African football: A house of smoke and mirrors

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A change of leadership brought hopes of better times to the African Football Confederation (CAF). 30 months later, its problems seem to go broader and deeper than ever. Osasu Obayiuwana reports from a soccer-mad continent on an uncertain course.

When in March 2017 Madagascar’s Ahmad defeated Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou, to end the latter’s 29-year reign as President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, many within the sport’s fraternity expressed cautious hope that a new chapter of transparency and accountability would be opened for what was viewed, with good cause, as a rather opaque governing body.

But 30 months later, the African football governance report sheet makes for particularly grim reading.

Ghana’s Kwesi Nyantakyi, who was CAF’s first Vice-President, was removed from office and banned for life by FIFA in October 2018, as was executive committee Musa Hassan Bility of Liberia, on 24 July.

Both were banned for serious financial improprieties.

While Nyantakyi was filmed taking a bribe, by the investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Bility, the former Liberia FA president, claims he is a victim of a FIFA witch-hunt and is currently challenging his 10-year-ban at the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).

Kalusha Bwalya, the 1988 African Player of the Year and ex-PSV Eindhoven star – whose tenure on the CAF executive committee ended on July 18 of this year – also had his tenure slightly truncated by a FIFA ban, which originally was to last for two years. It was subsequently reduced to time served (from August 2018 to January 2019) on appeal, with his 101,900 USD fine reduced to just under 11,000 USD.

Egyptian Hany Abou Rida, who resigned as president of his country’s football association in July after a dismal performance as hosts at the last Africa Cup of Nations tournament, has been under FIFA investigation since 13 March 2019, with no pronouncement by the FIFA Ethics Committee on his guilt or innocence.

This concerns a party in Cairo that was attended by several FA/Federation Presidents, ahead of the May 2017 FIFA Congress that took place in Manama, Bahrain, during which, on the sidelines of that congress, an African representative to the FIFA Council – Abou Rida himself – was re-elected.

But the decision of the International Criminal Court, in December 2018, to have Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona of the Central African Republic arrested for alleged crimes against humanity between 2013 and 2014 – whilst a sitting member of the CAF Executive Committee – is, without question, one of the biggest stains on the continental body in its 62-year-history.

Ngaissona’s questionable human rights record in the Central African Republic, which barred him from contesting in their presidential elections in 2015 – a fact clearly known to CAF’s high chieftains – did not, strangely, disqualify him from contesting the 2017 CAF Exco elections, which Ngaissona won.

President questioned by French police
This indicates the lack of a robust ‘fit and proper persons’ test, to prevent dubious characters from finding their way to the top table of the African game.

But the key questions, whispered loudly in the power corridors, are the ones concerning the travails of the top man in the African game – Ahmad himself.

Compelled to spend several hours with the French financial police, the Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes (OCLCIFF), on 6 June in Paris, Ahmad and Loic Gerand, his personal aide, were expected to provide OCLCIFF with details about CAF’s transactions with Tactical Steel.

A 312,000 euro Puma contract, to supply kit to CAF for the 2018 Championship of African Nations (CHAN), was dropped in favour of Tactical Steel, for a subsequent deal worth 1,195,603 USD.

Tactical Steel is run by Romuald Seilier, a close friend of Gerand.

OCLCIFF’s on-going investigations, which are intensifying – having recently questioned former CAF General Secretary Amr Fahmy – are looking into possible acts of tax evasion, money laundering and fraud, involving officials of CAF and Tactical Steel.

In an exclusive interview this reporter had with Ahmad in May, before he was questioned by OCLCIFF, the CAF President insisted that the deal with Tactical Steel met all legal and ethical guidelines.

He claimed that the increase in the subsequent order, from Tactical Steel, was responsible for the significant difference in the contract price originally given to CAF by Puma.

“No one is asking about the quantity of the equipment that we bought [from Tactical Steel],” Ahmad said. 

“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 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,” Ahmad claimed.

FIFA’s unprecedented moves
The current investigation by the French financial police triggered FIFA to announce, on the same day, that Ahmad was also the subject of an on-going investigation by their Ethics Committee.

“FIFA is asking the French authorities for any information that might be relevant to investigations taking place within its Ethics Committee,” they said.

It is an unusual – and highly irregular – act of FIFA to have announced a continuing investigation of the Ethics Committee, as their rules forbid this.

