The new CAF president’s acknowledgment of Morocco’s contributions to African football coronates his neutrality promise on the Western Sahara question.
Patrice Motsepe, the newly-elected president of the African Football Confederation (CAF) has lauded Morocco’s commitment to the advancement of African football and its contributions to African development in general.
Earlier this month, Morocco held a series of CAF meetings that led to a substantial reshuffling of the organization’s executive board. Morocco’s capital Rabat notably hosted the 43rd CAF General Assembly on March 12. The series of meetings were marked by the election of Motsepe and other members of the new CAF cadre.
In a letter this week to Fouzi Lakjaa, the president of Morocco’s Royal Football Federation (FRMF), Motsepe argued the successful organization of the recent CAF events in Rabat was another illustration of Morocco’s exemplary commitment to African football.
The CAF president also thanked King Mohammed VI for allowing the “excellent” organization of CAF events in Morocco. He said he is looking forward to productive cooperation with Morocco’s FRMF, noting his willingness to continue trusting and relying on the Moroccan federation’s drive “to significantly change and improve CAF and African football and make it competitive and sustainable.”
Motsepe’s acknowledgment of Morocco’s contributions to African football come after FRMF President Faouzi Lekjaa made history by becoming the first Moroccan to be elected to the FIFA Council. Observers have linked Lekjaa’s successful bid, and his increasingly imposing aura in African and world football circles to his impressive record as FRMF president.
Coupled with ambitious plans to modernize Morocco’s footballing infrastructure, Lekjaa’s tenure has been marked by an improved organizational and economic governance of Moroccan football, as well as the remarkable rise of Moroccan clubs in CAF tournaments.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who visited Morocco this month to attend the CAF meetings, applauded the noticeable transformations Moroccan football has witnessed under Lekjaa’s leadership.
“It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Morocco, a great football country, which has a driving role to play for the development of football in the continent,” he said. “I have been to Morocco several times and I have seen not only the passion for football, but also the seriousness of the work carried out by the federation.”
CAF and the Western Sahara question
Meanwhile, Motsepe’s words of thanks to the FRMF and the Moroccan King can also be interpreted as a follow-up to his position on Western Sahara as CAF president. While campaigning for the CAF presidency, he vowed that he would make sure that the organization steered clear of profoundly divisive political issues, such as the Western Sahara question.
Motsepe’s move was all the more surprising because his country, South Africa, is one of the most ardent supporters of the Polisario Front, the militia group seeking independence in Western Sahara.
Many had expected the new CAF president to advance, even if symbolically or covertly, the pro-Polisario stance espoused by his country and Algeria. For the South African billionaire, however, it is crucial that continental football’s highest body not be a battleground for geopolitical rivalries.
On March 12, CAF approved an amendment that confirmed Montsepe’s plea to keep the Western Sahara questions off CAF radars. But with the new CAf regulations unambiguously excluding Polisario’s self-styled “republic” from being a member of the organization, observers have interpreted the news as a diplomatic victory for Lekjaa and Morocco.