Home » Samuel Eto’o and the Dance of the Wolves

Samuel Eto’o and the Dance of the Wolves

by Lesley Ngwa
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Sometimes in 2006, the then US Ambassador to the Cameroon Niels Marquardt and the then Cameroon Minister of Territorial Administration and Kansas University alum, Marafa Hamidou Yaya found themselves having a conversation at some nondescript social function in Yaoundé. In the course of their conversation, Mr Marafa told Ambassador Marquardt in confidence that he might be interested in running for president someday, if ever the incumbent president, Paul Biya, were to leave office.

The Political Affairs Officer at the US Embassy at the time, Katherine Brucker, who was listening in, naturally reported Mr Marafa’s comment in a Code Cable to Washington DC. The code cable was a speculative piece on succession scenarios in a post-Biya era, as seen by the US Mission in Yaoundé.

Four years later, in 2010, WIKILEAKS, leaked out thousands of US embassy dispatches from different embassies around the world to Washington, including the one that contained what Minister Marafa Yaya had told the Americans at that social event in 2006. It was immediately picked up and widely circulated by the local press.

Shortly after, Mr Marafa was arrested, tried and jailed for 25 years for corruption. But everyone knew that his true crime was to have dared to harbor any presidential ambitions and for saying it out loud to an American Ambassador.

That is how the psychology of power works in Cameroon. It is a macabre dance of the wolves.

And it looks like the current Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) president, Mr Samuel Eto’o, has wittingly or unwittingly, invited himself to that dance. He did so when he chose to become the head of one of the most strategic, delicate, highly coveted, but also very corrupt private voluntary organisation in Cameroon –FECAFOOT.

Mr Eto’o’s exploits as a footballer are legendary and unquestionable. He is a global football icon with unimpeachable credentials. But as a leader he comes across as being narcissistic, vengeful, and power-hungry. He is undoubtedly drawn to public adulation and driven by (an over bloated?) sense of grandeur. Beyond his deliberately constructed demeanor of humility lies naked arrogance. These character traits have all been typified in, i) his treatment of his former mistress Ms Natalie Koah (who published a book about it), ii) the period of his captaincy of the national team and currently, iii) his leadership of FECAFOOT.

But most intriguing is how Mr Eto’o has inserted himself into the power play of Cameroon’s murky political landscape. During a recent interview with a French TV network, he re-affirmed that he is very close to the Secretary General of the Presidency, but have a very poor relationship with his supervisory authority, the Minister in Charge of Sports. When asked if he nursed any presidential ambitions, or would like to follow in the footsteps of Mr George Weah, he was rather evasive and never gave a definite yes or no answer.

Now, it is an open secret that in the battle for the succession of President Paul Biya, two main camps have emerged. Both camps are currently engaged in a fierce, merciless, brutal dog-eat-dog fight that has so far seen a journalist brutally murdered; the powerful head of the intelligence service incarcerated; and a business man who once thought of himself as untouchable and a self-styled ‘bouclier du President” jailed, with no prospects of ever getting out any time soon. As this fight rages on, each camp seeks to outwit and outplay the other by catching and “frying a big fish” from the pond of the other camp so as to strike fear into their opponent’s hearts. The FECAFOOT President has clearly chosen his own camp.By so doing, he has voluntarily inserted himself in this unfolding macabre dance of the wolves and I strongly suspect he is the next big fish about to be fried.

Let me explain.

I don’t know if Mr Eto’o is aware but the fact of the matter is that during the period of his captaincy of the national team, his arrogance and over-bloated ego pushed him to do things that tarnished the image of the country and clearly embarrassed the government. For example, during the farewell match of the lions prior to their departure to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, Mr Eto’o publicly humiliated the Prime Minister and Head of Government in front of 80,000 people at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium and millions of others watching on TV when he refused to receive the national flag from the PM as is the tradition.

