Somalia, is part of the 12-member CECAFA zonal union of CAF which represents the countries in Eastern Africa.
The problem with CECAFA has been that this zonal union represents the bottom of the barrel with regards to African football, suffering a dearth of talent and negligible contribution to the AFCON over the last 30 years.
Therefore, unable to raise their on-field game to match the likes of COSAFA, WAFU, UNAF and UNIFFAC, CECAFA members have opted instead to refine their participation in continental and global football politics in both CAF and FIFA.
This is gentle way of saying that CECAFA members have gained the reputation of being ready to trade their votes for brown envelopes, having accepted the reality that their countries will never be competitive enough football-wise to dent the bulwark of African football.
Even within CECAFA itself, there exists a lower tier in this low level zonal union which manifests in Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi, Zanzibar and Djibouti.
These are the member countries who are most likely not to participate in CECAFA events but gladly raise their hands to be elected or co-opted to “serve” in the CAF and CECAFA Exco.
One of these, and who has mastered the art of flying under the radar is Somalia FA President Abdiqani Said Arad. He won the CAF Leader of year award for 2015, no mean feat for a country that is in shambles.
Since 1991, the World watched Somalia implode with the ejection from power of then President Said Barre, when the former British controlled Northern region declared secession and called itself Somaliland, leaving behind the southern part that is in constant state of turmoil.
The outbreak of clan-based civil war that followed, and the absence of a central Governance structure eventually earned Somalia the tag of a failed state.
By 2016, it is reported that in excess of 1,000,000 Somalis had fled the country seeking asylum in neighboring countries, in fact Somalis had their own separate consular days for processing visas in European and North American embassies in these neighbor countries.
One of the biggest and most visible symbols of the huge Somali migration around the World is US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who does not shy away projecting her refugee status and the fairy tale of coming to America and succeeding.
Conversely, US President Donald J Trump feels no compunction telling such emigrants, to go back to the “shithole countries they came from” should they feel that the US is not doing right by them.
However, Somalia continues to have issues, from the days of rampant piracy in the unpatrolled waters of its coast, to the emergence of Al Shabaab militia which later announced a “merger” with Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, the occupation of part of the country by the AMISOM forces.
Just last December, a bomb exploded in the Capital City of Mogadishu killing upwards 85 people and wounding double that number in a suicide attack that Al Shabaab ultimately claimed responsibility for.
There appears to be such bombings quarterly in Mogadishu and an air of uncertainty seems always to hang like a dark cloud over the country despite the best efforts of maintaining an upbeat façade.
Clearly Somalia is the ultimate manifestation of a shit-hole country both in word and deed, thus the question, how can any meaningful football be played in this territory?
The Al Shabaab militia group, a decade ago, issued a decree banning Somalis from playing and watching their most popular sport on TV and even threatened to kill anyone who got caught doing either.
To underscore their seriousness, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, two young Somalis were killed after being caught watching a World Cup match on television.
Worse, was the killing of a rising star by the name of Abdi Salaan Mohamed Ali, in a car bombing which killed 10 others a few months later and the also detention of a 19-year-old Somali international player, Sa’ad Saleh Hussain in Afgoye 30 km south of the capital, in 2011.
Local football club owners were reported to have also been detained and tortured on charges of misguiding the youth.
Even journalists have been targeted; a Somali journalist was killed in March 2011 after covering a football match,The death of Ahmed Hassan Ahmed, a sports reporter for SIMBA radio who was shot to the stomach and the shoulder. “As we were covering the match between SITT and Dekadaha, Ahmed fell to the ground at the second half of the match ” then Somali Football Federation (SFF) spokesman Shafii Mohyadin Abokor said.
The President of the Somali Football Federation at the time, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt as well.
This has led to a major slowdown in the development of football infrastructure in the country, with the National stadium in Mogadishu only becoming available for football in 2018 after close to a decade as a military camp for various groups.
However, it is easy to justify giving the current FA President an accolade for simply keeping footballs head above the water in the country, even if it has to be done in an unorthodox manner.
In 2017-2018, Somalia First Division matches were already being streamed live on Facebook, bypassing the cumbersome broadcasting arrangements that exists elsewhere and giving the soccer-mad citizens a chance to watch their own people play the game they love so much.
The Somalia National team has commenced the first round qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup since the 2002 edition in Japan and Korea, however they have crashed out of the pre-group match play-offs in each such edition.
Somalia did not enter the race for a slot in Africa’s flagship competition, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), and they have teetered on the brink of indecisiveness of whether to participate or withdraw from the CHAN since its inception.
As would be expected, the National team comprises exclusively of foreign based players, who ply their trade mainly in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
The kicker obviously, is that the team normally trains outside the country with a foreign coach.
