CAF: Véron Mosengo-Omba FIFA’s point man in Africa

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: AFCON: Plagued by scandals

By Alexis Billebault, Georges Dougueli
Posted on Friday, 14 January 2022 09:30

FIFA has never been so attentive to African football as in recent years. Involved from near and afar in many projects, the body - headed by Gianni Infantino - is influencing the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Its principal ally: Véron Mosengo-Omba, secretary general of the confederation.

This is the final part of a 3-part investigative series

He arrived at the Hilton Hotel in Yaoundé on 8 December, flanked by a bodyguard and some collaborators. Véron Mosengo-Omba was back in Cameroon after the shock caused by his scathing communiqué on 17 November. “The advancement to the exteriors of the Olembe stadium, the delivery of which is promised for 30 November 2021, seems not to have progressed since my last visit on 22 October,” wrote the secretary general of CAF.

The Cameroonian authorities are unused to receiving this kind of public dressing-down from the CAF, which only four years ago, was still under the presidency of the timid Issa Hayatou and would have privileged the secrecy of ministerial cabinets to get the message across. The new administration of the body, led firmly by Véron, is not shy with criticism and is threatening to relocate the opening match to another stadium.

After the incident, the Swiss national, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), could have kept a low profile and only arrived the day before the opening of the African Cup of Nations (CAN). Instead, he chose to return a month earlier, apparently so that he could see how the preparations were coming along. But for some observers, it was not insignificant to see him land three days before the election of the president of the Fédération Camerounaise de Football.

In the end, former footballer Samuel Eto’o was elected on 11 December, winning against Seidou Mbombo Njoya, the outgoing president and, notably, the vice-president of CAF, who was supported by both Mosengo-Omba and the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino. Would Mosengo-Omba have sought to interfere in the electoral process of a national federation for the benefit of FIFA?

Placed under supervision?

Mosengo-Omba is seen as Infantino’s man. For many analysts, his appointment as CAF secretary general has only strengthened FIFA’s grip on the African body.

Mosengo-Omba joined FIFA in 2016 as regional manager of FIFA’s member associations division for Africa and the Caribbean. He was thrust into the limelight with the election of South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe as CAF president. None of our sources have ever seen this man in the stands of a football stadium in Africa.

A friend of Infantino, who he met while studying at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, Mosengo-Omba was in fact commissioned in February 2021 by the president of FIFA to take part in the Rabat meeting bringing together the candidates for the presidency of CAF, namely Jacques Anouma of Côte d’Ivoire, Augustin Senghor of Senegal and Ahmed Yahya of Mauritania.

The aim was to get the three of them to withdraw in favour of Patrice Motsepe. It worked, and the South African billionaire was elected one month later by acclamation. Mosengo-Omba was rewarded. He became FIFA’s man in Cairo, where CAF’s headquarters are located.

A biennial World Cup is an opportunity for African football. If this becomes a reality, teams that had almost no chance of qualifying will be able to consider playing in this competition, and the economic benefits will be doubled and Africa will benefit.

While some people denounce FIFA’s supervision of the African confederation, Mosengo-Omba has settled into his new role with CAF as a strong man. It was to be expected, with Motsepe residing in South Africa, that Veron is the boss. He was joined by the Swiss-Italian Sandra Lattore, who worked with him in Zurich when he was responsible for FIFA’s member associations worldwide. Lattore, who spent more than seven years as a commercial agent with luxury goods brand Hugo Boss, joined the organisation’s legal department in 2017 to become Mosengo-Omba’s private assistant in November 2019.

The purge

As soon as he arrived in Cairo on 24 May, Monsengo-Omba supervised the brutal dismissal of a dozen CAF executives, on the basis of a controversial audit report by PwC. The purge was aimed particularly at employees close to Ahmad Ahmad, such as his deputy Aimane Hamadi and his adviser Abdullah Moustapha, who were dismissed by e-mail on the night of 24 to 25 May, and which will result in the payment of huge compensation by the institution.

Other people, who occupied strategic positions (in the human resources, finance, information technology and legal departments), have suffered the same fate. “Infantino is aware of what is happening in Cairo. It is not for nothing that he told Motsepe to appoint Mosengo-Omba and Lattore, and Motsepe accepted. I would not go so far as to say that FIFA controls CAF, but the proximity is clearly established,” said a former member of the African body.

