CAF President Ahmad Ahmad and his minions including 2nd Vice President Fouzi Lekjaa are known to be a black-hearted moral vacuum.
They relentlessly used CAF coffers to bribe African FA Presidents openly with an annual stipend of $20,000 each sent directly to their individual bank accounts and in return bought their silence and acquiescence to a multi-million dollar loot-fest that has brought CAF to its knees.
But how were they to control the small but liberal African sports media fraternity who saw the bribery and looting clearly for what it was, and whose reporting of he scandals was likely to be taken very seriously by sponsors, broadcasters, Governments and the general citizenry?
Well, it all began with a WhatsApp group by the name FOOTBALL AFRICA ARENA (FAA), which brought together majority of African football journalists, FA Presidents and other football actors onto a single platform around about 2015.
FAA was the brainchild of Kenyan sports journalist Collins Okinyo, who remarkably helped to bring the individual continental football personalities onto a single platform to discuss the African game in a way that had never been done before.
As a former employee of Pan-African sports broadcaster Supersport, Okinyo was able to use contacts collected during his work, to reach out to some of the most crucial people in African football and to allow them a say on a platform of their peers.
As you would expect, the views on this platform were as rich and as diverse as the people from each individual country, which often played out in some very vibrant discussions, which was an indicator of the love that still existed for the African game.
Obviously this form of vibrancy was unheard of in the Hayatou era and some in the CAF Exco at the time didn’t realize the power and potential of such new media platforms in shaping the opinions of decision-makers (voters).
Maybe old man Hayatou was too set in his ways to perceive that technology could help rally a mini-revolution against him.
On FAA, there was absolute freedom to criticize the leadership of CAF in a way that had never happened before, and many FA Presidents though quiet on the platform must have been subliminally inspired and had their perceptions of the African games leadership changed.
In the run-up to the March 2017 elective congress in Ethiopia, only Hayatou and his kitchen cabinet were unaware of the strong undercurrents for change in CAF and we can say (without fear of contradiction) that FAA played a critical role in the bloodless coup that brought to an end the 28 year hegemony of the Cameroonian Issa Hayatou.
As time went on, the FAA administrator Okinyo realized that FA Presidents were becoming soft targets from some of their own countrymen on the platform, discussions which sometimes degenerated because of age-old misunderstandings and animosities, some fair and some not so fair.
One of the great animosities on FAA involved Nigerian FA President Amaju Pinnick and his cohort on the one hand and British-Nigerian ex-BBC journalist Osasu Obayiuwana, who would often call out Pinnick for the sorry state of Nigerian football.
During those heated debates on the forum, it would become necessary for Osasu to be removed from the forum in order to allow matters calm down.
It is during one of these down times that Osasu decided to create a Whatsapp forum of his own, by the name INSIDE AFRICAN FOOTBALL (IAF) where he also used his extensive contact list to invite many African football stakeholders.
Both groups continue to share membership, even though Osasu has been a tad unfair to Okinyo because whereas he (Osasu) is an active participant on FAA, he has not had the courtesy of inviting Okinyo into his own group, IAF.
To his credit, just two weeks ago Okinyo went on to declare Osasu the FAA Journalist of the Year 2019 for his critical pieces on the on-going meltdown of African football at the hands of the incompetent Ahmad.
Post-Hayatou, the Ahmad kakistocracy at CAF were quick to realize the power of these WhatsApp groups in that they allow free speech and expression on virtually all matters.
So effective were they that European journalists have borrowed a leaf from them and started their own, same as the French speaking members of African football.
There was however, a concerted effort post-2017 to gain control of the narrative on these WhatsApp groups by the leadership of CAF. This happened with the CAF leadership initially sending out feelers to request that certain individuals refrain from their full frontal attacks on CAF, or to ask the group administrators to curate the discussions by refusing to allow certain topics.
In extreme cases, CAF leaders would even attempt to pressure the group administrators to cull certain individuals from the groups.
To their credit, both Okinyo and Osasu resisted what would certainly have been self-inflicted mortal wounds if they were seen to want to censor a very diverse and liberal group of people.
In the toxic and vindictive atmosphere within CAF, both Okinyo and Osasu were literally marked men.
CAF under Ahmad took a 2-prong approach to the issue of communications, first by disbanding the existing media committee and second replacing it with a special purpose vehicle, a group of African journalists into a loosely organized group called the CAF “MEDIA EXPERTS”.
This varied group of individuals was headed by CAF Presidents advisor on communications, Hedi Hemel who, it is suggested, has what is considered an unhealthy relationship with Infront Media, now a subsidiary of Chinese firm Dalian Wanda, and who are currently in pole position to replace Lagadere Sports and Entertainment to the commercial rights for CAF competitions.
Hemel was CEO of French marketing outfit, TVMS and has previously partnered with Infront Media as recently as in 2016 in selling TV rights to the Olympics in Africa. Hemel resigned his post in 2017 to take up his position as Special Adviser to CAF boss, Ahmad.
