Clash of vision and ego at the center stage of next CAF leadership elections?
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FIFA President Infantino Gianni has just toured Africa, exactly a year after his own election and meant to show how the African football is closer to his heart.
Coincidentally just three weeks before CAF elections slated for this March 16, 2017.
In each of the seven nations visited, he was welcomed with a great deal of excitement after his Council agreed to expand the WorldCup to 48 teams; for which about 10 will come from Africa.
He had kept his word despite CAF Executives having preferred the Bahraini Salman a year earlier.
But his detour in Zimbabwe was not that simple, preceded by media hype since COSAFA- the Southern Confederation- had endorsed Ahmad Ahmad from Madagascar to be the next CAF President; thus challenging the incumbent Issa Hayatou, CAF boss since 1988.
The presidents of domestic federations and few of their colleagues from West Africa were invited to attend a meeting presented as a birth date celebration for the COSAFA Chair.
The CAF Secretary General rubbished it as a pretext and attempted to prevent the gatherin, clearly labeled as "illegal" and seen as an electoral platform for the Malagasy against Hayatou.
But what is at stake behind such high profile maneuvering? Why would a seriously ageing and respected man wish to run again, for the 8th term?
For many observers, as Ahmad pointed out recently, CAF business is conducted in a thick opacity and only few connected people can understand related strategic decisions ex-post.
Actually, football professionals fight only to be co-opted into regional bodies and competitions' committees. Nil risk and benefits guaranteed for those staying loyal to the incumbent!
At regional level, the issue of CECAFA-Central East- lagging behind since decades with nations usually beyond the 90th position at FIFA table is ignored; barely with no national team/club passing the preliminaries at CAF competitions. None made it to the recent U20 in Zambia!
Clearly the geographical development is unbalanced and no plan announced to take care for it. Bluntly put, why would the delegates from CECAFA region vote to renew the statusquo?
Equally serious, the governance issues and decisions making processes have been raised. CANs/CHANs are gifted to host countries then brought to the ExecCom meetings for approval only as a mere formality. The sequence CAN2019/21/23 has gone as planned by a small circle.
The host candidate for CAN 2025 would better off to know to whom to vote for today!
Furthermore a $1 Billion marketing contract was awarded to the French firm Lagardere, amid controversy yet dismissed by CAF; after the Egyptian media dispelled rumors claiming some murky procurement process that ignored local or regional firms to benefit the "foreigners".
The issue was not about the law per say but African firms missing real business opportunities. The execution of the above contract is not helping the local marketers and broadcasters either.
The contractor is bullying the locals with a take-or-leave-it attitude, cornering host or playing nations pressed by their public opinions; "kindly" blackmailed to pay hefty sums at last minute.
CAF has never called for consultative meetings nor give a bargaining power to the local marketers and broadcasters to strategize ahead to generate some revenues and share the cake.
At the end, host countries/federations will lose money, and be left alone with unused costly infrastructures; given the low level of competitiveness of their domestic leagues, unfunded. On top of the likely mismanagement of local federation and quarrels with their Sports Ministry.
Hence, the imminent CAF leadership elections should not lead to the statusquo. The question being; what is the business model or strategic vision CAF that has for the next 15 years?
FIFA has done its part and doubled up some technical assistance in each of the 54 federations. The FIFA boss had since pledged to enforce governance and transparency, monitor accountability, check performances versus allocated resources for all its confederations.
Now CAF has to do its part starting with a meaningful election leading to a transition toward more ambitious plans; starting with the handling of more teams from World Cup 2026 onward.
Infantino "gifted" Africa with the increase of the number of participating teams probably to 10 even if no single African team has ever reached the semi-finals in any World Cup so far.
It is high time to set new strategic plans aiming at ambitious yet achievable objectives for the next competitions from 2020 onward, building from the U15/U17/U20 categories.
And consider other bold actions like soliciting support for a joint application for WC2026 or WC2030 for obviously wider benefits and executed in a transparent way.
Learning from China who has put up resources and political will with clear strategic objectives to host or win the WC2026 and beyond, indeed taking stoke of the FIFA strategic move to Asia!
Is the incumbent still open-minded to lead such transition after such a long reign?
Indeed Hayatou is a strong leader, has a vast experience of people and powerful connections plus an established network of informants and or benefactors; but is it enough at this juncture?
Unimpressed, Ahmad backers argue that if the incumbent was that altruist, clean, competent, fit and strategic, he should have run for FIFA president and gone for the top post for Africa.
Should his challenger (former Sports Minister) be given a chance as FIFA did last year and no earthquake happened when Infantino replaced the experienced and artful Blatter?
Hayatou lobbyists are still adamantly suggesting Ahmad Ahmad has no chance of winning. The question Ahmad’ experience (or lack of), and suggesting some CAF Executives might be ready for 2021; a clever move to lure the most ambitious to wrestle or oppose Ahmad for now.
But since the Trump and Barrow wins, Brexit surprise or Barca comeback, anything can happen!
If COSAFA and CECAFA blocks side together plus few members from North and West regions to support Ahmad, then Hayatou could meet a serious challenge.
Each camp claims to have secured 30 vote pledges and the lobbying will go to the wire.
Anyway, the stakes are much higher and go well beyond the personality of CAF’ next leader. Fast tracking a long awaited restructuring and managing the very transition toward new targets:
CAF new leadership shall review the partnerships with African Governments and local private sector investing in the ecosystem,-hard and soft infrastructures that allow CAF to strive and earn that much power somehow disproportionate to the impact on the ground. Accountability!
Whoever will be elected shall renew a proactive cooperation with FIFA aiming at much higher ambitious targets and shall empower our young talented football players to dream of and work hard towards potential wins at the next World Cups and or World Club Cups.
At the end, structural changes are required to quit this assistance-favor misleading model to turn football into a fully fledge industry that generate employment, passion and wealth around.
Eng. Roger Munyampenda, Management & Marketing Consultant