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino with the new CAF president, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe (R), in Abidjan, May 4, 2021. © REUTERS/Luc Gnago

For those who were still in doubt, the latest decisions taken by the executive committee of the Cairo-based body have probably put an end to speculation. On 26 November 2021, the executive committee gave its official support to FIFA’s plan to hold the World Cup every two years.

“A biennial World Cup is an opportunity for African football. If this becomes a reality, teams that had almost no chance of qualifying will be able to consider playing in this competition, and the economic benefits will be doubled and Africa will benefit,” argues Mathurin de Chacus, president of the Fédération Béninoise de Football. And if this reform is adopted, the CAF could think about reforms to the CAN. Infantino had suggested, in 2020, that the body consider holding the competition every four years.

Infantino more intrusive than Blatter

Then the government of African football agreed to the creation of a Super League, a project dear to Infantino. The latter, in Lubumbashi in November 2019 , then three months later in Morocco, had suggested to the CAF, then led by the Malagasy Ahmad Ahmad, to propose the creation of such a competition, capable of generating, according to Infantino, revenues up to €2.5bn ($2.9bn) in five years.

Though the health crisis and the chaos that accompanied the end of Ahmad’s mandate put this idea on the back burner. But the election last March of South Africa’s Motsepe at the head of the CAF brought it back to the forefront. And even if the contours of the Super League (format, launch date, economic data …) are still unclear, Africa could be, barring unforeseen obstacles, the first continent in the world to organise such a competition.

FIFA’s marked interest in the CAF, which some describe as “ostentatious”, is however not new. Africa is an important source of votes in terms of the number of federations (54 out of 211) and a continent of economic opportunities.

Swiss born Joseph Blatter, who presided over FIFA from 1998 to 2015, made no secret of his affection for Africa, which was most easily seen through the arbitrary granting of generous subsidies. “But since the arrival of Infantino in 2016, there has been a different method. Blatter managed his relations with Africa in the old-fashioned, paternalistic way, but he didn’t want to take over. He knew where to stop. Infantino is much more intrusive. He has understood that he needs Africa and that Africa needs him. And he doesn’t hesitate to say or do things that he wouldn’t do with the Europeans,” says the head of a West African federation, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In 2017, Infantino openly supported Ahmad Ahmad against Cameroon’s Issa Hayatou, who had headed the CAF since 1988. So much so that FIFA’s internal justice system opened an investigation to try to determine Infantino’s role in the election of the islander, after acknowledging the reception of several documents sent by federations known to be close to Hayatou.

But the relationship between Infantino and Ahmad, which was less amiable than expected, took a foul turn when Ahmad sparked Infantino’s ire: Fatma Samoura, the secretary general of FIFA had been sent on an audit mission in Cairo from August 2019 to January 2020. Ahmad, supported by a majority of his executive committee, put an end to the mission, provoking Infantino’s anger.

Ahmad, who had planned to run for another term, finally reneged after the FIFA ethics committee suspended him for five years for abuses of power and the misappropriation of funds in November 2020. “Samoura in Cairo was a way of monitoring the CAF. She was the eyes of Infantino, who saw Ahmad’s decision not to extend the mission of the special envoy of FIFA as a personal affront,” explains a former CAF member.

Pact of the brave

But the FIFA president, known for his ability to always stay one step ahead, took revenge during the CAF presidential election in Rabat in March. “Even though there may be differences, the CAF and FIFA must work together. FIFA needs a strong CAF,” says Augustin Senghor, president of the Fédération Sénégalaise de Football.

He, like Anouma and Ould Yahya, had his eye on the seat left vacant by Ahmad. But Infantino had another plan: to push the billionaire Motsepe, owner of the Mamelodi Sundows club and incidentally brother-in-law of Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, to the top of the continental football hierarchy.

In the name of the best interests of African football, Yahya, Senghor and Anouma agreed to step aside in favour of Motsepe, in exchange for the posts of 1st and 2nd vice-president for the first two, and a title of special adviser to the president for the latter. The pact of the brave was sealed on 6 March in Nouakchott, during the CAN under 20 tournament.

This deal owes as much to Infantino’s power of persuasion as to the intense lobbying work of certain political and diplomatic circles, which were very active behind the scenes of this election, which ended up being a foregone conclusion since there was only one candidate in the end. “Infantino saw Motsepe as the right man to lead the CAF, but also as someone more malleable than Ahmad. Motsepe has his own business, he cannot manage African football on a daily basis. And the two men share similar ideas on how best to generate more revenue,” says a former FIFA official.

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