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CAF elections show a need for improved governance in African football

Some of the members elected to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive committee, last weekend in Morocco, “hardly indicates that intellect, integrity and an unblemished reputation are qualities needed for earning a place in it,” says Osasu Obayiuwana, in his commentary on the CAF General Assembly, where Issa Hayatou secured an unprecedented 7th four-year term as president.
15 March 2013

The CAF General Assembly re-elected president Issa Hayatou (left) unopposed Photo: Hayatou and South African president Jacob Zuma during the African Cup of Nations 2013 (c) ZA Government/Flickr
The CAF General Assembly re-elected president Issa Hayatou (left) unopposed Photo: Hayatou and South African president Jacob Zuma during the African Cup of Nations 2013 (c) ZA Government/Flickr 

Inside the Palais des Congrès, in Marrakech, Morocco, venue of last Sunday’s Ordinary General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – which, to my mind, was anything but ordinary – Issa Hayatou, the man that has ruled African football with an iron fist for the last 25 years, got his way.

Securing a record seventh four-year term as CAF president, without anyone able or courageous enough to challenge him, Hayatou would have been, but for CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz (who has been in his position, in South America, for 27 years) the longest serving president of any football confederation in the world.

But I am certain Hayatou is not particularly displeased with being a close second.

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, world football’s governing body, who gave Hayatou a certificate, marking his 25th year on the FIFA executive committee, described the 67-year-old Cameroonian as “looking not just like a prince but like a king”.

It elicited a wide grin from a triumphant Hayatou, who subsequently went on the offensive against his critics.

"I have been called a dictator and all other kind of things... I am open to criticism, even when it is very difficult to accept, especially from the media, who often don't know anything about CAF and its procedures," said the Cameroonian.

"I didn't think that I would be in CAF for 25 years... I didn't have a particular career plan [when I came into the office]."

[The most interesting conversation that I have ever had with Hayatou, took place nine years ago]

Reflecting on some of the decisions taken by CAF, whilst at the helm, Hayatou said the January 2010 incident, in which they sanctioned Togo, for abruptly departing from the Cup of Nations in Angola, following the murder of two members of their delegation, by political separatists in Cabinda, was the most difficult of his career.

CAF initially banned Togo from the two subsequent tournaments, as well as imposing a $50,000 fine, claiming that 'political interference' from the Togolese government led to the team's decision to return home.

That mind-boggling punishment attracted fierce global condemnation for CAF and Hayatou in particular, who were accused of lacking human empathy for the tragedy that befell the West African team.

"The decision to suspend Togo was the most difficult decision in my 25 years as president...We were accused of not protecting the team. But how could we have done that? CAF has no army... They were supposed to have arrived in Angola by air, but they decided to travel by road, following which the shooting incident happened."

"After the decision, we were accused of being heartless and even being accomplices to the assassins."

Has it escaped Hayatou’s mind that it took him close to two weeks, at that particular Cup of Nations Finals in Angola, before he made a public statement about the tragedy?

Person after person, who spoke at the Marrakech congress, saw none of his flaws, extolling only his ‘virtues’, describing Hayatou’s tenure as being one of untold development for African football.

As I witnessed all of this, from my vantage position in the Congress Hall, I had to remind myself, constantly, that I was not in Pyongyang, North Korea, where such eulogies, for ‘The Dear Leader’, who can do no wrong, are par for the course.

The conspicuous absence of Jacques Anouma, the FIFA executive committee member, who failed in his attempt, to overturn the controversial change to the CAF presidential eligibility rules, which only allows the 13 elected members of the CAF exco to contest the presidency, did not attract a single public comment at the congress.

Anouma, no Mary Poppins himself - having been a close aide of Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), now facing ‘crimes against humanity’ charges at the International Criminal Court – rightfully challenged a skewered statutory amendment, which was rubber stamped at last year’s CAF extra-ordinary General Assembly in the Seychelles.

Before that congress, all that it took to seek the presidency of CAF was the nomination of one national federation, the rule under which the former president of the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) filed his nomination papers at CAF headquarters in Cairo.

But the new eligibility rules, passed last September, which took legal effect in December 2012, subsequently ensured that his bid to become president came to a rude end.

I had a rather interesting conversation with Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, on the matter, when we met in South Africa, early in the year:

Me: Do you think that the recent changes, to the CAF presidential election rules, serve the cause of good governance in African football?

Valcke: I have to say that I will disappoint you. A lot. (Pauses) But I cannot answer your question…

Me: You cannot?

Valcke: No. Permit me to keep what I think [to myself] and permit me to keep my job. But I cannot answer this question. I also have to be a bit of a politician sometimes…

African football is, without question, being held hostage by this clear conspiracy of silence.

Such a nauseating atmosphere allowed the disheartening return of Mali's Amadou Diakite, to the CAF executive committee.

Having been banned by FIFA for two years, from "all football activities", for his unethical behaviour, in the prelude to the vote for the 2018/2022 World Cup hosts, one would have thought the global opprobrium, following such a ban, would have automatically knocked him out of the contest.

But the former FIFA executive committee member, whose two-year exile ended on October 20th last year, got a resounding endorsement during the elections.

And how about the ascension of Anjorin Moucharafou, the controversial president of the Benin Football Federation, FBF, to the same CAF executive committee?

An unapologetic, longstanding loyalist of Hayatou, Anjorin spent several months in a Beninoise jail, following the 'disappearance' of almost $700,000 in sponsorship money, from the FBF's coffers.

He was restored to his position at home, after FIFA threatened to sanction Benin's government for political interference.

The election of such characters to the CAF executive committee hardly indicates that intellect, integrity and an unblemished reputation are qualities needed for earning a place in it. And therein lies the danger for the continent.

That South African Danny Jordaan, the former CEO of the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee failed, for the second time in two years, to secure a seat on the CAF executive committee, even though he is acknowledged as one of the continent’s brightest minds, is indicative of this.

Without honest and cerebral leadership, African football, undoubtedly possessing an incredible depth of talent, that ought to end the domination of Europe and South America at global competitions, such as the World Cup, will never realise its potential.

And that would be the true tragedy.

Osasu Obayiuwana, the Associate Editor of the London-based monthly magazine, NewAfrican and the editor of, is one of the world’s leading writers on African football. He is a regular broadcaster for the BBC World Service and SuperSport, the pan-African channel.


Dr. Denis Mowbray, New Zealand, 17-03-13 00:02:
A very interesting article, unfortunately, the situation described reflects the governance standards that exist in FIFA. Little or no progress will be made until the governance standards of the world governing body are corrected.
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