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Saving Private Waberi!

Souleiman Waberi, the third vice-president of CAF, suddenly resigned from his position as president of the Djiboutian Football Federation in March after being suspended by the Ministry of Sports. Although, Waberi – supported by IOC member Aïcha Garad Ali – is now heading towards the Paris Olympics.

We are family! Suleiman Waberi, Gianni Infantino. (Photo: CECAFA)

Since the beginning of spring, Hassan Souleiman Waberi has kept a low profile. As a vice-president of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), his absence at the last executive meeting was notable. This absence follows heightened tensions with his government and ongoing investigations within the federation he once led.

Despite facing serious local difficulties, Waberi can rely on the support of FIFA and Aïcha Garad Ali, the president of the Comité National Olympique et Sportif Djiboutien since 2005 and an active IOC member since 2012. In this small nation of the Horn of Africa, better known for its foreign military bases than its sporting achievements – with only one Olympic bronze medal won by Hussein Ahmed Salah in the marathon at Seoul 1988 –, Waberi and Garad Ali have nonetheless climbed to significant heights in international sports organizations. Garad Ali, one of the most influential African IOC members, has intervened to enable her football counterpart to participate in the Paris Olympics as a FIFA commissioner.

According to several individuals in Djiboutian sports, the duo has always been very close, mutually assisting each other along with another federation president, Faissal Abdourahman Abdoul-Raguid: the judo master publicly congratulated by the Football Federation for his re-election in 2021. This support is not incidental: Waberi heavily relies on the political influence of his connections to escape (once again) the political authorities of his country.

Elected at the head of the Fédération Djiboutienne de Football (FDF) in 2012, Waberi was the big favorite to run for a third successive term in the elections scheduled for the end of the year. However, on March 7, 2024, he published a short memo relating his "decision to resign from my position as President of the Djiboutian Football Federation". No other explanation had been put forward.

Surprising for the general public, the news did not surprise local football initiates. "It was certain that he was not going to stay long," says a federal member. "He was in open conflict with the government, and in particular the Ministry of Sports." His disagreement with the owner of the Arta Solar 7 club, businessman Tommy Tayoro, son-in-law of the President of the Republic, also did not help; Tayoro himself had to help and settle some trips of the national team at the last minute because of the lack of organization of the federation.

Funding by the Saudi Federation

Convinced that Waberi could not run again – while the FDF statutes amended in 2017 allowed a third term – the Ministry of Sports increased the pressure a few months before the elections. Two official letters were sent at the end of February to Waberi to ask him for clarification on two projects not from the FIFA Forward program: a synthetic football field donated by the Moroccan federation, and the construction of a new seat within the National Technical Center financed by the Saudi Federation to the tune of $400,000 ($200,000 at the start of the work, 200,000 at the finalization).

Without a response, the Ministry of Sports sent another official letter on the afternoon of March 4, declaring Waberi's immediate suspension. "I was in a meeting with the steering committee," said the latter.

"We received the mail of my suspension for not responding to the two letters received the day before. Should I remind you that a minister is not authorized to suspend an elected president of a sports federation; such a decision falls exclusively within the competence of the statutory bodies of the said federation."

However, three days later, Waberi resigned from his position.

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