By Osasu Obayiuwana
Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Ahmad Ahmad has come under increasing African and international criticism from the media and even within his own executive committee. Osasu Obayiuwana separately interviewed Ahmad and one of the leading dissident voices within CAF, Musa Bility. The full interviews are printed here.
Allegations of financial corruption surrounding equipment and commercial deals, spending CAF money on luxury cars, CAF funded visits to Mecca for muslim presidents, and a dictatorial management style, have swirled around Ahmad since his election as CAF president in 2017. He has also been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment with a complaint having been filed to FIFA’s Ethics body.
One of Ahmad’s closest election supporters, Musa Bility, a CAF executive committee member, has broken the internal ring of silence around Ahmad’s reign, criticising his use (he says abuse) of power and decision-making.
Osasu Obayiuwana has interviewed both men. First he interviewed Ahmad in person in Djibouti and followed this up with a series of questions to Bility.
ONE of your colleagues on the CAF executive committee (Musa Bility of Liberia) made a series of allegations against you. He alleges that you have been involved in financial misconduct and that you have shown a complete lack of respect for the statutes of CAF, in the way that you have led the organisation. What is your response to these serious charges?
There are 22 members of the executive committee. Out of these members, just one, or perhaps a maximum of two (the other person reportedly being Isha Johansen of Sierra Leone), have made complaints against my leadership. You should ask why the other members have a different view.
When I took over the affairs of CAF, I realised that a lot of reforms were necessary and we started with them. Under the statutes of CAF, we are obligated to have two executive committee meetings every year. We have certainly had more meetings than that, per year.
We have also had about five emergency committee meetings. Is it that we talk about other things? Or is it that we discuss the business of CAF?
Some have complained about the commercial deals that I signed, on CAF’s behalf, with VISA and 1XBET. (Ahmad was accused of failing to consult with the executive committee before signing these contracts). But the previous president, under the commercial deal that we entered into with Lagardere Sport, negotiated these deals. They, Lagardere, have the authority to enter into contracts on CAF’s behalf.
I really don’t like to talk about things inside of the house. We have an internal process for dealing with matters.
If I am not happy with a situation, for example, I can go to the Disciplinary Committee. If I don’t get a result there, we have the Appeals Committee and there is the Court of Arbitration for Sport as well.
If anyone is sure that things are wrong in CAF, why don’t they make use of the official complaint procedures? This is what I can say about this…
These may be internal issues. But they are now in the public domain… The dismissal of Amr Fahmy, the General Secretary of CAF, is another serious talking point. You proposed his appointment two years ago, against the wishes of some members of your executive committee, only for you to have him sacked. What are the “irreconcilable differences” that made you demand for his removal? The African football community wants to know these reasons…
As I have said previously, I was wrong to have nominated him…
You were wrong to have nominated him?
Yes. I am the kind of person who admits when he has made a wrong decision. I had never held an international appointment before I became CAF president. I only worked within my country. If I had to appoint a Malagasy person for a position, I would know the best person to pick. But that is not possible in this situation… I thought he (Fahmy) was a good choice…
You thought? You were not sure of the person that you appointed to such a key position?
Even if one appoints one’s own son to such a position, one cannot be sure [of his competence]. So, how can you be certain about someone else? First of all, he was in CAF. He also worked with Lagardere. Did this not provide some evidence that he was a good candidate for the position? CAF is like a government. It’s a big organisation. If you appoint a person to an important position and he is not capable of doing the job, then you make a change. That’s a normal part of management.
But it’s not normal that if a president wants to remove a prime minister, the prime minister cries about it, when the president has the statutory power to remove you. There is no problem in CAF. There is a problem, perhaps, for the person that was removed…
The General Secretary is a key part of the organisation. When you take a serious decision to have him removed, people are going to ask why you did this…?
You are a big journalist. You should investigate and find out what is happening. But what has happened, since his removal, has confirmed the correctness of my decision. You know what happened…
No, I don’t… I want you to tell us, because you are the president of the organisation…
It’s not in my education or in my culture to talk about people. We deal with the issues internally. But I am disappointed in the media, particularly reputable journalists, who have been saying a lot of things without hearing the other side. They are defaming people with no evidence.
I saw a copy of the complaint, against you, that Amr Fahmy has filed with the FIFA Ethics Committee. In this complaint, you have been accused of buying expensive cars with CAF funds and that contracts for the purchase of football equipment, bought through a company that is allegedly owned by an aide of yours, have been overinflated. These allegations are damaging the image of CAF. What is your response to them?
When you talk about the management of finances in CAF, the president is not the first person responsible for this. Article 26, subsection 9, of the CAF statutes, is very clear. Only the General Secretary is responsible for the finances of the organisation.
You talked about the cars… CAF is a very big organisation. How can the president be seen in a car that is not representative of the image of the organisation? For many years, the official car for the CAF president was a Mercedes, which was bought 12 years ago. One was in Cairo and another one was in Cameroon, plus another car. We, as an executive committee, decided that these cars had outrun their value and should remain with the former president, as part of his retirement package.
What I will say is that the executive committee approved the current car purchases. The meeting minutes are there to prove this. I am not going to respond to the allegations that have been made in the media. There is a process.
You talked about the Puma deal. People want to lie. Since 2015, CAF has had no equipment contract. We have not had one since our last deal with Adidas… When we took over, we took a decision to stop dealing with Puma and to buy equipment on the open market, even if it meant buying Adidas equipment, in the hope that we could reopen discussions with them, so they can sign another contract with us…
How can CAF not have an official equipment contract supplier?
