Cyclone Ahmad batters Hayatou

Issa Hayatou

Issa Hayatou

Robson Sharuko, Harare Bureau
CYCLONE Ahmad, which first developed as a tropical cyclone on the Indian Ocean, has hit shore with ferocious rain and winds of Change – gaining intensity as it pummels the continent – amid indications it could swell into a hurricane whose eye will slam into Ethiopia on March 16 and topple one of world football’s longest-running dynasty.

There are only 10 days left before the African football leaders meet in Addis Ababa, a symbolic setting for the elections for the Caf leadership given the Ethiopian capital is also the home of the African Union, where the stage has been set for what is being billed as landmark polls that could Change the face of leadership on the continent.

Long-serving Caf president Issa Hayatou, who first came to power in 1988 and survived the tsunami that brought down the Fifa leadership of Sepp Blatter triggered by a wave of corruption scandals, is seeking an eighth term as the boss of football on the continent.

But Hayatou faces his biggest challenge with Madagascar Football Federation boss Ahmad Ahmad challenging the Cameroonian strongman and riding on a wave of unprecedented calls for Change in the leadership of Caf.

Where a number of African football leaders, in the past, feared to raise their opposition of Hayatou, things have dramatically changed with a new crop of fearless leaders now coming out in the open to tell the Cameroonian that they will oppose his quest to extend his time as the Caf president later this month.

The Cosafa bloc, led by Zifa president Philip Chiyangwa, got the ball rolling by publicly endorsing Ahmad and, since then, a number of leaders from across the continent have come out of their shell to say they will not vote for the Cameroonian, a wily old fox whose ability to play the boardroom politics mean he could still possibly win the poll.

On Saturday, the president of the Djibouti Football Association, Souleiman Hassan Waberi, said he will vote for Ahmad in the latest endorsement for the Madagascar football boss and yet another indication that his movement was gaining in strength and numbers.

Waberi’s stance, crucially, also provided confirmation that the decision by the Council for East and Central African Football Associations for its members to vote for Hayatou, after a meeting in Gabon on February 4, was not binding and would not be upheld by many leaders from that part of the continent.

“We as Djibouti are in for Change at Caf and our vote will go for Ahmad. We voted for Change during the Fifa elections to bring in Gianni Infantino and we are also in for Change now,” Waberi told BBC Sport on Saturday.

Waberi also said the majority of Cecafa members will be voting for “a Change.”

Cecafa has 11 members – Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya – and Uganda FA President Moses Magogo’s statement last Saturday, not to publicly back Hayatou despite the Cecafa resolution, also suggested they were likely to vote for Ahmad.

And there has also been some good news for the Ahmad camp, in recent days, with the Nigerian government, through Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, giving the country’s football leader, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, the freedom to choose the candidate he felt was the better between Hayatou and the Madagascar official.

“The board reaffirmed its earlier decision mandating Pinnick to contest for an executive position in Caf, and we collectively wish the president well in his bid and pray for his success. On the issue of the position of Nigeria, the board also mandated the president, who is a delegate at the election, to exercise his vote in the interest of Nigeria,” Dalung told the Nigerian media.

“We have endorsed the candidacy of Amaju Melvin Pinnick to run for a seat on the Caf executive committee.

“I listened to the NFF president’s interview on CNN very well; in all his submission, he was only expressing his opinion on a particular candidate he believes in. But the board has mandated him to go and exercise this vote in our national interest.”

Pinnick has openly said he will vote for Ahmad and attended the bash held by Chiyangwa in Harare where he addressed the gathering and said something big, in terms of Change.

Ahmad said Pinnick was a shoulder he was relying upon to complete his mission.

“I have very high regard for Nigeria, for what Nigeria has achieved in football and for being an economic power in the African region. I am really grateful to Mr. Pinnick who has been the strongest voice of my campaign, and I thank the Government of Nigeria for supporting him,” he said.

Chiyangwa, who is Ahmad’s campaign manager, welcomed Djibouti’s decision.

“You can call it Ahmadmania, it’s a revolution, it’s a movement, it’s a roaring train and we believe that it’s unstoppable right now and we want to thank our brothers in Djibouti for having the courage to see the need for Change in African football,” said Chiyangwa.

“When we started this movement, people were mocking us as dreamers but every day that passes by they are beginning to see that this is serious stuff and many, who were sitting on the fence, are coming out to say that they are now with us.

“There is no stopping this cyclone now, it is sweeping everything in its path and I can tell you that in the coming days, as we draw closer and closer to the elections, a number of countries will come out to say they are backing Ahmad and we might have to revise the numbers that we told you in the past.”

Hayatou, ever the wily old fox hasn’t been sleeping on duty in his mission to retain his post and, at the weekend, tried to win the vote of Zambian Football Federation boss Andrew Kamanga, who declared in a live television interview two weeks ago he will vote for Ahmad, by helping end a feud between him and the country’s football legend Kalusha Bwalya.

It appears that all the African countries which voted for Infantino in the battle for the Fifa presidency last year, will vote for Ahmad and that could spell trouble for Hayatou.