JOHANNESBURG – The days of muzzling opposition within the Confederation of African Football (Caf) might be over.
This is the story that dominated the continental football body; employing cronies, doing things behind the FA presidents and ruling by an iron fist.
Today, Africa looks back at Issa Hayatou’s 29-year-old reign with a huge sigh of relief after he was sensationally toppled at the Caf watershed elections in Ethiopia on Thursday.
And few saw this sucker punch, delivered on a man who had ruled African football for close to three decades with little if any challenge.
He lost 34 to 20 votes to newcomer Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar in an election which will go down in the history of African football as one of the most astounding outcomes.
But Africa was tired and wanted change.
In his last ditch attempt to hang on to power, the 71-year-old Hayatou told delegates on Thursday in his last speech that Africa had overpowered colonialism and that Africa’s solutions lay with Africans.
This is a speech which was aimed at Fifa President Gianni Infantino whom Hayatou accused of subtly interfering in African affairs.
You can fool some but not all the time. Africa had grown tired of this old man running Caf as his personal fiefdom and when the results were announced, the rapturous applause that met the outcome told the story.
This was the end of an era and the dawn of a new one. Hayatou had been ousted and defeated in a very demeaning manner.
Yet this could be a lesson for all Africans who want to hang on to power for long. People must learn to pass on the baton and leave a memorable legacy and not to be hounded out of office.
But having said that, what are the moments that tilted the scales in favour of Ahmad?
The Cosafa Declaration that took Africa by surprise when they unequivocally declared that they would vote as a bloc in support of Ahmad was one masterstroke that set the wheels in motion.
While other regional powers were reluctant to nail their colours on the mask. One Philip Chiyangwa, the leader of Cosafa, led his group in making it known they wanted Hayatou out.
Chiyangwa then followed this up by inviting Fifa president Infantino to Harare for his so-called birthday party which was in essence a direct campaign against Hayatou.
Several African FA presidents, including those from South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Namibia, Liberia and Angola attended the gig which in real sense loosened Hayatou’s vice-grip rule on African football.
It is during the Harare meeting that Africa decided to give Hayatou his marching orders. The present presidents deliberated on various issues till the following morning and when they left Harare, the dye was cast.
A day before the elections in Ethiopia, Chiyangwa and company booked themselves in a separate hotel to that which was allocated by Caf as they zeroed in on their enemy.
It was on Wednesday evening that 35 FA presidents attended a meeting which but all toppled Hayatou from power.
Although rumours that went around were that Comoros president sold the team out to Hayatou by telling him all the details; it was a question of too little, too late.
Hayatou himself is said not to have taken the information seriously, believing he was still in control.
After the results were announced, the Cameroonian is said to have left for his hotel in anguish only allowing his wife to give interviews to the media.
Is this the legacy Hayatou wanted to leave behind?
He will now be remembered as a Caf president who wanted to hang on to power even when signs were clear that it was time to go.
Africa must take a lesson and learn to pass on the baton!