Opinion by Duncan Mlanjira
The cancellation of FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s visit to Malawi has accelerated and, unfortunately, inflamed the criticism on Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President Nyamilandu’s wish to seek re-election at the forthcoming annual general meeting in Mangochi.
The critics were against the visit, saying it was ill timed as it was just two weeks away from the elections, thereby disadvantaging Walter’s strongest challenger — James Mwenda.
The opposers were insinuating that Walter was bringing in Infantino as an election campaign strategy, yet we have been made to know that this was just the FIFA president’s scheduled African tour in order for him to appreciate some of the projects he helped be funded in the countries he was to visit under his initiative, FIFA Forward.
Now, general secretary Alfred Gunda says FIFA has assured FAM that Malawi might be considered for the rescheduling of the visit to an earliest convenient date, and that means, in as far as I am concerned, whether Walter wins or not since the man will still have an influence — him being a FIFA Council member.
Walter first indicated that he was not going to contest but when he changed his mind, the public were up in arms, saying he shouldn’t but step down to pave way for ‘others’.
Pave way for ‘others’? What type of thinking is that? Why should those ‘others’ be giving the stage on a silver platter? Did that mean these ‘others’ didn’t have the aura and quality character to convince the affiliate voters that they have the guile and guts to win the elections with Walter running as well?
This kind of thinking is like asking Brazil not to play against Malawi in the World Cup final, but rather let some other team instead to play them, knowing Brazil are going to thrash the Flames.
Walter soldiered on and the calls for him intensified on social media — of all forums. While some were very constructive criticisms, others were too vitriol — almost bordering more on malice rather than anything to do with football.
How ill timed was Infantino’s intended visit? Was it because the public is against his seeking re-election? What if this was the initiative of James Mwenda himself — remember he is the vice-president? — would it have been ill timed as well or it would have been business as usual?
I am yet to know, but when the matter to entice Infantino to visit Malawi was tabled at FAM executive committee, did Mwenda reject? Further, I haven’t heard Mwenda going public to discredit Infantino from coming here knowing he would have shot himself in the foot if he was to win and needed FIFA.
I am saying all this because the fate of whether Malawi football needs the services of Walter again or not is in the hands of 36 delegates — the FAM affiliates, the voters. They represent all 17 million of us.
These are the people the public should have been targeting in order to impress on them to vote wisely, instead of venting our frustration on Walter. Both Walter and Mwenda are not giving all their energy of campaign on the general public but on the affiliates — the voter.
Some members of the general public, including civil society organisation, Human Rights Defenders Coalition, tried to organise demonstrations to dissuade Walter from standing again — actually infringing on his right to do so because there are no regulations against him from contesting.
They were targeting their frustrations against a wrong person — they should have organized those demos on the affiliates to impress on them not to vote for Walter with constructive explanation why it should be so.
They hold the trump card, these affiliate voters, who are 8 from the Super League of Malawi; 6 each from Southern, Northern and Central football associations and 2 each from women’s football, junior football, beach football and national coaches association — 36 votes in total.
These are the people’s representatives in the matters of the Malawi’s football and if there is someone to take to task, it’s them if the person they shall eventually vote would end up destroying our football.
The critics agree that Walter has done extremely well in the 15 years he has been at the helm in as far as organizational, management and infrastructure is concerned except that the Flames’ results have not been impressive.
I always argue, he retired from playing football a long time ago. It’s the players who have let us down — simple and straight forward.
What we see today at Mpira Village is a complete transformation to what started as a Goal Project under former president, late John Zingale.
Zingale managed to convince former FIFA president Sepp Blatter to inaugurate the construction of the first phase of this Chiwembe project. It was also envisaged then by his opponents that late Zingale also wanted to leverage himself for election when he brought in Blatter just as is the case with Infantino’s.
Walter has transformed the Chiwembe project, which he renamed Mpira Village that now has office complex, accommodation hostels, gym, conference rooms, restaurant and finally the Mpira Stadium.
There are so many other innovations Walter has succeeded to give to Malawi football that we should be thankful of and he says he wants to Raise the Bar. Well, are we convinced he has hit the ceiling and must go? Then impress on the affiliates to consider the other contestants.
For instance, Mwenda have equally good ideas having been Walter’s deputy for a long time and it is up to the affiliates to judge if he can raise the standards even further high.
He had been in the shadows for a long time and when he came out of the cocoon through the launch of his manifesto, he has now been obscured because all the focus is on attacking Walter instead of the public discussing what Mwenda has on offer.
Look, the man says that he shall make sure the senior Malawi national football team should qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and that in 2031 they shall win the coveted for title. Isn’t that what we want? Shouldn’t this be the hot topic?
We should discuss, how is he going to do it? How are we going to help him achieve it? So that the affiliate should also appreciate our input and make an informed decision.
Mwenda also says Malawi football requires special attention for its growth and development and that his dream is to see football becoming an industry that effectively contributes to the efforts of government, development partners, non-state actors and the private sector in the social economic development of the country, as outlined in the national development strategy.
That also ought to have attracted hot debate in order to reach out to the affiliate — the voter.
Otherwise, sneering at Walter that it was good Infantino couldn’t make it is, to me, just personal vitriol bordering more on malice rather than anything to do with football.
There were so many people, especially kids, who were unaware of the cancellation of the trip who pitched up in large numbers at Chiwembe in order to watch Samuel Eto’o in person and playing against a team led by Malawi’s football legend, Ernest Mtawali comprising of other top Flames’ stars such as Patrick Mabedi, Chancy Gondwe, Swadick Sanudi, Joseph Kamwendo, Fischer Kondowe, among others.
They went home very disappointed. But those who hold hatred against Walter were rejoicing.
The affiliate is watching. Don’t blame him if he shall vote for Walter — again.