Exclusive: CAF in crisis – Ahmad on corruption allegations; Bility on abuse of power

By Osasu Obayiuwana

May 14 – Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad has come under increasing African and international criticism from the media and even within his own executive committee. Osasu Obayiuwana separately interviewed Ahmad and one of the leading dissident voices within CAF, Musa Bility. The full interviews are printed here.

Allegations of financial corruption surrounding equipment and commercial deals, spending CAF money on luxury cars, CAF funded visits to Mecca for muslim presidents, and a dictatorial management style, have swirled around Ahmad since his election as CAF president in 2017. He has also been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment with a complaint having been filed to FIFA’s Ethics body.

One of Ahmad’s closest election supporters, Musa Bility, a CAF executive committee member, has broken the internal ring of silence around Ahmad’s reign, criticising his use (he says abuse) of power and decision-making.

Osasu Obayiuwana has interviewed both men. First he interviewed Ahmad in person in Djibouti and followed this up with a series of questions to Bility.

The full transcripts of the interviews are below:

Ahmad Ahmad interview, Djibouti

Osasu Obayiuwana: One of your colleagues on the CAF executive committee (Musa Bility of Liberia) made a series of allegations against you. He alleges that you have been involved in financial misconduct and that you have shown a complete lack of respect for the statutes of CAF, in the way that you have led the organisation. What is your response to these serious charges?

Ahmad Ahmad: There are 22 members of the executive committee. Out of these members, just one, or perhaps a maximum of two (the other person reportedly being Isha Johansen of Sierra Leone), have made complaints against my leadership. You should ask why the other members have a different view.

When I took over the affairs of CAF, I realised that a lot of reforms were necessary and we started with them. Under the statutes of CAF, we are obligated to have two executive committee meetings every year. We have certainly had more meetings than that, per year.

We have also had about five emergency committee meetings. Is it that we talk about other things? Or is it that we discuss the business of CAF?

Some have complained about the commercial deals that I signed, on CAF’s behalf, with VISA and 1XBET. (Ahmad was accused of failing to consult with the executive committee before signing these contracts). But the previous president, under the commercial deal that we entered into with Lagardere Sport, negotiated these deals. They, Lagardere, have the authority to enter into contracts on CAF’s behalf.

I really don’t like to talk about things inside of the house.

We have an internal process for dealing with matters.

If I am not happy with a situation, for example, I can go to the Disciplinary Committee. If I don’t get a result there, we have the Appeals Committee and there is the Court of Arbitration for Sport as well.

If anyone is sure that things are wrong in CAF, why don’t they make use of the official complaint procedures? This is what I can say about this…


OO: These may be internal issues. But they are now in the public domain… The dismissal of Amr Fahmy, the General Secretary of CAF, is another serious talking point. You proposed his appointment two years ago, against the wishes of some members of your executive committee, only for you to have him sacked. What are the “irreconcilable differences” that made you demand for his removal? The African football community wants to know these reasons…

AA: As I have said previously, I was wrong to have nominated him…


OO: You were wrong to have nominated him?

AA: Yes. I am the kind of person who admits when he has made a wrong decision. I had never held an international appointment before I became CAF president. I only worked within my country. If I had to appoint a Malagasy person for a position, I would know the best person to pick. But that is not possible in this situation… I thought he (Fahmy) was a good choice…


OO: You thought? You were not sure of the person that you appointed to such a key position?

AA: Even if one appoints one’s own son to such a position, one cannot be sure [of his competence]. So, how can you be certain about someone else? First of all, he was in CAF. He also worked with Lagardere. Did this not provide some evidence that he was a good candidate for the position? CAF is like a government. It’s a big organisation. If you appoint a person to an important position and he is not capable of doing the job, then you make a change. That’s a normal part of management.

But it’s not normal that if a president wants to remove a prime minister, the prime minister cries about it, when the president has the statutory power to remove you. There is no problem in CAF. There is a problem, perhaps, for the person that was removed…


OO: The General Secretary is a key part of the organisation. When you take a serious decision to have him removed, people are going to ask why you did this…

AA: You are a big journalist. You should investigate and find out what is happening. But what has happened, since his removal, has confirmed the correctness of my decision. You know what happened…


OO: No, I don’t… I want you to tell us, because you are the president of the organisation…

AA:  It’s not in my education or in my culture to talk about people. We deal with the issues internally. But I am disappointed in the media, particularly reputable journalists, who have been saying a lot of things without hearing the other side. They are defaming people with no evidence.