That is a question that should be put to the previous administration. This is the situation that we met when we took over… You think that I am crazy to set up compliance and good governance procedures? Without doing this, there is no way that partners would want to work with us.
Is CAF going to continue buying equipment with ‘Tactical Steel’? Or are you going to have a proper supply contract with a kit manufacturer? When a contract is signed with Puma for less than $500,000 but it is cancelled and CAF obtains equipment through a third party for three or four times the same price, people will certainly ask questions…
But no one is asking about the quantity of the equipment that we bought. 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 new 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.
You can confidently say that all the allegations against you, by your former General Secretary, are false?
Yes. They are false. I ask you one thing: If I ask you to do something that you know is wrong, would you do it? You don’t, because you have your signature of authority on the authorising document. He carried out orders that were taken by the executive committee. If there is anyone who is at fault, it is the person who authorises it with his signature.
But he says that he took actions based on your direct orders…
He knew that came from the executive committee’s direction. But he is now complaining. Let us even assume that the instructions given to him were not proper, he could have refused to carry them out. If I am asked, by a superior, to do what I think is wrong, I would certainly not carry out such an order. His subsequent behaviour has only proved, in my opinion, that the decision to have him dismissed was the right one.
Let’s look at the accusations of Musa Bility once again, as they’re a major talking point… He says that you have no regard for your colleagues on the CAF executive committee and that you don’t respect the independence of CAF’s standing committees and its various organs. What do you say in response?
Twenty out of the 22 members share the same views. And just two don’t agree with what we are doing. One is vocal and the other one doesn’t talk as much. So, who is right? We operate based on democratic principles.
If I am in an organisation and I don’t agree with the way it is run, I would resign. I did that when I was a Minister for Sport, as well as the chief of staff of a minister, in my country…
You don’t think that you should do more to ensure a more harmonious executive committee?
I have tried to do more than this. But my catch-22 is that I also have to govern for the wider interests of the game in Africa. Our first obligation is to work for the federations. Those that are attacking CAF are the ones that have problems with their home federations.
One thing I must say; there are no independent committees in CAF, except the disciplinary, appeal, audit as well as the governance committees.
The other standing committees have meetings, they raise issues but they are also tabled before the executive committee, where the final decisions are taken.
Your critics have called you a dictator, who does not respect the laid down statutes of CAF…
Actually, I have been told that I am too democratic and that I spend too much time on debates.
How can CAF organise its competitions, like the AFCON and CHAN, professionally, if you keep having to withdraw hosting rights and re-award them to other countries, under emergency conditions?
If a country is not ready to host a competition, what do we do? Withdraw the tournament from them? Or do you keep it there, knowing the standards will be low?
CAF is supposed to monitor hosting preparations closely and ensure that benchmarks are met, so that you can know if there are problems and tackle them promptly… If you have to continually withdraw tournaments from hosts, it gives a bad image that the management of African football is poor…
Note that we have never made any original hosting decision for the AFCON. For the future, we have to insist that basic conditions are met before any country is given hosting rights. It can no longer be a matter of just having an executive committee vote.
When hosting rights are withdrawn, it is because the inspection reports clearly indicate that they are not ready.
We had to withdraw the 2020 CHAN from Ethiopia because it was clear that they would not be ready. And when we previously withdrew it from Kenya, they were not ready either. Since the rights were withdrawn, the Kenyan government have not taken action to complete the stadia. They are not building them for CAF but for the youth in their country, they should realise that.
On the contrary, in Cameroon, they have been working to complete the stadia and I understand that some are 90% ready. I am sure that when we finally have the AFCON there, in 2021, we are going to have a very good tournament.
For the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia, CAF gave $500,000 and some technical assistance to each of the five teams representing the continent. Why has CAF not done the same for Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa, as they go to the women’s 2019 World Cup in France? They need CAF’s assistance, even more than the male teams do…
I cannot take this decision, to give them money, by myself. The CAF administration did not present any evaluation plan, for the executive committee to consider.
After the last Women’s AFCON in Ghana, I gave an instruction for all the coaches of the qualified teams, as well as the Technical Study Group for that tournament, to come to Cairo for a meeting, to see how we can help them prepare for the World Cup. But nothing was done…
I was very upset, with my new General Secretary, after the U17 AFCON final in Tanzania… I asked the Technical Study Group at the tournament when there will be an evaluation of the needs of the teams going to the World Cup [in Brazil].
I was told they wouldn’t make these plans for another month. Why do they need to wait for another month? They don’t seem to appreciate the need to do things quickly…
You blame the CAF administration for the lack of support for the teams going to France?
Certainly, because they did not present a plan to the executive committee.
Will someone be held responsible for this?
Certainly. An example (he actually describes it as “an advertisement”) needs to be made.
There are barely seven weeks to the AFCON, which has a 24-team format for the first time. Egypt has just five months and three weeks to prepare for this event. Can you be sure that this tournament will be well organised, considering the very short preparation time?
I wish you will be in Egypt for the opening ceremony. I am confident that this AFCON will be the best in the history of the competition. I have 100 per cent confidence in Egypt… I know how committed the President of Egypt is, towards the successful hosting of this AFCON…
We have had a problem with pitches in the past but I saw what they are doing in Cairo, where an English company is in charge of the job being done. I think we are going to have very good conditions.