In the meantime, an unprecedented move by FIFA – getting directly involved in the daily affairs of an independent confederation, an action never taken, since its inception as the world governing body in 1904 – is an unfolding drama at CAF headquarters in Cairo.

Since August 1, Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s Secretary-General, has been resident in Cairo, doubling as FIFA’s General Delegate for Africa, where she is playing a central role in the governance overhaul of CAF, where a comprehensive staff and financial audit is being carried out.

FIFA’s current involvement in the day-to-day management of CAF, as it is bringing in experts to overhaul several areas of its operations, brings into question the efficacy and legitimacy of the 22 people that were elected to the CAF executive committee, which, according to the constitution of the organisation, is its highest decision making body, besides the CAF congress.

FIFA ban with question marks
Several executive committee members of CAF, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, have expressed their sense of powerlessness over the direction the organisation is taking.

Only Musa Hassan Bility vociferously objected to FIFA’s intervention in CAF’s affairs, when the matter was tabled before the CAF Exco on July 17 in Cairo, a week before a 10-year ban was imposed on him.

“Many members of the executive committee wanted to have more time to examine the relationship that we should have with FIFA, before taking a position on how we should deal with them.”

“But this process was railroaded by the CAF president, who worked together with Gianni Infantino to come up with the terrible arrangement, which has compromised the ability of CAF to run its own affairs. This is a disaster and we are going to regret it. It’s the reason why I have had no choice than to fight this at CAS,” Bility said.

The ban of Bility by the Adjudicatory Chamber of FIFA’s Ethics Committee on July 24 has left the supposedly independent body open to a lot of questions concerning the integrity of its processes.

Punishment for the Liberian came barely 24 hours after he had filed his CAS case, seeking for a nullification of FIFA’s direct intervention in the day-to-day affairs of CAF, as symbolised by the frontal involvement of Samoura.

In addition, there was an inexplicable five-month delay between when the Adjudicatory Chamber made its ruling on the Liberian (12 February) and 24 July, when the ban was imposed.

This gap between the conclusion of a judicial process and the announcement of the verdict – 24 hours after Bility filed a complaint against the same organisation – is far from an endorsement of the body’s independence and integrity.  

“I’ve no knowledge of the facts [of the Bility case] in order to comment. I’ve been, however, a long time defender [of the position] that the Ethics Committee should be more transparent about its calendar and the reasoning behind its cases (decisions),” says Miguel Maduro, a former visiting Law Professor at Harvard and Yale Universities and the immediate past chairman of FIFA’s Governance Committee.  

“There are complaints it receives, [for] which it has never provided any feedback…”

“[It never responds as to whether] it has closed a case or not. And if so, why? This is not a good practice, in terms of the rule of law,” Maduro observes.

Turmoil at African CL finals
As if all these troubles are not enough, African football witnessed, for the first time in its history, a dramatic abandonment of the final of its top club competition – the Champions League – at the Rades Stadium in Tunis on May 31. It was a show of shame after Walid El Karti’s 2nd half goal for Wydad Casablanca against Esperance Sportive de Tunis was disallowed by Gambian Referee Papa Bakary Gassama.

It subsequently led to an abandonment of the game by an aggrieved Wydad.

A visibly disturbed CAF President Ahmad and some members of his executive committee left the VIP box – in a sharp, unexpected departure from convention – to remonstrate with Said Nasri, Wydad’s President, to get manager Faouzi Benzarti and his players back onto the pitch. But Ahmad’s pleas came to naught.

And so, the final was declared abandoned by Gassama after play did not go on for over one hour.

Paragraph 17 Section 11 of the CAF Champions League rules are extremely clear about what had to happen concerning the drama at Rades:

“If for any reason whatsoever, a team withdraws from the competition or does not report for a match – except in case of force majeure accepted by the Organising Committee or if it refuses to play or leaves the ground before the regular end of the match without the permission of the referee, it shall be considered loser and shall be eliminated from the competition.”

The correct application of this rule led to Esperance winning the match and lifting the Champions League title for a second successive season.

That was, of course, until June 5, when a dramatic change of events took place at a two-day CAF Executive Committee emergency session in Paris, where the 22-man body blatantly violated its rule book and ordered a replay of the second leg final on the grounds that “the conditions of game and safety were not met during the 2nd leg… preventing the game from coming to an end.”

Both clubs, rightly refusing to accept this political decision, took CAF to CAS, which criticised the political intervention of CAF’s executive committee in what is a matter for CAF’s independent judicial bodies – the Disciplinary Committee and the Appeal Committee – to adjudicate upon.

