Last weekend’s COSAFA elections produced a surprise winner. MODIRWA KEKWALETSWE dissects the intrigue and betrayal in the regional football body
“The minorities had a field day,” said an insider of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) when asked about last Saturday’s presidential elections.
That just about sums up the voting pattern that landed Suketu Patel of Seychelles the COSAFA presidency. The regional football body met at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) to vote for a successor to Ismail Bhamjee, who was forced out after his infamous ticket scandal at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Vying for the job were three candidates: Namibian High Court president Petrus Damaseb, former Zambian international turned television pundit Kalusha Bwalya and Patel.
Prior to the voting, some regional media houses ÔÇô particularly the pay digital satellite channel Super Sport, where Bwalya makes regular appearances as a studio guest ÔÇô hyped the ex-captain of Zambia as a favourite.
But insiders hinted at a grueling tussle between Damaseb and Patel. Those who were convinced that the former ball juggler could not dribble past the two men are said to have tried to talk him out of the race to enhance Damaseb’s chances ÔÇô a proposal he apparently rejected off hand.
After his uninspiring performance, so uncharacteristic of his feat on the field during his playing days, Bwalya’s camp screamed betrayal. It seems that, in typical political dishonesty, Bwalya had been promised at least eight votes, which would have been enough to win him the presidency ÔÇô but on the day, he could only salvage a paltry two.
“You have to appreciate the complex composition of COSAFA to understand what happened.
Mozambique and Angola are Portuguese-speaking and they have been feeling marginalized, especially with the use of English as the official language in the organisation. The three islands (Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar) also feel the same way and they decided to use the vote to make their point,” a source pointed out.
During the week leading to Election Day, South Africa lived to its reputation of breaking ranks with neighbours, and declared its support for Patel, giving him another precious vote to take his expected tally to six.
It turns out that Patel’s seventh vote came from the most unlikely quarter ÔÇô Namibia. Patel was beneficiary of a family feud involving two Namibian compatriots. The Namibian Football Association (NAF) president John Muinjo has been having running problems with Damaseb.
It appears Damaseb long smelt a rat. It is understood that he had insisted that his nomination should come from NAF, believing that if his home association had publicly backed him, that would secure Muinjo’s vote. Of course, the nomination did come from NAF, but at the last minute Muinjo chose to kick the ball into his homeboy’s net.
The deed smacks of outright revenge. Muinjo previously accused Damaseb of siding with his opponents in the race for NAF presidency.
“The two don’t see eye to eye,” another source said after the weekend elections.
Damaseb’s camp had anticipated the problem and sought a truce before the elections. After several meetings with Muinjo meant to broker peace between the two men, Damaseb’s people slept soundly on Friday night, and had a hearty breakfast on Saturday thinking they had a deal.
When the blow came, it was in a cruel fashion ÔÇô and Muinjo emerged as a master of cloak and dagger. Through his nomination of Damaseb, he had brilliantly dulled his foe into a sitting duck, and waited for the right moment to do the Brutus act.
In the end, only Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe voted for Damaseb, while Zambia and Malawi backed Bwalya.
The COSAFA elections came at a time when there is jockeying for the Confederation of African Football presidency in 2009. Already, two West African men have expressed interest for the post: the incumbent Cameroun’s Issa Hayatou and Jacque Anouna from Ivory Coast. The two camps sent observers to the COSAFA meeting.
The Tunisian, Tarek Bouchamaoui, was dispatched from the CAF office in Cairo, Egypt, to be Hayatou’s eyes and ears, while sport journalist and publisher Emmanuel Maradas kept the score for Anouna.
There is strong suggestion that Patel’s candidacy was inspired by Hayatou’s desire to have a stranglehold on COSAFA. Patel is the CAF president’s ally.
How, then, will Patel’s leadership of COSAFA impact on the 2009 CAF elections? It probably won’t have much bearing, since voting is only reserved for national associations, not regional blocks. But, of course, it gives him the clout to begin to push his man’s agenda. (FPN)