It is certainly not a misnomer to refer to Mr. Issa Hayatou as the old Lion of African Football. Not as a footballer as such, but as the man who made African football look different. History has already absorbed him as such. As President of the Confederation of African Football CAF, for nearly thirty years, he undoubtedly made a mark in pushing African football up to the present heights. The most interesting column of his track record is that, under the rules of CAF, prescribing a four-year term in office, the Cameroonian, Issa Hayatou contested most of the elections covering these terms and was always returned unopposed. On two other separate occasions when he was challenged, he won. There is no doubt however that, cynics would look at this development from another angle with, the question: why always Issa Hayatou?
They may certainly be right. In an organization such as CAF there must certainly be conflicting interests, all geared towards innovations hidden in new talents. Equally in organizations such as CAF, there are also openings for lobby, which of-course oils the machines in democratic contests. Issa Hayatou’s seeming popularity could therefore have been founded on the lobby theory or simply on merit. Whichever way, Cameroon as a football loving country, was fully represented and fully acknowledged as a country that has produced a leader of that caliber. It is a pride we should never forget too soon.
Ironically the 39th congress of the Confederation of African Football CAF, which held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Thursday March 16, to elect a new president, Issa Hayatou, in another attempt to seek a new mandate, suffered a devastating defeat by Ahmad from Madagascar, thus bringing to a bitter end 29 years of his career. Unfortunately, Hayatou’s fall does not only end bitterly with his devastating defeat at the CAF election. It has automatically led to the isolation of Cameroon from CAF. It turned out that after his defeat, he insisted that there must follow immediately elections of other commissions of CAF, without him proposing any candidates from his native Cameroon. This therefore means that Cameroon is not represented in CAF. For this singular act his detractors will certainly accuse him of being selfish, egoistic and even unpatriotic.
Coming immediately after his defeat is the bad news that Issa Hayatou is to face investigations at the FIFA Ethics Committee, over a Television and Marketing rights deal. The deal involves a multi-million dollar deal with the sports agency, Lagarderer. At the end of the day, this will only go ahead to ruin an image which has taken a very long time to construct. We remember very well, Ghana’s George Afriyie, Vice President of the Ghana Football Association, who, appreciating Issa Hayatou, said he has done much for African Football, but advised him to step back. It was indeed a prophetic advice.
From Liberia, that country’s Football Association President, Musa Bility said, Africa has made an emphatic decision that we are ready for change. We think it was better for Hayatou to have read the handwriting on the wall long ago, that it was time for him to quit the stage while his popularity was at its peak. His ultimate defeat may not even produce as much humiliation for Hayatou and his fellow Cameroonians, as his convocation to face the FIFA Ethics committee, which is well known for its ruthlessness in sanctioning top officials over corrupt and suspicious deals.
We look at the case of Hayatou’s bitter end at the helm of CAF as a test case for those who hold elective offices. Our country abounds with such cases. Africa as a continent does as well. The lesson here is that many of our African leaders have performed so well, yet it comes to a point where their profiles are messed up by their very naked ambitions to stay in power for ever. In most cases they are swept away in disgrace. It is a lesson for our leaders, be it at any level of society, to respect time tables that govern the positions they hold in trust for the people. Every calling has its ethics and every game has its rules. For those who therefore think that politics is a game, let the rules be respected. It will take Hayatou a long time to reflect and for him to realise where he missed the point. His fellow Cameroonians will however continue to remember him through reflections back to the good old days while the end turned sour.