Finally, Hayatou falls. But what beckons for Africa?

Photo: Government ZA/Flickr

Issa Hayatou (middle), former CAF president. Photo: Government ZA/Flickr

After 29 unprecedented years as Africa’s football supremo, Issa Hayatou’s iron grip as CAF president came to a dramatic end in Ethiopia. But will the ascension of Ahmad open the needed chapter of reform and good governance in the continent, which many are demanding? Osasu Obayiuwana witnessed the dramatic election in Addis Ababa.

When the result of the March 16th Confederation of African Football (CAF) presidential election was announced, at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was truly the end of a 29-year era and the beginning of an uncertain new chapter.

Issa Hayatou, the 70-year Cameroonian, who has been at the centre of African football politics for three decades, put on a façade of grace as the result was declared.

“It’s not that bad,” he initially said, consoling his courtiers and supporters, who were visibly thunderstruck  - some in tears - over what happened. They knew, instantly, that the gravy train of financial favours and political influence, over how CAF’s affairs are managed, had come to a rude end.

Mr Hayatou should have stepped down last year and allowed an open, free and fair presidential election. But he decided to be the architect of his own humiliation, by not reading the electoral handwriting on the wall and altering the CAF statute, which compelled every member of the executive committee to step down at 70.

Unsurprisingly, the supporters of Ahmad, the 57-year-old from Madagascar, erupted in jubilation on hearing the result, carrying him shoulder high in the hall.

The unexpected 14-vote margin of Ahmad’s victory - 34 to 20 - was a resounding, clear message that the existing order was over.

A meteoric rise to a position with commitments
It has been a meteoric rise for the former Fisheries Minister and current Deputy President of his country’s senate, who was elected to the executive committee of CAF only four years ago, in Marrakech, Morocco.

"We worked hard but we won. That was the first step. The second step is to develop African football… Some days I thought I would win - today I didn't (think I would win)," Ahmad (he goes by a single name) admitted to journalists immediately after the vote.

"This is sweet victory. When you work hard for years and months and you succeed, that is great.''

Before the result was announced, Dennis Idrissa, a member of the Malagasy's campaign team, admitted his candidate was so nervous about the result that he stayed outside of the election hall.

"Ahmad asked me to listen and come back to tell him what happened," Idrissa told BBC Sport.

"He was outside the auditorium - he was so stressed, so nervous. When I heard the result - I came out quickly and told him 'Ahmad, you are the new president of CAF.

"He said: 'Seriously? Dennis, are you sure? I went back into the auditorium to check. I then had the honour of bringing him into the auditorium.

"And then we lifted him, along with the Djibouti President onto our shoulders," Idrissa said.

Those that have read my journalism, over the years and on these pages, are acutely aware that I have been an ardent critic of how Hayatou did many things, as CAF president.

That has been primarily responsible for why he has refused to grant me an interview since 2004, when he spoke to me in London, during FIFA’s centenary.

Hayatou made it very clear to me, in Libreville, during the last Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, that he was hurt by what I have written about him, particularly my apt description of the 2013 CAF elective congress in Morocco, as being reminiscent of a political gathering in North Korea, when he was elected to his seventh - and last – term, without an opponent.

Mr Ahmad, clearly given a mandate, now has the mantle of leadership and must prove to Africa that he can act competently and independently as CAF president.

He must show that he is ready to be a fighter for Africa’s interests, even if it means going head-to-head with the FIFA leadership on occasion, which clearly supported him to win this election.

Hayatou’s last salvos
In a parting shot at the end of the congress, Hayatou did not mince his words about what he described as “interference” by FIFA in CAF’s electoral affairs, firing a couple of salvos at Gianni Infantino.

“Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president at the age of 79 and yet, some people say that I am too old at 70? Is there one standard for Africans and another for Europeans?” he furiously said, letting his calm visage slip.

“There is no doubt that there was interference, from outside, during this election. Are the issues of Africa to be determined by Africans? Or are they to be determined by outsiders? Well, they wanted me to go, so now I am going,” Hayatou went on, as the FIFA boss, who sat to his immediate right, kept silent throughout the outgoing president’s tirade.

And Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s Secretary-General, did not escape Hayatou’s wrath either. Her previous declaration that she was “non-partisan” and sided neither candidate, was clearly lost on Hayatou, who directly accused her of “campaigning” against him, following the declaration of the result.

Changing an organisational culture
While financial reform and change, in the overall manner of governance, is desperately needed at CAF, the proverbial baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. Many staff in CAF will be frightened about their futures. For certain, the incompetent ones need to be shown the door. But those that have demonstrable competence must be allowed to remain.

A policy of victimisation, in the name of “change,” will do CAF tremendous damage, as institutional knowledge, from competent, non-partisan staff, is required, to chart a better course, for the organisation. 

The self-serving conduct of Hayatou’s courtiers played a key role in his unceremonious exit, as they egged him on to seek another presidential term, even when it was obvious that it was time to depart and he could have easily devised a more honourable exit.

As he ascends the presidency that he won, Mr Ahmad will be well advised to choose counsellors and advisers that will tell him the unvarnished truth, so that he can be an ethical, visionary president that the continental football fraternity will respect and the entire world will reckon with.

Ahmad promised to overhaul CAF’s ethical bodies to improve transparency in governance, during a passionate pre-election speech to the congress. He also vowed to thoroughly examine CAF’s finances, once he arrives in Cairo.

"I will go to CAF headquarters and look inside this house - after that, I audit," Ahmad told BBC Sport.

"It's not a suspicion [that money has been misappropriated] but it's management now - an obligation.

"When (we) finish the managerial and financial audit, I will call the press to talk about the guide (roadmap) that we can follow. Step-by-step, that is our obligation."

It was quite ironic that Bloomberg News, on the eve of Ahmad’s election, reported disturbing news that he is currently the subject of an on-going investigation by FIFA’s ethics chamber.

According to Bloomberg, investigators are looking into allegations that Ahmad sought and received money from Mohamed bin Hammam, the former president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), who received a life ban from FIFA in 2012.

But with the four-year mandates of Cornel Borbely, the Swiss attorney who heads the investigatory division of FIFA’s ethics committee, and Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German judge who heads the adjudicatory chamber, expiring in May – and with no indication that their mandates will be renewed, at the next FIFA congress in Manama, Bahrain - only time will tell if this investigation will have profound consequences for the African game.

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