Somalia though, continues to receive FIFA and CAF grants and subventions despite this absolute dearth of active and meaningful league and National team football.
This money also guarantees that Somalia gets a single vote at all the congresses, at CECAFA, CAF and FIFA.
Abdiqani Said Arab won the Somalia FA elections in 2014, after serving many years as Secretary-General (SG). His victory was received in some quarters with massive aplomb and statements of support.
He already showed massive character and understanding of the Somali terrain when in an audacious move in early 2016, Abdiqani invited Al Shabaab militants to take part in the Somali Premier League.
Speaking to BBC at the time, Abdiqani said that “we are not against them and they are not against us,” while his spokesman Shafi’i Mohyaddin Abokar later also chimed in that “not only [al-Shabaab] but also those fighting for the warlords, the moderate Islamists or anyone else involved in Somalia conflict are welcome to our football,” “If they show interest for playing football it means they accepted peace and football is all about peace and integration. So we are welcoming anyone who embraces peace and wants to play our football.”
To his credit, Abdiqani understood the Somali political landscape well unlike his predecessor who was targeted for assassination, and knew that these militants lived within his own community and he could ignore them at his own peril.
In 2018, he was re-elected unopposed as Somali FA President for a term that would go all the way until 2022.
In 2019, he was co-opted from the CECAFA zonal union into the CAF Exco to replace Ugandan Moses Magogo, who was elected substantively to serve a 4-year tenure.
One year ago, however, Abdiqani was summoned to Zurich by FIFA to explain his role in the disappearance of FIFA funds earmarked specifically for women football development as stipulated in the FIFA Forward programmes rules.
The move followed an expose by Shaima Mohamed, the head of the women soccer who had reported to world football governing body to take action, claiming money made available by FIFA to support the women’s game in her country is not reaching its intended target.
According to local radio website www.radiodalsan.com, the whistleblower Shaima Mohammed was forced to flee Mogadishu for fear of her life after receiving death threats.
She had every reason to be scared for her life, wasn’t this the same FA President who had mended fences with Al Shabaab and other militia, whose stock-in-trade is death? Isn’t Somalia still a community that places women at a lower value and thus dispensable?
Somalia women football is virtually non-existent despite a huge thirst from the citizens. This aligns with our inferences of the state of women’s football in the UNAF Zonal union where it is only now starting to pick up despite massive investment in the men’s game for several decades.
So there is validity in the claim that FIFA money supposed to go to women’s football may have been misappropriated.
FIFA does not just summon FA Presidents for embezzlement of funds to Zurich without cast iron evidence of wrong-doing which means that FIFA probably struck a political deal with Abdiqani to enable him remain in office and ensure that his dossier does not reach the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics committee.
Anyone who would disabuse Africans that FIFA does political deals in misguided and obviously doesn’t know the story of Uganda FA President Moses Magogo who last September entered a plea-bargain deal with FIFA, after incontrovertible evidence was found of his complicity in the sale of $50,000 worth of Ugandan World Cup tickets to an American associate in 2014.
The plea deal gave Magogo a 2-month ban and thus a quick return to his FUFA Presidency by early December, and in the process generated an obligation to FIFA from him in his role within the CAF Exco.
Abdiqani and Magogo are the African version of FIFA sleeper agents, who have been embedded into the CAF Exco, where their work is to keep FIFA abreast of all the happenings within it.
Does anyone really believe that FIFA walked into an ambush last week in Sale, Morocco over the issue of the continued role of Fatma Samoura as General delegate to Africa?
Who is naïve enough to believe that Infantino trusts Ahmad so incessantly as not to have agents around him, to report back critical information?
So while Sita Sangare (Burkina Faso) and Samir Sobha (Mauritius) genuinely felt the need to tell Infantino to his face that Samoura should leave Africa (ostensibly for impeding their access to CAF cash), they were probably part of a handful of CAF Exco members who thought that this was news to Infantino.
The departure of Fatma Samoura from CAF is a tactical retreat by FIFA and the drama and tantrums thrown by Infantino, amateur theatre for everyone’s benefit.
Colonialists pulled this exact strategy on Africa, they made a huge show of withdrawing physically from the continent when their presence here was no longer tenable.
However, they left behind the systems and structures that would serve their interests for decades to come.
Does Abdiqani have any peculiar politics that would help shift African football one way or another?
From where we sit, he will always vote in a manner that does not jeopardize his role as a double-agent. One for FIFA and the other as a ranking member of the “Muslim brotherhood” inside CAF.
And this appears to be our lot as Africans, where unless we wise up real quick to the machinations wrought upon us by the likes of CAF President Ahmad, we will continue (quoting Dolly Parton) “to live our lives like love-sick clowns, in a bitter-sweet cartoon!”