OO: I saw a copy of the complaint, against you, that Amr Fahmy has filed with the FIFA Ethics Committee. In this complaint, you have been accused of buying expensive cars with CAF funds and that contracts for the purchase of football equipment, bought through a company that is allegedly owned by an aide of yours, have been overinflated. These allegations are damaging the image of CAF. What is your response to them?

AA: When you talk about the management of finances in CAF, the president is not the first person responsible for this. Article 26, subsection 9, of the CAF statutes, is very clear. Only the General Secretary is responsible for the finances of the organisation.

You talked about the cars… CAF is a very big organisation. How can the president be seen in a car that is not representative of the image of the organisation? For many years, the official car for the CAF president was a Mercedes, which was bought 12 years ago. One was in Cairo and another one was in Cameroon, plus another car.  We, as an executive committee, decided that these cars had outrun their value and should remain with the former president, as part of his retirement package.

What I will say is that the executive committee approved the current car purchases. The meeting minutes are there to prove this. I am not going to respond to the allegations that have been made in the media. There is a process.

You talked about the Puma deal. People want to lie. Since 2015, CAF has had no equipment contract. We have not had one since our last deal with Adidas…  When we took over, we took a decision to stop dealing with Puma and to buy equipment on the open market, even if it meant buying Adidas equipment, in the hope that we could reopen discussions with them, so they can sign another contract with us…


OO: How can CAF not have an official equipment contract supplier?

AA: That is a question that should be put to the previous administration. This is the situation that we met when we took over… You think that I am crazy to set up compliance and good governance procedures? Without doing this, there is no way that partners would want to work with us.


OO: Is CAF going to continue buying equipment with ‘Tactical Steel’? Or are you going to have a proper supply contract with a kit manufacturer? When a contract is signed with Puma for less than $500,000 but it is cancelled and CAF obtains equipment through a third party for three or four times the same price, people will certainly ask questions…

AA: But no one is asking about the quantity of the equipment that we bought. How much were we supposed to buy from Puma, compared with what we eventually bought through Tactical Steel? The information is contained in the purchase documents and they are not secret. You can ask our new General Secretary for the details. The supplies from Tactical Steel were for three competitions (as opposed to the contract with Puma, which was to supply equipment for the 2018 CHAN in Morocco only).

We had an emergency situation at that time. But after these purchases, there has to be a tender for everything. I was not involved in these purchases. They were handled completely by the administration.


OO: You can confidently say that all the allegations against you, by your former General Secretary, are false?

AA: Yes. They are false. I ask you one thing: If I ask you to do something that you know is wrong, would you do it? You don’t, because you have your signature of authority on the authorising document. He carried out orders that were taken by the executive committee. If there is anyone who is at fault, it is the person who authorises it with his signature.


OO: But he says that he took actions based on your direct orders…

AA: He knew that came from the executive committee’s direction. But he is now complaining. Let us even assume that the instructions given to him were not proper, he could have refused to carry them out. If I am asked, by a superior, to do what I think is wrong, I would certainly not carry out such an order. His subsequent behaviour has only proved, in my opinion, that the decision to have him dismissed was the right one.


OO: Let’s look at the accusations of Musa Bility once again, as they’re a major talking point… He says that you have no regard for your colleagues on the CAF executive committee and that you don’t respect the independence of CAF’s standing committees and its various organs. What do you say in response?

AA: Twenty out of the 22 members share the same views. And just two don’t agree with what we are doing. One is vocal and the other one doesn’t talk as much. So, who is right? We operate based on democratic principles.

If I am in an organisation and I don’t agree with the way it is run, I would resign. I did that when I was a Minister for Sport, as well as the chief of staff of a minister, in my country…


OO: You don’t think that you should do more to ensure a more harmonious executive committee?

AA: I have tried to do more than this. But my catch-22 is that I also have to govern for the wider interests of the game in Africa. Our first obligation is to work for the federations. Those that are attacking CAF are the ones that have problems with their home federations.

One thing I must say; there are no independent committees in CAF, except the disciplinary, appeal, audit as well as the governance committees.

The other standing committees have meetings, they raise issues but they are also tabled before the executive committee, where the final decisions are taken.


