— Published 8 March 2021

With Patrice Motsepe, Gianni Infantino secures the voices of Africa

Gianni Infantino can rub his hands. Barring a very unlikely turnaround, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will never stand in its way. They will be docile to him. They will line up with his camp. The explanation is simple: the FIFA president himself chose the future boss.

Less than a week before its elective general assembly, scheduled for March 12th, CAF already knows its future president. Billionaire Patrice Motsepe (photo above, second from left), 59, a mining magnate and incidentally brother-in-law of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, will be appointed the new boss of African football without even having to go through the still uncertain exercise of the vote of the delegates.

Patrice Motsepe will have no opponent at the weekend when the nomination is made. His three former rivals have all chosen to withdraw for his benefit. Clarification: Patrice Motsepe is the candidate of Gianni Infantino.

FIFA’s maneuver to achieve such a result, pompously described as “African unity” by the international football body, was organised in two stages. A first meeting in Rabat, Morocco, at the end of February, to clear the ground, share roles and cut the cake. Then a second more formal, Sunday, March 7th, at the Palais des Congrès in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on the sidelines of the Africa Cup of Nations Under-20 final.

During the first meeting, FIFA obtained without too much difficulty the renunciation of Senegalese Augustin Senghor and Mauritanian Ahmed Yahya, two of the early candidates. The two men agreed to pull over to the side of the road in exchange for the same compensation: a position of vice president.

In Rabat, Jacques Anouma, the former president of the Ivorian Football Federation, also heard FIFA envoys offer him a post of adviser to the president in exchange for his resignation. At the time, he seemed to agree. But his campaign manager quickly ensured he was continuing the race.

In Nouakchott, Sunday March 7th, Jacques Anouma finally gave in. He too withdrew in favour of the South African billionaire. The Ivorian appeared on the podium, along with Gianni Infantino, Patrice Motsepe, Augustin Senghor and Ahmed Yahya (pictured above), as they celebrated African football’s “newfound unity”.

Proof of the very direct, and even personal, involvement of Gianni Infantino in the maneuver, the official statement issued on the evening of the Nouakchott agreement quotes the words of the FIFA president. “The agreement obtained by the candidates is a strong signal for Africa, also for the world“, suggests Gianni Infantino. “An Africa united behind a concrete vision and project will be stronger. Together we are stronger. This is what the African member associations have been telling us over the past few weeks, so I am sure they are very happy at this very moment as well“.

According to the official version, also drafted by FIFA, Patrice Motsepe will lead the African Football Confederation with “a common program” built from the campaign manifestos of the four candidates.

A former lawyer enriched by his investments in gold mines in South Africa in the late 1990s, Patrice Motsepe has never held any official position in a football body. His only record of service: ownership of a football club in his homeland, the Mamelodi Sundownset. But in 2008 he became the first black African billionaire in the Forbes ranking. His wealth is valued at $2.8 billion.

With his election, Gianni Infantino is expected to secure Africa’s 54 votes. Still good to take in the prospect of a new term at the helm of FIFA. Note: Patrice Motsepe will become, as soon as he has won, vice-president of FIFA.

The only final gray area: the case of Ahmad Ahmad. The Madagascan leader, elected to the presidency of CAF in 2017 against Issa Hayatou, appealed to the CAS against his five-year suspension pronounced by the FIFA ethics committee. He was auditioned last week. The verdict could be rendered as early as Monday, March 8th.

In the event of a favourable decision from the Lausanne-based court, Ahmad Ahmad could appear against Patrice Motsepe on Friday March 12th at the CAF general assembly. But his chances would be minimal.