The 2021 Presidential elections at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are going to be definitive in every sense of the word. These elections will either symbolize the end of CAF as a viable business entity and its certain death and burial or a slim chance at resurrection and re-engineering itself.
Currently, CAF is in the literal ICU, having been placed there by the decisions of its Executive Committee over the last few years.
One of those decisions was the unilateral withdrawal from its 12-year, 1-billion dollar guaranteed commercial rights agreement with French agency Lagardere Sports and Entertainment (LSE), and quite foolishly at the time of that withdrawal, they did not have a guaranteed alternative to this agreement.
What happened thereafter was a run by some of the top broadcasters from CAF competitions and growing uncertainty about the status of the other commercial partners who had signed with LSE, including title sponsors Total and other tier-2 sponsors.
The prejudice with which CAF mandarins terminated the LSE deal exhibited their unpredictability and the real danger of dealing with them, with the dawning realization amongst potential partners of the likelihood that CAF and its officials would easily ignore the good faith clauses on any contract, for any reason.
Since the arrival of President Ahmad Ahmad at the helm of CAF in 2017 there has been unprecedented pilferage of the CAF cash reserves, and in order to purchase the silence and acquiescence of the 54 CAF members to this theft, Ahmad orchestrated the unprecedented redistribution of portions of those reserves through the 3-fold increment in annual subventions to member associations, private remittances into the bank accounts of FA Presidents, the stuffing of CAF committees with excessive numbers of members (majority of them FA Presidents) thereby making it impossible for them to carry out their mandates.
In the end, a FIFA commissioned audit by giant PWC late 2019 discovered a financial discrepancy to the tune of $24 million, money that could not be accounted for.
Mouad Hajji, the then Moroccan CAF CEO, when he heard that FIFA were sending a supplementary audit mission by PWC to clarify some of the discrepancies uncovered in the first round of audits, quickly tendered his resignation without notice and sprinted across the Sahara to hide out in his home country.
In attempt to plug the financial hole in CAF from which it was hemorrhaging dangerously, and in order to save the organization, FIFA SG Mme Fatma Samoura (then posted in CAF Hq. in Cairo as a special delegate) attempted to institute some radical changes in the organization, including a no-cash payments policy, one which was the conduit of the loss of these 10s of millions of dollars from the organization.
The no-cash policy especially, triggered an irrational energy, and CAF mandarins elected to eject Samoura from Africa and thumbing their noses at FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the process, the man into whose arms they had rushed to when CAF’s position seemed untenable and its President Ahmad Ahmad had foolishly pushed himself into a corner with an arrest in Paris for money-laundering and graft.
Infact, Samoura had even attempted to shore up the financial fortunes of CAF by getting all African FA Presidents to sign off all their broadcast and other commercial rights to the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers over to FIFA.
This deft maneuver was ostensibly to shield these revenues from falling into the same black hole that similar revenues had fallen into since the arrival of Ahmad.
Now CAF have no commercial contract, no prospects and have been dug into an even deeper hole by the covid-19 pandemic, whose end is nowhere in sight.
LSE have gone on and renewed the tenure of its Africa and Middle East CEO Idriss Akki, with murmurs that CAF could return to the LSE commercial fold on newer, lower-than-before commercial terms.
CAF Vice-President, the Congolese dinosaur Constant Omari Selemani, sounded like he was making such overtures to LSE early this year when he hosted his fellow countryman and refugee to Switzerland, Veron Mosengo-Omba, for the grand opening of a dust patch (which he termed as a field) in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, and that had supposedly been upgraded with more than $1 million in FIFA funds
This piece of theatre in Kinshasa aimed at catching the attention of LSE is absolute codswallop and poppycock, and in our opinion, LSE must surely be suckers for punishment to want to get back into bed with CAF as long as Ahmad is its President.
To be absolutely certain, the next CAF Presidential elections will either be a burial ceremony for the entire organization or a resurrection story, like the one of Jesus Christ (Īsā ibn Maryam).
With rumors swirling about Africa that Ahmad Ahmad will throw his hat back into the ring in 2021 and there is the belief that because of his stranglehold on the numerically superior “Muslim brotherhood”, and the fact that he has no qualms using every single remaining dime in CAF to buy FA Presidents votes, he actually stands a real chance of winning.
For African FAs to re-elect Ahmad would surely sound the death knell for the organization, in less than a year CAF would be insolvent and unable to pay the annual subventions to member associations as promised in the successive Executive committee meetings and General Assemblies.
The death of CAF as a viable organization would kill off the collective bargaining capacity of the continent at the FIFA Council.
The strength of the African members associations has always resided in a strong CAF which could negotiate its position effectively, case in point as it did to cajole FIFA into a rotational hosting system for its FIFA World Cup, which ultimately got South Africa chosen to host the elite event in 2010.
The imminent departure of Gianni Infantino from the FIFA Presidency leaves Ahmad Ahmad’s position even more untenable, and African FAs completely exposed.
You see, for the last one year Ahmad had been using African votes to insulate himself from FIFA Ethics proceedings, against accusations of rape and sexual harassment, theft, corruption and other despicable actions on his part.
While negotiating his own security, he has been unable to sneak in any African agenda, even where Infantino has foolishly allowed him to use his CAF capital for personal (as opposed to continental) benefit.