PM Philemon Yang ended up handing over the national flag to the German couch to go defend it in Brazil. It is important to remember that on that day, the Prime Minister was also the personal representative of the head of state at the farewell ceremony.

So, by humiliating the PM, Mr Eto’o had effectively humiliated the President. A few years later, Mr Eto’o took upon himself to stop the national team from playing a friendly against Algeria, after FECAFOOT and the Government had given their assurances to the Algerians that the match will take place. To Cameroon’s power holders, such crimes are never forgotten nor forgiven.

Since taking over FECAFOOT, Mr Eto’o has:
– Publicly humiliated Gen Semengue , Cameroon’s most decorated military officer.

– Undermined the authority of the Sports Minister by going above his head to appoint Song Bahanack as the Senior National Team Manager.

– Arbitrarily terminated the contract of the French multinational giant Coq Sportif and arrogantly refused any amicable settlement even after high supplications from Yannick Noah and senior French Government officials.

– Claimed to have a signed a contract of one billion francs CFA annually, with kit company ONE ALL SPORT. No media coverage or videos of the signing ceremony have ever been made public, prompting suspicions that the whole thing might have been a scam.

The FECAFOOT president’s arrogant and erratic management style is costing FECAFOOT millions of dollars in lawsuits and damages which are driving the association to bankruptcy. To make matters worse, under his leadership, and in spite his audacious promises, the performance of the national teams have been far below expectation and not commensurate to the billions of francs CFA he has asked and received as subventions from the Government.

In case Mr Eto’o doesn’t know, the good performance of the national teams in international competitions is of strategic political and diplomatic importance to the Government.

That is the one thing that projects Cameroon’s power and respectability abroad. That is why the government pours in a lot money in football and never tolerates any poor performances of the national teams.

But Mr Eto’o’s problems from within the pack of wolves may come from his coziness with the military. You see, in most African countries, if you’re remotely suspected of harboring ambitions of presidential power, getting close or cozying up to the military establishment does not help you.

I cringed when I saw Mr Eto’o visiting elite, Special Forces troops around the country. In September 2022 he showed up for Brazil’s 200th Independence celebrations and was seen onboard a Cameroon naval ship that was participating in the events. It is not clear in what capacity he was doing that. He has also been seen visiting with Burkinabe’s young revolutionary military leader and received like a head of state. I can guarantee that none of this sits well with power holders in Yaoundé.

Any keen observer of what is happening within and around FECAFOOT immediately before and after the AFCON, should fear for Mr Eto’o. First, during the farewell ceremony organized for the indomitable lions prior to their departure for Cote d’Ivoire, the Personal Representative of the Head of State, at that ceremony, Mr Mvondo Ayolo (who is also the President’s Director of Civil Cabinet) upon arriving at the venue, deliberately ignored Mr Eto’o and did not shake hands with him. Second, after the AFCON debacle and during his traditional Youth Day address to the nation, President Biya publicly said he has instructed the Minister of Sports to investigate the use of government funds remitted to FECAFOOT.

With that kind of ‘haute instruction” from “la plus haute hierarchie” it will not be well for the FECAFOOT president. Those instructions have given Mr Eto’o’s opponents in the other camp of the succession battle, all the ammunition they need to go after him.

Remember what I said about Marafa Hamidou Yaya? Harboring presidential ambitions in Cameroon while President Biya is still alive comes with great risk. Mr Eto’o is about to learn how high and how big the risk can be. First they lured him with the FECAFOOT presidency. Like a true power-monger he could not resist the temptation. They pushed billions his way, knowing that in his arrogance he will misuse them. Then they gave him an illusion of power, and he fell for it. Now is he has been drawn deep into the dance of the wolves.

Something tells me that by the end of this year, the FECAFOOT president might either be in jail, in exile or on the run. He might just be the next big fish to be fried.

But again, I could be wrong. And i sincerely hope i am.

Commentary by Julius Fondong

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