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Flawed Issa Hayatou overstayed his welcome, but isn't the devil he's made out to be

Published on: 17 March 2017

Issa Hayatou’s reign is at an end. Cue rejoicing and high-fives, the victorious Ahmad Ahmad hoisted in celebration, the new broom that is expected to sweep CAF clean and draw its curtains open to a bath of warm sunlight.

The Malagasy owes his victory to the single most concerted effort to oust the 70-year-old Cameroonian in all of his 29-year stay. More than anything else, it has become dank and musty in CAF headquarters, a situation worsened by the increasing insularity of Hayatou’s leadership model.

His rhetoric ran directly opposite to the ‘brave new world’ manifesto of Fifa president Gianni Infantino, and their running battle has decided in favour of change. As the Igbo anecdote goes, Hayatou is the bird that, after a good meal, thought it wise to challenge his ‘chi’ – his personal god – to a fight.

It is odd that a politician of Hayatou’s clout and experience decided to pursue this exclusionist rout. For one thing, much of the good he has been able to do in his tenure (and there have been positives, despite what most would have you believe) has come by working closely with the leadership of world football’s governing body.

Who can forget the successful hosting of Africa’s only ever World Cup in 2010, a roaring success in its own right?

The senior World Cup aside, more African nations have become involved in hosting (and winning) global football events under his watch than at any time previously: Egypt and Nigeria in particular have benefitted from hosting age-grade competitions; the Golden Eaglets also hold the record for most U-17 World Cup wins.

Under his watch, Africa transitioned from afterthought to major stakeholder in global football politics, a growth reflected in the allotment of World Cup places. His first World Cup as Caf supremo featured two African representatives from 24 teams, by the time the competition expanded to 32, they had five slots, and even six in 2010.

That these leaps may have taken place with or without Hayatou, and were foregone conclusions is a matter of conjecture. In the end, his body of work, while riddled with errors, is hardly a reproach. His biggest failing, it would seem, was to fall in love with the trappings of power and seek to entrench himself and his authority further.

For his rapacious ambition, he has paid the ultimate price, and will not have the luxury of transitioning into the sort of elder statesman role that a man of his experience and standing ought to occupy. His inability to read the signs means he departs in disgrace.

Whichever side of the divide you line up on, there is much to look forward to in the new dispensation. Ahmad has himself been a long-term head of the Madagascan FA, and while the island nation is not a major player on the continent, he has, crucially, the backing of Infantino.

The worry, if it can be described in those terms, is that the cabal of revolutionaries who have banded together shared one objective: to cast off Hayatou’s shackles. This has been achieved, and to the victor goes the spoils: all of Ahmad’s backers won seats on the Caf Executive Committee as well, the loot divvied up in double-quick time. What now?

There is now no bogeyman figure to rally against, and Ahmad’s relative inexperience means there will be teething problems to get around. Make no mistake, this was an election where the aim was to oust Hayatou, rather than install Ahmad – a tent peg might have just as easily won, so long as its first name was not Issa!

Change is a seductive mantra, and in truth it was overdue. No one should hold one position as long as Hayatou did. However, if Ahmad can record half as many tangible achievements as the wily Cameroonian did without the same cabalistic exclusionism, he will be regarded a fine president indeed.

 

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