A new FIFA President (irrespective of who it is) would want to stamp his authority by being viewed as the one who brought African football corruption to a heel. In the ‘night-of-the-long-knives’ that would follow, new Ethics committee bosses would zero in on the continents individual FA bosses, with devastating effect on a majority.
The very predictable Ahmad would once again seek to negotiate on his own behalf by evading an Ethics committee life ban but ceding the CAF Presidency in the process, hoping ultimately to get an opportunity to reclaim his old Malagasy FA seat, no FA President with a skeleton in his closet would be safe.
With news now arriving of the immediate resignation of Swiss AG Michael Lauber due the appointment of a special prosecutor Stefan Keller to delve into the criminality of Lauber’s interaction with FIFA President Infantino, the goose is more or less cooked for Infantino.
While Ahmad is bad for African football Presidents, mainly because he would happily throw anyone under the bus to save himself, a clean and neutral CAF President would be able to negotiate with a new FIFA dispensation on behalf of individual FA Presidents on one hand, and re-engage the likes of Idriss Akki and LSE for a new palatable commercial contract for CAF.
Currently, Ahmad would be unable to do both.
Another name being tossed around for the CAF Presidency is that of former Egypt FA President and current FIFA Council member Hany Abo Rida, a man who resigned slightly more than a year ago in a cloud, accused at home of corruption and the dismal performance of the Egyptian National Football team (The Pharaohs) in the AFCON hosted by that same country.
Abo Rida also has his own active FIFA Ethics investigation going on for the 2017 bribery of FA Presidents to vote for him in the FIFA Council elections that year in Bahrain.
Nothing illustrates just how treacherous the likes of Ahmad Ahmad and Hany Abo Rida really are than two (2) instances where close associates were thrown to the curb for expediency and without as much as a 2nd glance.
In early 2019, CAF arranged a very intimate pilgrimage of its members of the “Muslim Brotherhood” to the “Umrah” pilgrimage in the Holy land.
A picture in circulation shows Ahmad accompanied by Abo Rida, the fugitive Mouad Hajji and LSE boss Idriss Akki.
When the decision to dump LSE was made by the CAF inner circle, no one bothered to contact Idriss Akki to give him the heads-up, rather he was informed of the termination vide a letter that the rest of Africa got at the same time as Akki.
By this time, none of the people he had attended the pilgrimage with would pick up Akki’s phone calls, and he was left with no option but to write formal letters seeking some form of mediation on the contract.
All to no avail.
The other prominent member of the “Muslim Brotherhood” who was dropped in a similar embarrassing manner was Djibouti FA and former CAF Referees committee President Suleiman Waberi.
When the heat had become too much for Ahmad due to his many transgressions, he called in FIFA to manage CAF beginning August 2019. One of the first things that FIFA discovered was the controversy surrounding match officials in club and National team competitions.
When FIFA brought up these complaints casually to Ahmad, he used the enquiry as a pretext of ruthlessly removing the loyal and faithful servant Waberi from the Referees committee chairmanship without batting an eyelid.
Ultimately FIFA only wanted the Referees committee to propose names of top African match officials who would be inducted into a professional cadre, where they would be trained and remunerated by FIFA, to be deployed for elite competitions.
There was no way Waberi and his committee was going to be allowed by the CAF mandarins to be in charge of proposing those names, so he was kicked to the curb like a flea-infested mongrel, in order to create room needed for the Moroccans (led by CAF VP Fouzi Lekjaa) and Moroccan match officials to be in the majority in this professional cadre.
The Moroccans had targeted Waberi ever since it was leaked that he had close ties with Tunisia and Tunisia FA President Warid Jarii, and that Waberi had a hand in sending Morocco-unfriendly referees to the aborted CAF Champions final tie between Tunisian club Esperance and Moroccan Wydad.
At the prompting of Fouzi Lekjaa, Ahmad threw out Waberi like a piece of lint or a bottle cap.
If anyone doubts the propensity of Morocco FA President to lampoon CAF with his compatriots, you just need to look at the distribution of CAF committee seats to Moroccans in comparison to other FAs. Majority of the 54 African FAs barely have one (1) slot each while those like Morocco, South Africa and DRC (CAF inner circle and mandarins) have upwards of 10 slots each.
So, the fiction that FA Presidents are bound to Ahmad on the basis of sharing the Islamic faith is a fallacy, and it is possible to infer that he would happily turn on them at a moment’s notice.
It is time for African FA Presidents to think strategically in a fast-evolving global football situation, to save their organization, which is currently being bled dry by a small cabal of top officials.
In the absence of commercial interests in African competitions, these CAF mandarins have resorted to selling them to Middle East buyers for lump sum cash payments under-the-table, money that will likely never reach FAs unless it is to pay them for their votes.
And in any event, if African FA Presidents don’t heed this advice and allow CAF to sink with Ahmad, Lekjaa and Omari, in exchange for cash envelopes, they will likely NEVER be part of the new organization that will most certainly be built from the ashes of the old CAF.
Time has come to be smart…
(In the run-up to the 2021 elective assembly of CAF, we will carry an weekly analysis of each voting FA and its President, hoping to deduce by their previous actions, accomplishments or failures, whether they would vote to save CAF or are likely to believe the lie that CAF is a miracle that will continue to give them bown envelopes in perpetuity).