During his work visit Eritrea Profile had a chance to talk with him. An excerpt of the interview follows.
- -First and foremost welcome back to Eritrea. Can you tell us the purpose of your revisit?
I’m here to work with the Eritrean National Football Federation to Prepare for the U-15 football competition that Eritrea will host from August 17 to September 1. As you know it is the first time we are organizing U-15 football competition in our region and I want to give my utmost appreciation to Eritrea for agreeing to host the first tournament. You remember in 2010 Eritrea hosted CECAFA u-20 competition. The tournament was one of the best the region has ever witnessed. We had a very colorful ceremony, both the opening and the closing, and the competition itself was very good. Last month, when presidents of Cecafa met in Addis Ababa and Daressalam we agreed that Eritrea should host the competition and it is for this reason I am here working with the Football Federation in terms of the overall modalities of organizing a competition that can be both credible and exciting.
- -You are here exactly after 9 years; so much has changed since then.
You are right. I was here ten years ago and one thing I immediately noticed was that Eritrea is still a very clean city. The streets are very clean, the country and its people still organized. So much can change in ten years and indeed so much has changed over the years but the cleanliness of Asmara is still amazing to me. In some countries in Africa when you enter the airport you see a lot of dustbins all over the place; not in Asmara. Eritrea has also seen a lot of changes in terms of infrastructure and the airport is busy. I want to appreciate one thing above all; I want to appreciate the endurance of the people of Eritrea and his Excellency, the President. You have shown your true character, as proud strong people, you have enjoyed 28 years of self belief and determination. Now going forward I want to thank the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia for realizing the urgency of coming together as a family. I want to thank His Excellency President Isaias and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy, for bringing their people together. I was happy when I came on the Ethiopian airlines; the plane was full of Eritreans coming to celebrate Independence Day as well as Ethiopians coming to visit. I want to thank both nations for opening up to each other and for embracing peace.
As a result, we believe that this competition will see the participation of all 12 nations of CECAFA. I am very grateful that when I arrived here the president of the Federation had arranged a meeting with the commissioner of Sports and Culture Amb.Zemede Tekle. He has shown his true commitment to support the Football Federation and CECAFA to ensure that we organize a good competition. Without the government’s engagement no one in Africa or the wide world can organize a competition. I’m proud that Eritrea is a country that when they commit to do something, they do it. And it is that commitment I received this morning from the Ambassador which is very encouraging to CECAFA. I’m very confident that we will organize a very good competition in Eritrea.
- -Mr Musonye, you are here at an important juncture in the region’s history, which is now filled with peace and mutual cooperation, bearing in mind that peace plays a pivotal role in the development of football. What can we expect in terms of our beautiful game taking the next step in the region?
Nine years ago, the current ENFF HQ didn’t exist. Asmara only had two pitches. The Eritrean youth team and grassroots now have a facility to be proud of. In the few years to come, and I believe so confidently, there will be a lot of development in Eritrea and the region as a whole. Especially given the fact that CAF has now increased the number of national teams who take part in Africa Cup of nations from 16 to 24, the number of teams who can potentially take part in the Africa Cup of nations is now bigger. For the first time in the region’s history we now have four teams who are set to take part in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Egypt. The decision made by CAF to increase the number of teams who take part in the AFCON will give opportunities for more countries to qualify for the tournament. Eritrea, Ethiopia and Rwanda will get a chance to qualify for AFCON. When you qualify for AFCON it is a pride of a nation. Every African nation has a dream to qualify for the African Cup and the world cup and that is what we should aim for.
- -The upcoming competition was initially supposed to be of u-17, but it has now been changed to u-15. Why the sudden change?
We had under-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Dar es Salaam last month and we also held the U-17 CECAFA tournament last year in Burundi. We wanted the under 15 footballers to play and mature and get ready for the under 17 Africa Cup of Nation to be held in 2020. It is for this reason that we had to change it to the u-15 competitions. This will give the current u-15 national football players the needed experience and competitive game time for them to keep progressing and developing as well as preparing for the 2020 upcoming under 17 tournament.
- -From what you have said the U-17 CECAFA tournament has been held regularly the last couple of years. However the U-20 competition that was supposed to be held earlier this year was postponed several times. Is there a reason why the competition hasn’t been held yet?
CAF’s and FIFA’s calendars are so packed that for us to even squeeze this U-15 competition we had to work with the secretariat to get the slot to organize it. The CACAFA U-20 tournament in Uganda will be held right after this one, early September. When you look at all our programs we give CAF and FIFA programs priority. So when they clash with ours we usually choose to reschedule ours. At the moment we have four new competitions, U-20 women, senior women, U-17 boys and U-20 boys in Uganda which are all on schedule.
- -Eritrea will be hosting a CECAFA competition for the second time, the first, as you have mentioned, was quite a success in terms of its organization and the level of football displayed by the teams that took part. Given what you have seen in the last day and a half and the discussions you have held with Ambassador Zemede Tekle and President Isaias, what do you expect from the upcoming competition?
A lot! Yesterday we had a very long talk with the President of the ENFF and we moved around to take a look at the potential hotels national teams will stay at, transport area, the many aspects of organizing a competition. As I told you a while ago when Eritrea commits to do something they do it. In 2010 they committed to organize the u-20 tournament and they did it, and exceeded all expectation. So this year I expect to have a very good competition compared to what we have had over the recent years where everything was done in a hurry. Right now we have two and a half months to get ready to prepare an organized and one of a kind competition that will make the region and Eritrea proud. As I said before nothing goes wrong in Eritrea when they commit to do something and do it positively.
- -When we talk about the development of football, it goes beyond the improvement of physical infrastructure. What goes hand in hand with the development of infrastructure is capacity building. What are CACAFA and CAF doing in terms of improving that?
Four days ago I was in Malawi about infrastructure and capacity building. FIFA, CAF and CECAFA organize seminars for our people to discuss infrastructure, the technical aspects of the game as well as the media. Capacity building is very important; without competent and necessary capacity there is no Federation or football organizations. Knowing this we need to empower our people with the know-how to run organizations in an effective way. Over the course of each year, CAF, in collaboration with FIFA, has many seminars scheduled in regards to football programs, coaching and refereeing to ensure our people are empowered to transform their respective federations and develop our football.
- -Last words……………
I want to assure you that we will have a good competition. We want to tell the people of Eritrea and the private sector to come and support football in Eritrea, morally and financially, to ensure that we organize a good and competitive tournament.
Finally, I wish the people of Eritrea well on the 28th anniversary of Eritrea Independence Day. I am with you, CECAFA is with you.