Osasu Obayiuwana: CAF’s conspiracy of silence is holding Africa back

But for the incontrovertible geographical fact that Marrakech is in Morocco, I would have argued, to the death, that the just concluded Ordinary General Assembly of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which I attended, took place in Kim Jong Il’s Pyongyang, North Korea.

Speech after speech at the Palais De Congres eulogised its president, Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, who enjoyed the anniversary of his 25th year in power on Sunday, by securing a record seventh four-year term in office.

It ensures that his record, as the longest-serving president in CAF’s 56-year history, will be hard, if not practically impossible, to equal.

“Hayatou does not look like a prince but more like a king,” commented FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who gave Hayatou a plaque commemorating his 25 years on the FIFA executive committee.

The 67-year-old Cameroonian, from the Northern town of Garoua, close to the Chadian border, grinned widely, in appreciation of the remark.

Not a critical word, by any of the 54 national federation presidents at the congress, was uttered, about the parlous state of the African game, nor was any idea raised or debated, on how to improve its state.

How does Africa stem the worrying exodus of its top talent to Europe, which destroys any chance of creating viable domestic leagues?

Why has African football failed to attract the needed finance for growth, even when, after Christianity and Islam, it is, arguably, the continent’s third religion and has a huge following?

Why, since Cameroon’s historic World Cup quarter-final run, in Italia ’90, has African football failed to go beyond this 23-year-old barrier?

And why has it been unable, since the inception of the World Cup in 1930, to have two teams in the tournament’s knockout phase, something that Asia has been able to achieve?

The failure to publicly debate these thorny issues, at African football’s most important political gathering, goes to the crux of the matter, concerning its management – the patent refusal to address the proverbial elephants in the room and speak truth, to admittedly often intimidating power.

The empty chair of Ivorian Jacques Anouma, who refused to attend the congress, following his failed attempt at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to reverse the eligibility rules for the CAF presidential contest, was certainly one of those elephants.

Not a single reference was publicly made about his absence.

“If we can pick, fairly, those whom we want to run our football, then there is no problem,” says Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon and Marseille goalkeeper.

“But when you see that they will try to trick, and even to cheat, [to get into office] there is something wrong. We are cheating ourselves.”

The million-dollar question, of course, is why there is a clear conspiracy of silence at the top.

“It is difficult to stand for what is right when you stand alone or are very few in number,” said a CAF executive committee member, during a side conversation I had with him, during a momentary break at the congress.

“Until Hayatou goes, it will be impossible to implement meaningful reforms for the management of African football.”

“Before I go to executive committee meetings, it is clear that certain decisions are already taken before we formally discuss them,” he says.

“When you try to raise your voice, against certain things that you know are wrong, you can see the futility of it once you observe that it is the wish of the president.”

Leodegar Tenga, the president of CECAFA, the Council for East and Central African Football Associations, learnt that, to his great cost, last September, in the Seychelles.

The outgoing president of the Football Association of Tanzania was the only one to raise a strong, principled voice in the CAF executive, against the change of the eligibility rules for contesting the presidency, which ultimately excluded Anouma.

But even Tenga, knowing the rule change was undemocratic, succumbed to immense pressure to vote in support of the rule change at the general assembly, which followed a day later, when he saw that he was isolated.

Two – or rather, three – things that took place at the congress clearly indicate the deeply saddening and dangerous direction in which African football is going, which puts it at risk of reversing the great gains, in terms of the increased respect it has earned, over the last two decades.

First, is the disheartening return of Mali’s Amadou Diakite, to the CAF executive committee.

Having been banned by FIFA for two years, from “all football activities”, for his unethical behaviour, in the prelude to the vote for the 2018/2022 World Cup hosts, one would have thought the global opprobrium, following such a ban, would have automatically knocked him out of the contest.

But the former FIFA executive committee member, whose two-year exile ended on October 20th last year, got a resounding endorsement during the elections.

Diakite secured just under two-thirds of the 53 votes cast, to beat Liberia FA boss Hassan Bility and Augustin Senghor, the president of the Senegalese Football Federation, who is regarded as one of the emerging, progressive voices in the African game.

Diakite’s return hardly indicates that integrity and an unblemished reputation are the qualities needed for earning a place at the top table of CAF.

Second, is the mind-boggling but unsurprising failure of Danny Jordaan, arguably Africa’s best-known football administrator and undoubtedly one of its most intelligent, visionary and articulate voices, to win a seat on the CAF executive, for the second time in succession.

Jordaan, beaten by Ahmad, the president of the Madagascar Federation, following two rounds of voting, and getting even fewer votes in the run-off ballot, than he did in the first, is going through his fourth successive electoral failure in two years.

Before Marrakech, the former 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee CEO lost his initial challenge for the CAF post, in addition to a FIFA bid, at the 2011 Congress in Khartoum, Sudan.

Jordaan then abandoned a quest to unseat Suketu Patel as the president of COSAFA, the Council of Southern African Football Associations, in Botswana, withdrawing from the contest at the last-minute.

Sitting down to lunch with him, following Sunday’s vote, his body language expressed his dismay with yet another election failure.

Many in his Southern African region and even in his home country, were said to be working against his ascension to the CAF executive.

“My loss was not a personal one. I was representing the interests of my country and region. The fact that South Africa and Nigeria are not on the CAF executive should concentrate minds as to what is going on at the moment,” he said to me on Monday.

With an even more bitter fight currently going on in South Africa, where presidential and executive committee elections for the South Africa Football Association (SAFA) are due in September, Jordaan, currently its vice-president, could be considering an exit from the political arena as a serious possibility.

That, without question, would be a great loss to the African game, which is in extremely short supply of competent and able hands.

Ordinarily, I would have said that the election of Benin’s Anjorin Moucharafou, the controversial president of the Benin Football Federation, FBF, beating Aminu Maigari, president of the Nigeria Football Federation, after two rounds of voting, was the third clear indicator of further regression in the quality of governance.

Anjorin, an unapologetic loyalist of Hayatou, printing promotional t-shirts and calendars for him over the years, spent several months in a Beninoise jail, following the ‘disappearance’ of almost $700,000 in sponsorship, from the FBF’s coffers.

He was restored to his position, after FIFA threatened to sanction Benin’s government for political interference.

But it is what followed the inauguration of the CAF Hall of Fame, at the same congress, that is, to my mind, the greatest cause for worry.

Whilst it is not wrong to honour administrators that can prove they have made a remarkable, indelible contribution to our sport, there is no question that the first two inductees of such a hallowed chamber, should be those that have excelled on the pitch – the players.

That Issa Hayatou and Sepp Blatter were its first two inductees, rather than Cameroon’s Roger Milla and Liberia’s George Weah, two legends that represented Africa with pride and distinction, on the pitch, shows CAF’s pyramid of priorities is inverted.

“In Africa, administrators put themselves ahead of players… They think they are more important than footballers,” says Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon and Marseille goalkeeper, an articulate critic of the problems in African football.

Freidrich Nietzche observed that “people don’t want to hear the truth, because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

But without the destruction of this dangerous illusion, that all is well with the African game, realising its potential and supposed destiny – to become the third force in world football, that will end the tiring domination of Europe and South America on the pitch – will never happen.

It is a shuddering thought that should concentrate the minds of those who care about the future of football in this continent.

But will it? As the French say, Nous allons le voir (we shall see)…

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of African football’s leading journalists, whose regular commentary on the state of the continental game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1500871331labto1500871331ofdlr1500871331owedi1500871331sni@a1500871331nawui1500871331yabo.1500871331usaso1500871331