It is silly season again in Zambia, the football-crazy Southern African nation that won the AFCON in 2012 but which has struggled to gain qualification into this biennial event in recent years.
Zambian go to the polls in slightly over a month, to elect their Governors of football and the leadership of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ).
Zambia has also known heart-break and tragedy in its football, namely the 1993 crash of a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was carrying most of the Zambian national football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. All 25 passengers and five crew members were killed.
So it is fair to say that the passion and love for football by the Zambian people have dually been forged in the furnaces of both triumph and disaster.
One of the protagonists in the current election drama is Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya, who has in the past occupied the seat of FAZ President for two terms between 2008 and 2016, before he was succeeded by businessman Andrew Kamanga.
Bwalya also served on the CAF Executive committee before being ejected unceremoniously by a FIFA ban in 2018 but mysteriously reinstated in 2019 following the bizarre decision of the FIFA appeals body in a ruling so hilariously ridiculous that it is the snapshot of why both Europe and FIFA treat Africa with the mild tolerance of a retarded child.
Bwalya’s attempt at a CAF Exco comeback during the last cycle of elections in July 2019 came a cropper, with the CAF delegates showing their displeasure at the preferential treatment accorded to him by FIFA by rejecting him at the ballot.
It would appear that life for Bwalya in recent years has been an attempt at a second bite at the football cherry, having done it before and squandered the opportunity.
But what exactly happened that got Bwalya cited by FIFA for gross ethics violations in 2018?
It all had to do with money from the now-expelled Qatari football aficionado, Mohammed Bin Hamman, who towards the end of the first decade of this millennium, used cash gifts and junkets to essentially bribe African FA Presidents in his varied schemes to rise to the Presidency of FIFA.
Bwalya, unable to help himself, would on several occasions request varied amounts of money from Bin Hammanthrough his then PA (now also banned for life by FIFA) Najeeb Chirakal, which would be wired to him. The paper trail for the money was so clear and evident that the Ethics chamber had absolutely no choice but to ban him and impose a huge fine.
Bwalya had been accused of violating Article 16 (confidentiality) and Article 20 (offering & accepting gifts and other benefits) of the FIFA Code of Ethics (FCE).
A breach of each of the articles of the FCE carries with it a CHF 10,000 fine plus a ban from all football-related activities.
Violation of Article 20 is self-compounding in that the value of the “bribes or gifts” are included in the computation of the entire fine.
In Bwalya’s case the fine was computed thus;
Violation of Article 16 = CHF 10,000
Violation of Article 20 = CHF 10,000
Bribes from Bin Hamman = CHF 80,000
Bwalya was therefore slapped with a total fine of CHF 100,000.
However, in the aforementioned bizarre decision of the FIFA Appeals committee on 18th August 2018, came back with a ruling that essentially said that they believed that Bwalya had not committed any wrongdoing by taking bribes from Bin Hamman and thus quashed CHF 90,000 from the total fine.
The appeals committee found Bwalya liable for the confidentiality aspect and thus retained the CHF 10,000 fine already imposed while conversely commuting his ban from all football-related activities to time already served.
CAF, upon receipt of the ruling, therefore wrote to Bwalya informing him that he had been reinstated into the CAF Exco to serve out the remainder of his term.
Therein lies the irony of the work done at FIFA, that the Ethics committee adjudicatory chamber finds the giver and receiver of bribes equally guilty (in this case Bin Hamman and Bwalya respectively) but imposes a lifetime ban on Bin Hamman while giving a slap on the wrist to Bwalya.
The appeals committee then goes ahead to find that in all of this, the receipt of bribes by Bwalya was proper, thereby vacating the very lenient punishment of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics committee.
Who really is being patronized here by FIFA?
Despite all the musical chairs here, FIFA did not exonerate Bwalya from all blame and rightly, he should have his integrity tested elsewhere should he decide to vie for a football post at national, continental or global level.
CAF, unsurprisingly, has no Ethics committee and therefore does not have a system to vet the integrity of candidates to its various seats, an unwieldy situation that, for example, allowed indicted Central African Republic (CAR) ex- FA President Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona to be elected to the CAF Exco, despite his being barred from contesting the National Presidency of his own country over issues to do with crimes against humanity.
Today, he is facing multiple counts of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, after being fished from the lofty seat of CAF Exco, whose membership saw no problem of sitting with a potential human rights violator in their midst.
In Zambia however, and very rightly too, the Football Association of Zambia have an integrity check system for those seeking to be holders of office.
It is this system that was used a week or so ago, for an integrity test which Bwalya ultimately failed.
Does Zambia have the absolute right to set its ethical standards far higher than those of the nut-house called CAF and the institutional absurdity called FIFA?