OO: Your critics have called you a dictator, who does not respect the laid down statutes of CAF…

AA: Actually, I have been told that I am too democratic and that I spend too much time on debates.


OO: How can CAF organise its competitions, like the AFCON and CHAN, professionally, if you keep having to withdraw hosting rights and re-award them to other countries, under emergency conditions?

AA: If a country is not ready to host a competition, what do we do? Withdraw the tournament from them? Or do you keep it there, knowing the standards will be low?


OO: CAF is supposed to monitor hosting preparations closely and ensure that benchmarks are met, so that you can know if there are problems and tackle them promptly… If you have to continually withdraw tournaments from hosts, it gives a bad image that the management of African football is poor…

AA: Note that we have never made any original hosting decision for the AFCON. For the future, we have to insist that basic conditions are met before any country is given hosting rights. It can no longer be a matter of just having an executive committee vote.

When hosting rights are withdrawn, it is because the inspection reports clearly indicate that they are not ready.

We had to withdraw the 2020 CHAN from Ethiopia because it was clear that they would not be ready. And when we previously withdrew it from Kenya, they were not ready either.

Since the rights were withdrawn, the Kenyan government have not taken action to complete the stadia. They are not building them for CAF but for the youth in their country, they should realise that.

On the contrary, in Cameroon, they have been working to complete the stadia and I understand that some are 90% ready. I am sure that when we finally have the AFCON there, in 2021, we are going to have a very good tournament.


OO: For the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia, CAF gave $500,000 and some technical assistance to each of the five teams representing the continent. Why has CAF not done the same for Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa, as they go to the women’s 2019 World Cup in France? They need CAF’s assistance, even more than the male teams do…

AA: I cannot take this decision, to give them money, by myself. The CAF administration did not present any evaluation plan, for the executive committee to consider.

After the last Women’s AFCON in Ghana, I gave an instruction for all the coaches of the qualified teams, as well as the Technical Study Group for that tournament, to come to Cairo for a meeting, to see how we can help them prepare for the World Cup. But nothing was done…

I was very upset, with my new General Secretary, after the U17 AFCON final in Tanzania… I asked the Technical Study Group at the tournament when there will be an evaluation of the needs of the teams going to the World Cup [in Brazil].

I was told they wouldn’t make these plans for another month. Why do they need to wait for another month? They don’t seem to appreciate the need to do things quickly…


OO: You blame the CAF administration for the lack of support for the teams going to France?

AA: Certainly, because they did not present a plan to the executive committee.


OO: Will someone be held responsible for this?

AA: Certainly. An example (he actually describes it as “an advertisement”) needs to be made.


OO: There are barely seven weeks to the AFCON, which has a 24-team format for the first time. Egypt has just five months and three weeks to prepare for this event. Can you be sure that this tournament will be well organised, considering the very short preparation time?

AA: I wish you will be in Egypt for the opening ceremony. I am confident that this AFCON will be the best in the history of the competition. I have 100 per cent confidence in Egypt… I know how committed the President of Egypt is, towards the successful hosting of this AFCON…

We have had a problem with pitches in the past but I saw what they are doing in Cairo, where an English company is in charge of the job being done. I think we are going to have very good conditions.


Transcript of interview with Hassan Musa Bility, May 11

Osasu Obayiuwana: Before my first question, I would like you to give me your opening reaction to the interview that I had with the CAF President in Djibouti, which you have read…

Hassan Musa Bility: They (Ahmad’s answers to OO’s questions) were riddled with inaccurate information… Essentially, he said that the executive committee approved all the decisions that I was protesting against. This is not true. And that only two members are speaking against him. That is also not true. A good number of the executive committee are vibrant and highly opinionated.


OO: You are the only member of the CAF executive committee that has formally demanded for an investigation of the president’s conduct. Why has no one else in the executive committee made a similar demand?

HB: Well, I’ll rather focus on the issues I have with the President and the statements he has made, which are in contrast with the facts of the matter. What others in the executive committee do or how they react [to governance issues] is for them to decide. I have to respect that.

All I know is that your interview with him has attracted my attention, because of his reaction to many points you raised with him, including the purchase of vehicles (for Ahmad’s personal use) and the [equipment] contract with Tactical Steel, which are contrary to the facts of the matter…


OO: Can you tell me what you know about the purchase of cars for the CAF President, which he says was done with the approval of the executive committee?

