an unwell, non-campaigning 70-year-old with current and past financial scandals so high on his CV.

Gary Al-Smith on Ghanaian website Joy Sports detailed a conspiracy “mirroring the modus of similar elections elsewhere in the world, with machinations, intrigue…and a dogged stance for change that underpinned the effort to usurp Hayatou.” It culminated with Ahmad supporters eschewing ‘official’ congress accommodation to stay, and plot, at Addis Ababa’s Hilton hotel.

“Only a few bold FA presidents…openly slept at the Hilton,” Al-Smith claimed. Other conspirators “slept at their allocated hotels out of fear of victimization.” But, “sure of at least 30 votes” of the…erm…28 required, the conspirators congregated at the Hilton on election eve for “a final strategy meeting where projections showed “a minimum of 31 votes and maximum of 35.”  There was a “last-minute scare,” when it emerged that “the head of the Comoros FA had reported every detail of the strategy session to Hayatou.” But “it was too little, too late.”

However, Jordaan said Hayatou’s downfall was “plotted in South Africa,” at Cosafa’s congress in Sun City last December. “(Infantino) was not in Sun City and, all of a sudden, we must give him the credit?” he asked bitterly.

Steve Dede of Nigeria’s news and entertainment website Pulse credited…Pinnick. Dede wrote that “Ahmad started making the moves to become CAF president in 2013.” And after his 2013 election to Caf’s ExCo, Ahmad’s “ambition” for the job “wasn’t secret at this point” But “the game changer…was to convince (Pinnick) to be on his side” in 2016. Pinnick then “started to rally other federations,” hosting a July event in Nigeria with Infantino and “17 African FA presidents…allies of Pinnick.”

Zimbabwe’s Daily News said Chiyangwa’s “so-called birthday party was in essence a direct campaign against Hayatou…the gig which in a real sense loosened Hayatou’s vice-grip rule on African football” during which “Africa decided to give Hayatou his marching orders.” But the meetings at the Hilton “all but toppled Hayatou.”

Citifmonline’s Rahman Osman revealed that Hayatou lost due to secret meetings in Ghanaian capital Accra. Hayatou’s “biggest mistake” was ditching Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi in last week’s Fifa Council elections. However, Osman’s African football expertise was surely undermined (to the point of comparison with namesake Russell…or Richard) by his insistence that Chiyangwa was, wait for THIS, the “unsung hero of Hayatou’s downfall.” Chiyangwa. Unsung. CHIYANGWA.

Multiple factors DID contribute, though. BBC Sport’s Piers Edwards correctly emphasized that “like Infantino’s speech which swayed many voters in Fifa’s presidential elections of February 2016, Ahmad spoke in various languages (at Caf’s congress) while also promising more cash to member associations (and business class travel).”

Most, though not all, Nigerian football people campaigned vigorously for Ahmad, fuelled by years of perceived snubs and slights by Hayatou and what Vanguard’s Tony Ubani called “Nigerian moneybags who support Hayatou.” Ubani suggested, wonderfully evocatively, that a Hayatou win would “leave Nigeria, a giant in Africa, a powerhouse in African football, holding the horns of the cow for little countries who find it difficult to pay their dues milking the cow and determining the fate of Nigerian football.”

And many observers suggested that the “handwriting was on the wall” for Hayatou. But he couldn’t read it because of what Osasu Obayiuwana called, on the influential Play the Game website, “the self-serving conduct of (his) courtiers (who) played a key role in his unceremonious exit, as they egged him on to seek another term, even when it was obvious that it was time to depart and he could have easily devised a more honourable exit.”

But more important issues will shape African football’s future. In April’s When Saturday Comes magazine, Taimour Lay wrote that Africa’s “domestic leagues continue to struggle, hollowed-out by player flight and lack of resources.” Next-to-no-hope of change in that situation emerged last week.

What emerged instead was an election winner hidden in plain sight. Chiyangwa was the “election agent” of Ahmad’s victory but HIS “whole team is in there, they are in charge and they’ll determine how football is run in Africa.”

I think my indigestion is back.

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