Hell yes, for it is when we set low standards for ourselves that others rightly believe that they can lower their perceptions and respect for us in everything else.
More importantly, was Bwalya rightfully convicted by FIFA of corruption in the Ethics committee adjudicatory chamber decision? Were the facts that he received bribes ever rebutted?
Sadly, whilst the appeals chamber of FIFA technically bought his illogical arguments that funds sent to his personal accounts were to fund the National team activities or repayment of some obscure loans, the larger aspect that almost everyone else who received funds similarly was found guilty including Mohammed Bin Salman, is a fact that can never be erased from history.
What is it with Kalusha Bwalya that gives him this rabid desperation for football political office, and which surpasses mere ambition?
Why has a venerable personage and previously revered figure allowed the darkness of his heart to alter the countenance of his face, making him look ominously hungry and ready to sell his soul to the devil, these days?
Well, from as early as 2017 it is actually a poorly kept secret that Bwalya failed the FIFA integrity test, when he attempted to seek the high office of FIFA Council member.
When the results were imminent, he hastily announced his withdrawal from the race, thereby pre-empting the announcement by FIFA of the integrity test results (if such a thing exists).
The FIFA Ethics committee sent Bwalya a questionnaire with at least 10 questions, and most of these alluded to his professional and personal misconduct.
Unable to answer the questions in good conscience and knowing clearly that this inability to respond meant that he automatically failed the integrity test, he beat a hasty retreat.
Ordinarily, any clean person would await the outcome of the integrity test before announcing his/her withdrawal, wouldn’t they?
Back home in Zambia, many questions persist regarding Bwalya’s tenure as FA President from 2008 – 2016 including but not limited to the matter of two legal cases that were heard by Zambian courts regarding his (Bwalya’s) refusal to pay creditors and which led to the annexation of his personal home at Woodlands in Lusaka.
Apparently Bwalya had borrowed $26,000 from one Ian Chamunora Nyarungwe Haruperi, who granted him the loan in 2008 against surety of his home. This would roughly be the same time that Bwalya wa taking money/bribes from Bin Hamman.
Bwalya attempted to use the argument that the house was simply surety even though he had signed a sale agreement and transfer documents over to Haruperi, who argued that this was a sale in every sense of the word, presenting the original documents in court to support his claim.
Unlike the FIFA Appeals committee, the presiding judge did not buy Bwalya’s flimsy argument and thereby kicked out the suit with costs in 2012. Would you believe that in his statements and affidavits to the court, Bwalya had attempted to explain that he did not know what a sale contract was, only to be nailed upon cross-examination under oath in court, where he admitted that he had been an international footballer playng on contract overseas, thus knew what a contract was!
Even within the FAZ, there exists questions to date about the uber-dubious signing of a kitting deal with global sportswear manufacturer Nike, which was later cancelled under very acrimonious circumstances.
Obviously, even within Zambia, the legend of “King Kalu” still exists in some quarters with a younger crop of journalists and citizens still believing in the infallibility of Bwalya and unable to rationalize his stature as great former player to the crimes he finds himself committing.
They therefore prefer to exist in denial of the facts and attempt to fight off Bwalya’s opponents on his behalf.
None is as enamored with the legend of King Kalu as Zambian Minister for Sports and Parliamentarian for Ndola Central – Emmanuel Mulenga.
By August 2019, Mulenga was making pre-emptive announcements about the need for there to be reconciliation between current FA President Andrew Kamanga and Kalusha Bwalya.
In some quarters, it was thought that the so-called reconciliation would probably involve Kamanga giving Bwalya a through-pass to the election, and literally enthroning him onto the Presidency of FAZ!
Maybe by looking at Mulenga’s own rise in politics, can we gleam his motivation and mind-set seeing as he had lost to Fackson Shimenda of the Patriotic Front Party in the 2011 elections, but was nominated to the ticket by the same Party in 2016 following the withdrawal of the candidacy of Shimenda for personal reasons.
Does Mulenga want Kamanga to vacate the FAZ Presidency in favor of Bwalya?
Is that the reason why he has consistently gone out of his way to frustrate Kamanga and FAZ every step of the way, including scaling down the budgetary allocation for football activities from the Government and playing all manner of games regarding the issue of hiring of a National team coach.
However, the most pertinent question revolves around allowing independent institutions to run according to their own rules and regulations even if the outcome does not favor your friends.
With FAZ elections happening in the next month or so, all eyes (including those of Big Brother FIFA) will be on Zambia and the probability of Government interference.
It is time for Bwalya to get off the football politics merry-go-round and move to where his strengths lie, in the technical aspects of the game both regionally and continentally.
Apparently, Bwalya has never seen a dollar that he didn’t want to pocket, thus he cannot be trusted anywhere near the of control funds, maybe even his own!