Cameroon: How Samuel Eto’o conquered Fecafoot

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Tuesday, 21 December 2021 09:55, updated on Friday, 7 January 2022 15:51

Samuel Eto'o was elected head of Fecafoot on 11 December. © Maboup

Former international football player Samuel Eto’o has done everything in his power to thwart his powerful rivals’ manoeuvres, including running communication campaigns, lobbying and political negotiations.

At first, it was mission impossible.

In the race to become president of Fecafoot, Samuel Eto’o was up against Fifa, which is increasingly scrutinising the heads of national federations. Gianni Infantino, Fifa’s Italian-Swiss boss, would like the World Cup to be held every two years, whereas South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe, his ally at CAF, wants the African Cup of Nations to take place every four years.

The two men are working together to launch an African Superleague. Furthermore, their two bodies do not want headstrong leaders to be appointed, as they would likely resist these unpopular ideas.

The CAF secretary-general, Veron Mosengo, who is close to Infantino, tried to get Eto’o to withdraw from a meeting in Kinshasa back in November. Part of the Cameroonian regime also distrusted the former international footballer, who was finally elected on 11 December.

Against the system

It is true that Eto’o had nothing to fear from Paul Biya. The Cameroonian president has not forgotten that he used Eto’o’s connections in 2017 to ensure that the CAN went ahead as planned, even though the CAF had been on the verge of cancelling it.

On the other hand, some prominent government members are concerned about how popular the former captain of the Lions Indomptables is. On 8 November, Eto’o met with Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, the director of the president’s civil cabinet, who is also close to Franck Biya, the head of state’s eldest son, who was presented as his possible successor. He had to assure everyone that his run for the Fecafoot presidency was not politically motivated.

Eto’o was also confronted with the Mohammed Iya system, which had been orchestrated by this former boss of Sodecoton, the most powerful agro-industry in the Great North (three regions), from his cell in Kondengui prison in Yaoundé. This network has controlled Fecafoot for over 20 years. It is made up of 12 regional delegates from the north and several other ‘northern’ delegates with different professions (club presidents, referees, coaches).

Their strength? They are known for standing together and unanimously voting for the candidate of their choice. Whoever is supported by the Great North is the favourite.

From his cell, Iya pulls the strings through Alim Konaté, who – until now – had been Fécafoot’s all-powerful vice-president. This system is supported by several government ministers from the northern part of the country. They include Gabriel Mbairobe, the agricultural minister, who hosted a meeting in support of the outgoing president, Seidou Mbombo Njoya, at his home in Garoua on 3 December and Ibrahim Talba Malla, the minister of public contracts, who worked to strengthen Eto’o’s rival.

Although he is not from the Far North, Paul Atanga Nji, the minister of territorial administration and decentralisation, has also worked hard to prevent the former international footballer from being elected. Even though the secretary-general of the services of the governor of the centre, Simon Ghislain Etsil, who was elected delegate of the East Region (won by Eto’o), did not attend the elective General Assembly, many see this as pressure from his supervisory minister. Several delegates from the English-speaking North-West also say they have received phone calls from ‘Minatd’.

Finally, Yannick Noah was also against Eto’o’s presidential bid. The former acted as an intermediary in the contract between the equipment manufacturer Le Coq Sportif and the Lions Indomptables, which planned to start off Njoya’s second term by holding a series of concerts during the next CAN.

Communication plan and lobbying

To take on the system, the footballer relied on communication campaigns and lobbying. He hired the services of Mireille Fomekong, head of the communication agency Ascèse, which is based in Douala. The latter chose to play the people against the elite in order to oppose popular pressure to the individual interests of each of the 76 voting delegates.

Eto’o, who has extensive knowledge of ethno-regional geopolitics and has conducted a sociographic study, also negotiated directly and personally with the delegates. Furthermore, he managed to secure the support of political and business barons, such as billionaire Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, who stands out for being both Fulani and English-speaking.

The former Inter Milan striker is also backed by Ibrahim El Rachidine, who is not only Garoua’s new lamido (traditional and religious leader) but also an enemy of the Hayatou family, from which his predecessor Alim Hayatou, who died on 5 April, came. This strategy was the best way to counter the enmity between Eto’o and Issa Hayatou, who never forgave the footballer for having supported Ahmad Ahmad during the election that kicked him out of CAF in 2017. As such, he managed to divide the ‘northern’ bloc and rally a dozen delegates to his cause.

From then on, the two candidates only had to fight for delegates from the other regions. In this game, Njoya knew that he could not compete with a contender who had travelled thousands of kilometres to convince voters of the need to change the leaders of Cameroonian football. More than 50% of them were replaced during this election.

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