N Melo
by N Melo
April 9, 2022 0


Arriving at the head of Fecafoot last December, the former captain of the Indomitable Lions only has footballing ambitions. But in the Cameroonian capital, he is suspected of dreaming of a George Weah destiny and of aiming for Paul Biya’s chair as Georges Dougueli (Jeune Afrique) analyzes.

When leaving a restaurant in Bonapriso, an upscale suburban district of the economic capital, all you can hear is “Eto’o, president!” “The former football star is attacked by dozens of people, smartphone in hand. Everyone demands a selfie and a dedication. Samuel Eto’o had however arrived discreetly, driving an ordinary car, with an anti-Covid mask and wearing a cap. But his efforts to pass unnoticed are in vain.

Since his rise to Fécafoot, his agenda has been untenable. On February 16, he was in Limbé (South-West), where Fecafoot had relocated a session of its executive committee, and local traditional royalty took the opportunity to ennoble him. A few days later, he flew to Benin. Everywhere, Eto’o is treated with all respect. He appeals to women with his quadra silhouette, barely more rounded than when he outstripped opposing defenders, with his smile that is both innocent and mischievous, with his casual chic style.

The highest paid ex-footballer in the world took the risk of taking up the challenge of resurrecting the practice of the most popular sport in his country, which was dying of the quarrels of its leaders and endemic corruption, instead of sinking quiet days as a young retiree in Milan, where his wife, Georgette, and their children live.

Returning to Cameroon, after having spent thirty years of his life outside the country, was in itself a complicated turn to negotiate. He first had to impose himself at the head of a federation acquired in the Far North for nearly two decades, and whose Mohammed Iya, the former president convicted of embezzlement, continued, from prison, to pulling strings. He also had to deal with the animosity of Issa Hayatou, Baron of Garoua and former president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), to whom Eto’o had the impudence to prefer Ahmad Ahmad.

The former Barca star finally had to overcome the hostility of several power barons, staunch supporters of the outgoing president. Among them, the impetuous Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, and his colleague in charge of Labour, Grégoire Owona, who is also Deputy Secretary General of the Democratic Rally of the Cameroonian People (RDPC). Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, Minister of Sports, and Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, Director of the Civil Cabinet of the Head of State, were not better disposed towards him and did not hesitate to let it be known.

As an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, he has to stay in Doha at least once a month. To this advantageously remunerated contractual commitment, we must add several contracts with various advertisers. Even in retirement, the ex-footballer continues to earn a comfortable income.

In Yaoundé, the old guard is hostile but wary. She knows he is close to the presidential couple and is aware that he benefits from the benevolent neutrality of the powerful secretary general to the presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh. She knows that he has strong relays in economic circles: Samuel Eto’o is familiar with Célestin Tawamba, the head of Cameroonian employers, whom he often sees, as much as the businessman Baba Danpullo, who is still today one of the largest financiers of the CPDM. He is also one of the few personalities whom Emmanuel de Tailly, general manager of the Société anonyme des brasseries du Cameroun (SABC), likes to receive at his home for dinner.

But Eto’o disturbs. He knows it and keeps a low profile. He adopted the codes of local politics, which wants discretion to be a virtue, and reduced his trips by private plane. He hardly ever goes out in town at night. Admittedly, he brought his favorite car from Milan, a metal gray Aston Martin, but he pampers it more than he drives it.

One of the springs of his popularity is his fortune, acquired far from the tricks of the Cameroonian political, administrative and commercial bourgeoisie. While the common people cultivate suspicion with regard to the money of the rich, Eto’o broke a taboo and freed himself from categories. And those who chant “Eto’o, President” are not much different from those who carried George Weah from the football fields to the presidency of Liberia. “Because he is already rich, he at least will not steal the state’s money”, people wanted to believe in Monrovia.

Eto’o still embodies a “clean” success for the moment. Better, he redistributes, according to one of his advisers. “We arrived at Fecafoot at the end of January for a press conference,” she says. People had been waiting outside the offices for hours, kept at a distance by security. Despite everything, Eto’o got out of the vehicle and went to listen to them and talk to them. Then he returned to his car to take some money, which he distributed. Forgetting that by giving in public he was sending a signal in the form of a call for air. Since then, requests have rained down from all sides.

N Melo
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