Despite the presence of Hemel, communications have not been CAF’s strong suite in this dark dispensation of President Ahmad, where unbridled nepotism and parochial interests stand in the way of professionalism required in this docket.
For instance, it has since come to the fore that CAF has an approved budget of $800,000 for the construction of a website, a truly mind-boggling figure even by African standards.
One of the very first appointees to this new media expert’s panel was of course, Kenyan administrator of the WhatsApp group FAA, Collins Okinyo in 2017, based in large part on his undeniably huge network and a hustler mentality that allowed him to consistently keep making new connections and expanding that network.
Apparently, by leapfrogging the Kenyan FA and managing to get into direct contact with majority of the members of the CAF Exco of his own initiative, there existed a slow-burning bad blood between Okinyo and Kenya FA President Nick Mwendwa.
Needless to say, the role of media expert which is an ad hoc committee of CAF and therefore operates at the whims of CAF President Ahmad Ahmad, is pretty lucrative.
The media experts are busy during the entire football season coordinating media activities at all the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup events, the CAF and FIFA competitions qualifiers, the various age-grade and women’s AFCONs and the biennial elite CAF competitions – AFCON and CHAN.
For this, each of the media experts gets business class tickets, 5-star accommodation and a substantial cash stipend for each event attended, obviously with the 2-week and 4-week competition assignments being the most sought after.
The trade-off however, is that each of the media experts must cash in their liberal chips and begin to sing the tune played by CAF President Ahmad Ahmad.
While Hedi Hemel coordinates the group, Ghanian Ibrahim Sannie Daara calls the plays and acts as the de facto “quarterback” for the group.
You can equate the role played by Ibrahim Sannie to that of KellyAnne Conway in the Trump White House, where she acts as counselor to the president.
Ibrahim usually takes the lead in spinning news and outcomes to suit the Ahmad narrative, which are often at odds with easily verifiable facts. His straight-faced obfuscation of facts has largely led to his loss of respect and credibility among peers but has made him a rising star within the Ahmad kakistocracy.
Much of the lunacy we have witnessed in CAF since the ascension of Ahmad to its Presidency can be explained by a phenomenon called the “Dunning-Kruger effect”.
Simply put, people who are mediocre at certain things often think they are better than they actually are, and therefore, fail to grow and improve. Great leaders, on the other hand, are great for a reason, they recognize their weaknesses and seek to get better.
Self-reflection and appraisal have never been part of the culture at CAF, instead the organization has been on the decline these last 3 years.
The desire by CAF to take control of the African Medias’ story-telling, sadly led to the watering down of one of Africa’s greatest sports shows, the Soccer Africa show on Supersport.
Soccer Africa made a name for itself since the days of Hayatou administration with a robust and erudite panel of no-nonsense participants – Thomas Mlambo (Presenter), Thomas Kwenaite (panelist), Mamadou Gaye (panelist) Idah Peterside (panelist) whose hard-hitting commentary made the show absolutely must watch over the years.
Ivorian Mamadou Gaye’s robust criticism of CAF under Ahmad caused him to have a target on his back as well, and Ahmad’s vindictiveness (and pettiness) came to the fore in Mamadou’s mistreatment during an Extraordinary General Assembly (EGA) in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt in September 2018.
Mamadou found that orders had been given to CAF security to physically eject him from the CAF communal hotel and the venue of the EGA, in the most humiliating way possible.
Upon his return to his base in South Africa, Mamadou marshalled his enormous clout and went to town on Ahmad and CAF on the Soccer Africa show.
To cap it all, he even did an hour long radio broadcast of his tribulations at the hands of CAF President Ahmad on the immensely popular radio show hosted by superstar Robert Marawa, to devastating effect.
ABOVE: Audio clip where Ivorian Mamadou Gaye went on an hour-long tirade against CAF President Ahmad Ahmad in an interview hosted by South African radio legend Robert Marawa.
Unable to find an elixir to this high tempo PR warfare by a credible African voice, Hedi Hemel reached out to Mamadou and offered him a starring role in the panel of “media experts” (which he accepted) and which effectively neutered one of Africa’s loudest and most potent voices, into a eunuch and handmaiden for CAF.
To round off this eventual capitulation, Mamadou has now recently roped in his longtime panelist on Soccer Africa show, Thomas Kwenaite, who has joined the panel of “media experts”.
This has effectively silenced the Soccer Africa show, and deprived it of the vibrancy and credibility that it enjoyed for many years, making it bad business for Supersport and likely to affect its bottom-line.
Over the years, FAA WhatsApp group members had always strived for a get-together wherever they meet, in South Africa, Ghana and even in Gabon during the 2017 AFCON.
Naturally, a get-together was in the off-ing in Egypt during the month-long AFCON in June-July 2019 and group administrator Collins Okinyo went out of his way to arrange the event.
The spectacular get-together was held on a boat on the river Nile and brought together a majority of journalists who were there to cover the AFCON, on an all-expense paid, magical junket.
