Chief Bisong Etahoben and Franklin Sone Bayen [ Culled from Killing Soccer in Africa - FAIR Dossier|September 2010 pp. 7-8]
Mobile phone company MTN pumped in $600,000 of an $800,000 project to renovate a number of stadiums. The other $200,000 was to come from Fecafoot, but instead, $146,000 ended up in the pockets of the then sports minister... The work never happened. The $600,000 is unaccounted for.
Cameroon took part in the World Cup for the sixth time this year making it the only African country to have attained such a feat. It participated in the first tournament in 1982, missed the 1986 games but has qualified for every tournament since then, except the 2006 games. Cameroon is also one of the only three African countries to reach the quarter finals of the World Cup.
Explaining this paradox, club manager Bate Arung said: “Those who think Cameroon football is doing well, simply because we always qualify for the World Cup, are wrong. Individual Cameroonian football players, especially those playing for foreign clubs, are doing well. They are the ones propping up the national team but football at home isdying.”
This view was shared by Prince Ndoki Mukete, a onetime Assistant Secretary General of the Cameroon Football Federation – popularly known by its French acronym Fecafoot – and a current member of the body’s Executive Committee. He said the main problems holding down the development of soccer in the country were “…the lack of goodwill at all levels, corruption and embezzlement by soccer managers at national and local levels, government’s indifference towards the provision of soccer infrastructure and the wholesale sale of bright players to foreign clubs”.
“Soccer cannot develop when the stadia are empty. People cannot attend football matches when their favourite players are not on the field. The tendency in this country is that immediately when a young player starts shining, he is hurriedly put onto the next plane and shipped abroad to be sold to a foreign club. How then can people want to come to the field? Who will they be coming to watch when the players who would attract them to stadiums have been sold to foreign countries?” Prince Mukete asked.
Samuel Eto’o, one of the best known players from Cameroon and currently the most decorated African
player, for example, is only 29, but he has been in international soccer since he was 16, playing for top clubs like Real Madrid, Mallorca, Barcelona and Internazionale. Cameroon is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Last year it was ranked 146 out of the 180 countriessurveyed.
Former Fecafoot general manager, Jean-Lambert Nang, said in his book ‘Desperate Football House’: “Cameroon football is a victim of treachery, fraud, financial trafficking, corruption of the actors and personnel, impunity on the part of its main stakeholders, falsification of official documents and the ages of footballers as well as the indifference of officialdom”. Nang, a celebrated sports journalist, seconded to Fecafoot from the Cameroon government, was sacked as General Manager because he was viewed by Fecafoot as “a spy who came here only to dig out what we do here”.
Nang cites several cases where personal interests were placed before the general interest of soccer and its main actors – the players:
- In 2007, one of the private mobile telephone operators in the country (MTN) signed a convention with Fecafoot for the renovation of a number of stadiums in the country for a total sum of 400 million FCFA (about US $800 000). The telephone company was to provide 300 million FCFA (US $600 000) and FECAFOOT 100 million (US $200 000). While MTN disbursed part of its own share of the money for work to start on the stadiums, Fecafoot would not come up with its own money. At one time the company threatened to stop financing the project unless Fecafoot would pay its share. But instead of football management paying up in order to ensure that the renovation work continued, it gave 73 million FCFA (about US $146 000) to the then Minister of Youth and Sports Thierry Augustin Edzoa so that he could “breathe better” – as he said after receiving the money.
- At one time, staff at the Fecafoot headquarters almost brought football activities to a standstill because they were owed 44 months’ salary. FIFA sent money to Fecafoot to pay the arrears. However, officials only paid 16 months’ arrears and pocketed the money for the remaining 28 months.
- Parliament appropriated a total of 12 035 585 000 FCFA (about US $24.1 million) for the renovation of existing infrastructure and the preparation of players for international competitions within three years. There is nothing to show for this money. In fact, the two soccer stadiums in Yaoundé and Douala that were constructed in 1971 are in an advanced state of disrepair.
- During the 1998 World Cup, the then Minister of Communication, Prof. Augustin Kontchou Kuoumegni, who was in charge of allowances intended for players, simply pocketed the money and announced that he had ‘forgotten’ the bag containing the money in the aircraft.
