One of Africa’s longest serving strongmen just got voted out of power

Image: Reuters/Ruben Sprich
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For the first time in 29 years, African soccer will be under new management.

Issa Hayatou, the long-serving, all-powerful Cameroonian president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), was defeated by Ahmad, chief of Madagascar’s football association (FA) in a continent-wide election. Ahmad claimed 34 of the 54 votes cast by national FA chiefs in elections held in Addis Ababa today (Mar. 16). Ahmad, 57, who has led Madagascar’s FA since 2003 is promising reforms in CAF, including increased transparency and a new code of ethics for football officials on the continent.

Hayatou’s defeat has been met with disbelief across the continent and is seen by some as having parallels with Africa’s voters beginning to turn their backs on decades-long rule by autocratic presidents and so-called “strongmen”.

Before now, Hayatou, 70, had only faced a challenge to his presidency twice in 29 years and won comfortably on both occasions. In power since 1988, Hayatou has amassed immense political influence in global soccer including occupying positions in FIFA’s leading committees (positions which he’ll now vacate) and briefly taken charge of FIFA last year amid a leadership upheaval at the global soccer body.

While his tenure had major high points including Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever in South Africa 2010 and growing its representation at the competition, Hayatou has also been rocked by several allegations of corruption and shady dealings. In a recent scandal, now the subject of a suit in Egyptian courts, Hayatou has been accused of abusing power to sell broadcasting rights of CAF competitions.