CAS ordered CAF to respect its laws, which led to the aforementioned bodies sitting on the dispute with both ruling in favour of Esperance, confirming that the initial decision of Papa Gassama on May 31 was right.

At the time of writing this piece, Esperance were paid their 2.5 million USD prize, for winning the Champions League.

African leaders sidelined
With Fatma Samoura and her FIFA team firmly embedded in CAF until January 2020 at least (her term can be extended by mutual agreement after that date) and taking the driver’s seat in redesigning the organisational architecture of the body, the future direction – and quality – of African football governance is extremely uncertain.

As one worried FA President bluntly put it:

“We, the national associations, are the members of CAF. But we are completely in the dark, as to what is being done. The CAF congress is supposed to be the supreme body of the organisation. But where is our involvement in this entire process?”

“We seem to have been taken over by FIFA, when CAF is supposed to be an independent organisation with leaders elected by us who should run our affairs. We are in uncharted, dangerous waters.”

Does CAF have financial problems?
Finance – the adequate presence of it – is the lifeblood of any organisation. But CAF’s books make for grim reading.

Fouzi Lekjaa, the organisation’s second vice-president and chair of its Finance Committee, issued a stark warning on 19 June at an executive committee meeting.

In a confidential CAF document in this reporter’s possession, Lekjaa warned that “CAF has entered a cycle of structural deficit that will reach six million USD, at the end of the year (2019).”

“If this deficit situation is not corrected, it will lead to the consumption of financial reserves and the financial deficit will increase to the point of reaching one hundred and twenty million USD after ten years,”he warned.

And he had harsh words for the treasurers of the organisation: “This [finance] committee considers that this situation is the result of a combination of factors linked to unbridled budget decisions and the low exploitation of revenue potential… there is a need to make efforts to reverse this deficit by rationalising spending and making better use of the revenue potential for CAF.”

Opacity in financial matters was a big issue at the 18 July Ordinary General Assembly in Egypt, where CAF’s annual accounts for 2019 were not circulated to its 54 member federations within the prescribed 30-day advance period ahead of the congress.

Calls for transparency
That this gave member associations no time to scrutinise the figures and offer informed comments was not lost on Andrew Kamanga, the President of the Football Association of Zambia, who protested against this on the Congress floor.

“They were not circulated to the members within the statutory provisions under Article 17 (7) of the CAF statutes – ‘All documents including accounts shall be deposited to members at least 30 days prior to the meeting’. This was not done before the congress,” said Kamanga, who is also a chartered accountant.

“The financial statements were only availed to the members in the congress hall… members were deprived of the opportunity to review both the financial statements and the proposed budget.”

“The actual audited accounts that were presented to us at the General Assembly was for the year 2017/2018, which ended in June 2018. And the budget given to the congress for approval was for the 2019/2020 financial year.”

“The actual accounts for the 2018/2019 financial year, ending in June 2019, have not been availed, since the accounts are yet to be presented [to the member associations],” Kamanga surprisingly said.

How does CAF approve a budget for the 2019/2020 financial year without scrutinising and approving the accounts for the previous financial year?

Holding CAF to account
Suketu Patel, who chaired CAF’s Finance Committee for a significant period during the Hayatou era, is scathing about the present state of affairs:

“I used to work 12 hour days when in Cairo to ensure we never missed a single statutory reporting deadline. You saw the spread-sheet and long-term forecasting I did for CAF, which was adopted by the Exco as an indicator of how much attention was being paid to CAF finances…”

“I have to question the quality of current FA Presidents in holding the CAF Exco to account for their performance, especially when they approve overwhelming financials at a congress almost one year after the closure of the accounting period and without having received and not approved that of prior years...”

As an Ivorian colleague poignantly said, “If you want to see miracles, don’t go to church. Come to CAF.”

After two years of a new CAF government, the continent’s house of football remains a place of smoke and mirrors with only the dramatis personae changing.

As the French say, “Plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les memes” (the more things change, the more they remain the same).

It is hardly an optimistic picture of the state and, indeed, the future of the African game – rich in talent and potential but desperately short of governance with diligence and competence.

After covering African football for 32 years, I am increasingly pessimistic about whether the glorious dawn for African football, after this long and deep, dark night, will come.

Time, like all things, will write the final script.


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