The get-together was such a success and Okinyo had shown himself capable of flexing an organizational muscle and which placed him head and shoulders above the others.
His media expert’s compatriots were livid…
Unfortunately, the journalist’s junket took place around the same time that various members of the CAF Exco had planned a vote of no-confidence in President Ahmad after his arrest in Paris for corruption, bribery and money-laundering.
The plan was eventually scuttled when South African FA President Danny Jordaan ran to Ahmad with the information and for his loyalty was elevated to the position of CAF 3rd Vice-President.
This was also the act that earned him the apartheid-era derogatory moniker of impimpi, which translates to a sell-out of his people.
Moreover, the return of Danny Jordaan to the CAF fold after his treachery coincided with the subsequent absorption of South African Thomas Kwenaite into the panel of “Media experts”.
You just need to visit his personal blog www.thomaskwenaite.co.za to see for yourself a disgraceful pattern. Initially his posts were professional and clean, delving into the problems ailing CAF and African football, only for the updates to cease completely once he had been approved for the “media experts” panel.
While Jordaan had initially wanted to push South African journalist of Ghanaian descent Coudjoe Amankwaa to the position, he appears to have been swayed by the misguided xenophobic sentiment that plagues South Africa opting instead to push for the full-blooded South African (Kwenaite), who also had the added advantage of an inside man within the panel of “media experts” in the form of the cantankerous Mamadou Gaye.
The success of the River Nile cruise reunion of FAA members rattled quite a number of the “media experts” who worried about the growing influence of Kenyan Collins Okinyo. The most livid of the lot was the duo of Ibrahim Sannie and Mamadou Gaye.
The Nile River cruise re-union therefore also coincided with the massive shake-up in the CAF Exco, with the sacking of Nigeria FA President Amaju Pinnick from the position of 1st Vice President, to be replaced by the then 2nd Vice-President Constant Omari.
Cleverly, Sannie and Mamadou were able to convince Hedi Hemel that Okinyo had organized the Nile River cruise for FAA members as part of the larger scheme to oust Ahmad from office, which had been conceived of by some disaffected members of the CAF Exco.
This was an outright lie (of course) by the two, but it did get Okinyo evicted from the panel of so-called “media experts” for the dual reason that he had refused to place FAA at the service of Ahmad and also that he appeared to be gaining a lot of clout, and thus needed to be brought to heel.
This is the African way…
In order to keep a sense of fairness and balance within the media experts, and in order to create a sense of indebtedness from him, the slot that had been wrestled away from Okinyo was offered to Kenya FA President Nick Mwendwa to fill as he saw fit.
Once more, just as has happened time and again in his 4-year tenure, Mwendwa showed an utter lack of strategic reasoning when faced with this choice. The same lack of strategy that saw him create a fissure in the Kenya Premier League that allowed Supersport to exit the Kenyan market for breach of contract.
The same reasoning and lack of strategic thinking that allowed him to put $1.4 million of FIFA Forward funds in a company on the verge of collapse, in the mindlessly short-sighted caper for the Kenya FA to acquire an Outside Broadcasting van, which to date remains a mirage.
For this slot in the “media experts” panel, Mwendwa pushed forward the name of his close friend, confidante and lapdog – Gilbert Wandera!
Why would Mwendwa allow himself the loss of an asset the magnitude of Okinyo within an organization as complex as CAF? Surely not because he thought that Okinyos’ rise in stature represents a threat to him for the domestic FA seat… Doesn’t Kenya have a 2-term limit for such positions in Sports, with Mwendwa already having concluded his first? How then can Okinyo have been a threat?
From the outside looking inwards, it is a well acknowledged fact that to this day, Okinyo still has intimate relationships with most of the key actors in African football and would have made a wonderful ally for anyone with short or medium term ambitions within CAF.
We remember Mwendwa showing an interest in the seat of FIFA Council in 2018 before he stepped down at the last moment.
Why would any rational person agree to the removal of someone who can be an ally and an asset inside the organization, and replace him with a veritable unknown, non-starter?
Shouldn’t Mwendwa have gone to bat for Okinyo vigorously, if for no other reason than for his selfish political interests?
We can infer that the on-going meltdown of league football in Kenya and sponsor apathy could be an indicator of the complete and utter lack of faith that corporate Kenya has in Mwendwa, whereas his predecessor (despite many flaws) presided over an era of abundance and relative calm in the country’s football.
The question of the panel of “media experts” continues to confound many people, are they employees of CAF and shouldn’t they relinquish other employments that would be a conflict with this semi-permanent gig?
Does CAF have the best and brightest in the panel, and if so, why does it continue to limp unceasingly in communicating to the World? Are these “media experts” value for money or just another ruse to prop up cronies on CAF largesse?
The WhatsApp groups have been quite a revelation to their members, showcasing different cultures and attitudes as diverse as the countries on the continent.
We can only hope that their administrators are able to keep the grubby fingers of the “media experts” away from them.