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Issa Hayatou – The legacy. What legacy?

By Lot Chitakasha

If the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland. Many articles have been written about Issa Hayatou. His demise has been celebrated far and wide. Similarities have been drawn about political downfalls that have happened and others that are still to happen.

Lot Chitakasha
Lot Chitakasha

I join the celebration of the change which has come but let me put my head on the block and ask-What has been his legacy, his contribution to the development of African football? Failure to do that might  mean a failure to be an impartial commentator, behaving like the lizard of the homestead which abandoned its role.

Let me clear the air and state categorically that I am not a Hayatou apologist. In one of my articles published on the AFCON website, I stated that CAF was in urgent need of leadership
renewal. I had watched Hayatou during the just ended AFCON tournament held in Gabon and his demeanor did not inspire me with confidence. He looked tired, bereft of energy and on two occasions , he was caught napping during one of the most exciting matches of the tournament, the Cameroon versus Ghana semi-final.

For a man whose health challenges were well documented, it was insensitive for him to seek another term. His challenger Ahmad Ahmad, exploited the age gap and presented himself as the face of change and new ideas. He intimated that Hayatou lacked the energy to criss-cross Africa, monitoring all the development projects that needed inspection.

One commentator put it succinctly, “ by the end of the campaign each of Hayatou’s 70 years were etched on his face, frame, gait, his posture…” In our culture, age is revered but there comes a time when even that reverence is not enough to secure power. Hayatou indeed paid a price for his biological clock.

Many confederations decided that change was needed. Danny Jordan of South Africa said, “ I think a lot of us have agreed with the wider public in saying we are tired of having the same person lead us with the same ideas for so long.” Salamane Phayane of Lesotho said , “ We want things to change and we want things to be done more transparently.” Isha Johansen of Sierra Leone added, “Africa needs this moment,, it is time for new ideas..” The David who tackled the Goliath, Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar declared, “In life there is a limit. Typically in politics, everyone has a chance, maybe it is time..” Indeed it proved to be time.

From the above sentiments, it is easy to see the strong desire for change which gripped the corridors of football on the continent. Our own football President , Dr. Phil Chiyangwa entered the scene with his usual bravado and swagger. He had a special role. Allow me an analogy to depict it.

Once upon a time, the rats of the homestead decided that they had enough of the cat that was terrorizing and making an easy meal of them. They came up with a plan, they would hang a bell round the cat’s neck to alert them whenever it was in the vicinity. However, there was a catch. Which rat was brave enough to do it and still live to tell the tale. None volunteered and hence their perilous existence continued unabated.

Going back to our flamboyant President, he was brave enough to volunteer. The birthday party became the stage where the bell was hung on Hayatou’s neck. On that night when drinks, food and champagne flowed, the fate of the man that Chiyangwa called the “the emperor, the dictator” was sealed.

Yes indeed I accept these changes. However, to suggest that Hayatou did nothing substantial in his 29 years in power will be a falsification of history of the highest order. It will be a case of throwing away the baby with the dirty water. Others have adopted a scorched earth policy in an attempt to delete the man’s footprints on the African football journey. Many skeletons have been retrieved from the cupboards ranging from match fixing, favouritism and a lack of transparency.

Our Zimbabwe pundits , writers and fans have been on the forefront of this drive. In our case, I understand the source of the grievances, the ill fated 2000 AFCON hosting debacle.
Let me give a brief background to this sad chapter.

When Zimbabwe was given the chance to host, she was expected to upgrade some facilities. I understand that Mutare and Gweru were earmarked as host cities and as such Sakubva and Ascot stadiums were supposed to get a facelift. The Leo Mugabe led ZIFA dragged their feet and when the inspectors visited, they were not impressed.

CAF made the decision to take away the hosting rights and gave them to Nigeria and Ghana.
As a nation we have never forgiven Hayatou since. However let me pose this question, if our good friend Ahmad decides to reward us for securing him power by giving us the hosting rights in 2021, will we be ready?

Will we not be found wanting again ? Will Sakubva, Ascot stadiums be ready this time? What about Gwanzura, Rufaro, Babourfields and the pride of the nation, the National Sports Stadium? Can we turn them into the state of the art stadiums fit to host a tournament of this magnitude? It is a big call but I hope it can be done because we all want the tournament. However we need to put our house in order.

Now let me play the devil’s advocate, for this is how the man has been depicted. When he came to power, Africa had 2 slots at the World Cup, by the time he left, the number stands at 5. He was fighting a case to increase the number to 10 and I hope the new leaders will push for that too.

In 2010 history was made. The sound of the vuvuzela echoed throughout the livings rooms of all football loving nations. It was Africa’s turn to host the World Cup with South Africa as the chosen one. Hayatou played a prominent role in the bidding and organising committees. Barring the pantomime villain, Luis Suarez’s sneaky intervention, maybe Ghana would have gone all the way to the final.

That would have been the icing on the cake for Hayatou, a proud African who wanted Africa to assert her muscles on the football map. Hayatou also expanded the AFCON tournament from an initial 8 in 1988 to 12 in 1992 and the current 16 in 1996. Collin Udoh, a Nigerian blogger applauds the man for this and hopes that the new leaders will further expand the tournament to 24.

Hayatou was not keen on further expansion, citing lack of infrastructure but still credit is due to him for the expansion. His administration also made the tournament more rewarding with prize money currently pegged at $4 million. Another notable achievement was the expansion of CAF Champions league tournament. He also made a bold move to introduce prize money for the competition. It has become the richest club competition in Africa.

Currently the prize money is pegged at $2, 500,000 and the Association which produces the champion also gets $125 ,000. The CAF Confederation cup was also expanded and is
now rewarding for participants. There is also the CAF Super Cup. These competitions and added financial incentives have helped to raise the level of the game. The big picture is that Hayatou made CAF very rich. At his departure according to one source CAF was worth $108 million in cash and $131 million in equity.

Massive sponsorship deals were also signed with Total and Lagardee. Since he grew the financial muscle of the game, Hayatou lived under the spotlight. Many said he lacked transparency. Ahmad, the new man came in on a promise to “officially publish all sponsorship
deals, nothing will be hidden or covered under my mandate.”

Malawi FA President Walter Nyamilandu on announcing his country ‘s withdrawal from the 2019 AFCON tournament said, “Member associations will have the opportunity to enjoy the wealth that CAF has had all these years… we have been marginalised, it is time to be inclusive..” I agree that there is no point in having so much wealth if the Associations do not benefit.

However, it is important to note that Hayatou grew the cake, the new leaders will share it equally, that is their promise Let me say the man did not bestow them a bankrupt association, this is a laudable achievement in the mother continent where leaders often leave organisations and even countries in the red .

Ahmad now has the mandate for change. I hope he will use it well to make African football stronger. Hayatou will always have his critics, a lot of things did not go down well with member Associations. Allegations of corruption, favouritism, lack of transparency tarnished his legacy but he definitely improved the game in many areas. He wanted the voice of Africa to be respected often playing the Nationalist card, for that Africa should appreciate his contribution.

I wish the new team all the success ,I also await the changes, my role as the lizard of the homestead is done. Let football be the winner.