Money is not the root of all evil, it is the fruit. Humans are the root.” The words of Rain Bojangles are no verbal exaggeration. Money is neutral as it can be used for either good or evil.
So, it is really a matter of human choice which way it falls, and as we saw earlier this week, the money troubles of Caf president Ahmad Ahmad show the notable damage that humans can visit upon themselves.
Clearly, Ahmad was totally unrehearsed for wealth. Perhaps a modest background that saw him rise from teaching and through public administration until he found his calling in football administration, explains his gullibility – that the early soccer devotee demeanor was just because the monetary stakes started out low.
Then the big time arrived for the former Physical Education teacher. In March 2017, Ahmad got elected Caf president. He ended 29 years of the same uninterrupted and tainted presidency of Issa Hayatou.
In hindsight however, they were some tall changes he promised. His “Together for Change”, and its four pillars of transparency, modern governance, transformation, increasing revenues for African football were everything Caf was not. Couple these with the unrealistic timeline he proposed, and you start to see that he set himself up to fail.
He was, in essence, proposing a complete overhaul of a decades old institution within a couple of months. The resistance and accusations of corruption from the Executive committee that followed within two years were, therefore, inevitable.
The issue though is that these allegations were not without foundation. The former PE teacher had rose to the throne at a time when football was a substantial global business, worth billions of dollars. Perhaps if Ahmad Ahmad had realised that the people connected with running the game are just cogs in this cash-spewing machine, he would have appreciated that his contribution was modest and technical, and would have refused anything more than appropriately restrained compensation.
As it turns out such restraint requires either integrity, or exceptional moral fortitude. Neither Caf nor Ahmad had this because we now know there were trips to Mecca, contract meddling, money paid to personal accounts and all kinds of ethical failings.
These weaknesses are hardly limited to the individual, I must add. Where was the institutional framework supposed to keep an individual’s excesses in check?
Instead it’s common understanding that Caf ‘look after its own’ in a manner that any rational observer would call greedy and one that suggests consideration for governance is secondary. A moralist would add that monetary craving is bad for the soul of anyone who is already well supplied with comforts and luxuries.
So, what can be done to counter this dangerous appeal of riches? Will a new Caf president be supported by the increasing global intolerance of bribes and kickbacks and encouraged to start a regulatory renewal beyond just the empty rhetoric of transparency and modern governance that Ahmad promised four years ago?
Time will tell
Meanwhile, there is still a sadness to Ahmad’s demise, especially coming on the eve of a Caf election that was supposed to be a coronation for him or at least because ‘small’ nations owe him a debt of gratitude for increasing Afcon participation from 16-24 teams. Still, he must lay in the bed he laid.
But for me the thing is if no one does these things alone, who and where are his cohorts? Is it not therefore suggestive of half-heartedness that the evil is not being broken from its roots? Of course, it will grow again.