Intense lobbying marks eve of CAF presidential polls

Issa Hayatou arrives at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland when he was named interim head of ...
Issa Hayatou arrives at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland when he was named interim head of the world football body last October. PHOTO/File

Campaigns for top seats at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) 39th Ordinary General Assembly hit the final stretch as lobbyists engaged in last-ditch efforts to secure votes for their candidates.

Incumbent President Issa Hayatou and challenger Ahmad Ahmad were hunting for votes openly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the eve of the election the latter is seeking an eighth straight term.

While Hamad’s lieutenants were busy at the Bole International Airport welcoming delegates who trickled in on Tuesday, Hayatou held meetings at different venues before gracing the inauguration ceremony of St. Georges SA Yidnekatchew Tessema Academy in Bishoftu, some 42 Kilometres from the Ethiopian Capital.

The academy was established in honour of Hayatou’s predecessor Tessema who died of cancer in 1987 after 15 years as head of the continental football governing body.

Hayatou kept off the politics but urged those in attendance to avoid ‘external influence’ when they cast their vote on Thursday.

He was referring to world football governing body FIFA President Gianni Infantino who toured 14 countries reportedly seeking support for his challenger Ahmad.

He lauded Ethio-Saudi business tycoon Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Almoudi and St. George’s President Abenet Gebremeskel for putting up the academy, adding it was a dream come true to honour the former African football boss.

Hayatou, the first inductee to the African Football Hall of fame, has been marshalling support from delegates as he faces the stiffest challenge of his 27 year rule.

But his opponent’s camp could be perfecting that art.

Upon arrival at the Bole on Thursday morning, Ahmad’s team rushed Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa and his peers to a van that ferried them off to Hotel Sheraton Addis.

“I will go to the booth alone, that’s why it is a secret ballot. Somebody saying we agreed to vote in this or that direction is lying.

“Where was the meeting and when, can someone be forced to vote against his wish yet no one accompanies you to the ballot?” Mwendwa, who along other federation heads is holding his cards close to his chest, charged.

Last week, the Council of East African Football Associations Secretary General, Nicholas Musonye announced the region was fully behind Hayatou.

Swaziland’s Senator Adam Mathetwa, who comes from Council of South Africa Football Associations that has gone public in supporting Ahmad could not endorse their stand too.

“Much has been said but in two days we will have known who’s the CAF President. The most important thing is to decide wisely and independently,” Mathethwa told Citizen Digital.

A sombre mood engulfed Addis Ababa ahead of the historic assembly with the Ethiopian government announcing three days of national mourning following dozens of deaths from a garbage landslide.

Notwithstanding, the CAF Assembly will continue on Thursday as earlier scheduled despite the reported deaths of at least 72 people.

-Jacob Icia is reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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