HB: I know nothing. I challenge anyone to show me any proof that the executive committee approved the purchase of four vehicles for the President of CAF. This issue has never been brought to us at any point in time. Absolutely not… I’m aware that the finance committee of CAF, which has statutory supervisory responsibilities over its finances, has not met in twenty months, since our last meeting in Cairo. They have not made any presentations to the executive committee for approval…


OO: CAF’s Finance Committee has not met in 20 months? Have you, as an executive member of CAF, not demanded to know why?

HB: But I’ve openly said that the institution has stopped working. What did you think I meant when I said the President has usurped the functions of all statutory committees? This reference was not only for the CHAN Committee (from which he has resigned as chairman).

It was about the entire institution… Yes, I have demanded for a full and comprehensive audit of the finances of CAF. And it has been authorized. The fact that a forensic audit has been authorised by the executive committee tells you that all is not well.


OO: Mr Ahmad told me that any member of the executive committee that does not agree with the direction in which CAF is going is free to resign. What is your response to this statement?

HB: That statement is totally out of order. Each one of us, including Mr President, was duly elected by the whole continent to serve Africa, not Ahmad. It is totally out of place for him to say this. He must be assuming that we are here to serve him. Well, he’s wrong. I will never surrender the mandate I got from my colleagues, because of his actions. That will be an act of abdication.


OO: Let’s talk about the removal of Amr Fahmy from his position as CAF General Secretary… The official statement released by your organisation says that he was removed from his position for “misconduct”. Is this your understanding of what led to his removal?

HB: To the best of my knowledge, the removal of Mr Fahmy had nothing to do with misconduct. The official CAF statement was inappropriate and contrary to the decision of the executive committee.


OO: You were against the removal of Amr Fahmy. Why?

HB: I’d rather not make reference to executive committee decisions that are not a subject of misrepresentation in the public. The issue of who voted for or against [Fahmy’s removal] is not matter of dispute yet.


OO: What is your opinion about the leadership style of the CAF President, since he assumed the mantle of leadership in March 2017? He tells me that people have accused him of being too much of a democrat…


HB: It’s been a great disappointment. The system Hayatou left has been completely dismantled. CAF today is a shadow of its past… To see that we have gone below the point at which we wanted change, is an excruciating pain… Yes, Ahmad is very ‘democratic’ during executive committee meetings, if the new meaning of democracy is that everyone is given the chance to freely express his or her concerns. This is true (that Bility expresses his views) but this is a must. The statutes of CAF are in hibernation mode right now.


OO: Mr Ahmad told me that Ghana and Egypt were his main supporters, as he sought and won the presidency. What do you have to say, in response to this?

HB: It is really regrettable that Ahmad will ever say that. Amaju Pinnick (the President of the Nigeria Football Federation and CAF’s 1st Vice-President) was total in his support for Ahmad. He financed the totality of the public relations. He made countless trips, within and outside the shores of Africa. He never travelled alone. Pinnick financed the trips of our foot soldiers… Some of the PR stuff that we did, Ahmad did not even know about it… Our comrades in COSAFA AND CECAFA (the Southern African and Eastern African regional football associations) were at the top of this struggle. They sacrificed everything.

The memorable endorsement by COSAFA was the turning point. They gave all of us the inspiration. How he didn’t even bother to mention these two zonal bodies, which stood at the heart of this campaign, is mind-boggling. Philip Chiyangwa (the former Zimbabwe FA President) was our General at the frontlines, who stood firm and indeed spent his money, making trips and consultations.

Sadly, our enormous contributions (to the 2017 CAF presidential election victory), are being relegated by Ahmad. We know exactly when and why Ghana and Egypt made an in-road to our mission of change. It is a story for another day…


OO: What do you know about the forensic audit that the CAF executive committee has ordered? Who will conduct it? And when should the report be submitted to the executive committee?

HB: I have no idea. We expect to hear more details on it at our next meeting. I think that will be in July.


OO: Will you be, at that meeting, demanding what progress has been made, regarding the conduct of the forensic audit?

HB: Absolutely.


OO: Have you seen a copy of the CAF circular, dated 7 May, calling for the holding of an Ordinary General Assembly on 18 July, at which elections for six CAF executive committee seats will be conducted?

HB: Yes, I have.


OO: Under CAF’s laws, member associations must be given 120 days notice before an Ordinary General Assembly is conducted. But it is very clear, from this circular, issued on May 7, that the statutory rule is not going to be met. What is your opinion about this?