- Another minister, Prof. Bipoum Woum, collected eight million FCFA (US $16 000) for an air ticket saying that the ticket bought for him had gone missing. He eventually boarded the plane using the ticket which was supposedly missing.
All the members of the executive committee of Fecafoot are businessmen, except the President, Iya Mohammed, who is General Manager of a state corporation (SODECOTON), Vice President John Ndeh, who is General Manager of the Northwest Development Authority -popularly known by its French acronym MIDENO- and the Secretary General Tombi à Roko, a civil servant. All others are real estate owners, sports goods manufacturers’ agents, lawyers (who organize player transfers), transport and hotel contractors, and public relations agents. At Fecafoot meetings in Cameroon, other businessmen reportedly fight to also get access to the rich spoils that have turned at least nine of the federations’ officials extremely wealthy.
The secondment of Jean-Lambert Nang to Fecafoot and his subsequent revelations have since materialized into a state audit of the federation. And these state audits in turn have led to formal charges for corruption, lodged in court, against four Fecafoot officials.
A dilapidated Toyota
In these court papers, plenty details can be found of Fecafoot overpaying its own people for services, with a prime example being a bill for an air-conditioned Prado for the Malawi team at the occasion of the African Cup of Nations in January 2010, when the actual vehicle offered to the Malawians was a dilapidated Toyota.
The court documents also show that Fecafoot vice president David Mayebi received regular payments fromsports manufacturer Puma into his personal bank account. Co-bidder for the same sponsorship Adidas, that did not offer a bribe, lost out. Other Fecafoot documents seen by FAIR are player transfer contracts in which birth dates of players are altered to make them more easily marketable. Club origins of players are altered sometimes as well, so that the purported owners of the clubs can cash in on transfer fees. Some players sold off in this way have not made it in international soccer and live in poor conditions in countries such as Indonesia, China and Mexico.
Observers do not expect the prosecutions to take off. Said one such observer: “They can’t do that, because everybodyis in on it.”
Within all this, Cameroon’s players seem to be forgotten. When news reports said they had complained about ‘poor payment’ in the run up to the World Cup, soccer officials stated in response that the players were not ‘patriotic’enough. Cameroon was knocked out in the first round of this year’s World Cup. It lost all three games against the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan.
Beaten and in hiding
Being ‘unpatriotic’ was also one of the epithets directed at a member of the FAIR team in Cameroon, when he attempted to investigate the sources of CAF president Issa Hayatou’s wealth. The reporter was threatened, beaten and has been in hiding since the incident earlier this year. “I wouldn’t want to live through that kind of experience ever again,” the reporter said.
He has every reason to be afraid. Hayatou comes from the ruling dynasty in Garoua, capital of the Northern Region of Cameroon. His brother Sardou Hayatou was Minister of Finance, Prime Minister and is currently country head of the Bank of Central African States (BEAC). His other brother Alim Hayatou is Secretary of State for Public Health in the current government. There has been a Hayatou in every Cameroonian government for the past 50 years.
A number of journalists have been killed or have disappeared after trying to investigate the powerful in Cameroon. Ngota Ngota Germain Cyril, publisher of the Cameroon Express newspaper who was arrested along with two of his colleagues Robert Mintya – publisher of Le Devoir and Serge Sabouang – publisher of La Nation, died in custody.
The three were investigating a story involving the purchase of a luxury yacht for 17 billion FCFA (US $34 million) and the payment of commission to three government functionaries amounting to 1 342 000 000 FCFA (US $2.7 million).
Despite all this, the government is worried about the decline in football since Cameroon’s brilliant performance in 1990. Sports Minister Michel Zoa on May 25, 2010 convened 320 persons including former sports ministers, all former captains of the national team, FIFA and CAF experts, all former FECAFOOT presidents, players of the 1990 World Cup squad, traditional rulers, MPs, economic operators and civil society to look into the administration and management of the game.
It appears that no one took the meeting seriously. At the just ended World Cup football officials from Cameroon, including Fecafoot president Iya Mohammed, overpaid themselves by 235 million FCFA (US $470 000). They were ordered by Prime Minister Philemon Yang to repay the money.