HB: I’m not a legal expert but it is tricky… It sums up the dilemma we face, when there’s no coordination at our level.

There are two arguments; the one you are making and the one that must address the issue of expired terms. How did we get to a point where [the management of] such an important event is allowed to become so embarrassingly delinquent? That’s the question.


OO: It is a question that I should ask you, as a member of the executive committee… Are you saying that a 22-man executive committee did not take cognisance of this very important issue? What does that say about you and your colleagues?

HB: This is not about the executive committee. It’s about leadership.


OO: Don’t you think that there is something wrong if not a single member of the CAF executive committee raised this issue, in order to avert the legal quagmire that could result from the present situation?

HB: That question should be addressed to those who are charged with the responsibility of continuous supervision of the Secretariat. The executive committee would be willing to step in when members are allowed to function in their respective roles. This is not the case and this is why we are in the situation that we are in.


OO: Are you saying that executive committee members, who should be abreast of the statutes, don’t have the responsibility to point this out, since the secretariat failed to do so?

HB: They must be functional, in order to lend their professionalism to the secretariat. This is not the case today.


OO: Amr Fahmy was in charge of the secretariat until his recent dismissal (on 11 April). Was it not his responsibility to have brought this to the attention of the executive committee? Did he ever do so, and it was ignored?

HB: He was ill during this period. He was not in office…


OO: So, who should have brought this to the attention of the executive committee?

HB: I believe that this matter is administrative, so maybe you should refer it to the President.


OO: Mr Ahmad says only two people out of 22 on the executive committee are against his leadership. What is your own view of the prevailing situation on the executive committee?

HB: It’s not about who’s for or against [Ahmad]. The question is are we not having a multiplicity of issues, ranging from financial to administrative?


OO: What do you, as a member of the executive committee, know about the sponsorship contracts that CAF signed with VISA and 1XBET? Was the executive committee consulted before Mr Ahmad signed these contracts? He says he has the authority to conclude the transactions, based on CAF’s contract with Lagardere.

HB: Absolutely not! You should ask him what he relies upon, to hold the position that he does? He doesn’t have the authority to carry out such an undertaking, without the express approval of the executive committee.

These contracts have never even been a subject of discussions at our meetings. This is the fact. We have minutes to back every meeting. There’s nothing whatsoever in there about 1XBet or Visa. The members of the executive committee are not kids; no one should take us for granted. The arbitrariness has gone beyond normal now. It has reached the point of unacceptability.


OO: I am aware that you were invited by the CAF president to go on a trip to the Umra in Mecca, which you declined. But some FA presidents did. It is alleged that this was done from CAF funds. What do you know about this?

HB: CAF is being run like a farm. In what world will this happen? Even the Saudi FA wouldn’t take the FA’s money to send people to Mecca… I know that some Moslem executive committee members went to Mecca. I’m a Moslem but I didn’t go. I have heard that CAF funds were used for this trip. These are the things the [forensic] audit (of CAF’s accounts) will help us appreciate.


OO: Let’s address an issue that is specific to you and your country… Payments from CAF meant for the Liberia FA ($200,000) ended up in a bank account of a third party in Poland… What do you know about this? How did CAF money meant for your association, while you were still the Liberia FA president, end up in Poland?

HB: This is a serious matter that borders on the credibility of CAF’s financial management system. How can money meant for Liberia end up in Poland?

In the first place, CAF does not make third party payments on behalf of member associations. Secondly, there’s absolutely no relationship between the Liberia FA and where the money was sent. How do you attribute a payment to Liberia that doesn’t mention Liberia?

Hopefully, the truth will come out. But I know this is an act of money laundering, perpetrated by those who authorised that payment.


OO: That payment can only be made by the CAF administration. Has the specific person that was responsible for it been identified?

HB: This is for CAF to answer. I’m a businessman of over 25 years. There is fraud all over this wire transfer. Those who sent the money know what I’m talking about…


OO: What are your expectations for the Cup of Nations finals in Egypt?

HB: I think Egypt has done exceptionally well to prepare in such a short time. Hopefully, everything will be executed as seen so far. But they’ve done very well, so far.


OO: And any final remarks, before we end this interview?

HB: Unless we move CAF from the brink of collapse and run it in accordance with our laid down rules, we should brace ourselves for more crises.


Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. Follow Osasu on Twitter @osasuo