By: Baboucarr Fallaboweh
A Military officer, politician, diplomat, and football administrator, Mr. Lamin Kaba Bajo is a man of many callings whose diligence and work continue to shine and inspire change.
Change doesn’t just happen; it’s nurtured, crafted, and created. It’s what Kaba has done to create an environment for football to thrive.
Naysayers might disagree, but who can forget how his calculable steps saw the Gambia making history in the African cup of nations in Cameroon earlier this year?
The scorpion’s bit so hard on this fairytale ride to the admiration of many. Still, the journey to this stage began eight years ago when Kaba Bajo assumed the reigns as the first citizen of football in the Gambia, succeeding Mustapha Kebbeh during a period when many would have distanced themselves from the post.
Kebbeh’s administration was dissolved after presiding over the country’s expulsion from the African U-20 championship and a subsequent two-year ban in all competitions for using over-aged players and a player with different dates of birth.
Bajo stepped up to salvage the country’s most loved sport and give hope to the youth who adore this game.
The next contest was an even bigger spectacle, with allegations dominating the media. However, as a man committed to service, he stated, “we forge ahead and work for the good of the game.
“I asked myself to build unity among all football stakeholders because, without togetherness, it will be challenging for my team and me to achieve our goals.
“I want to unite, stabilize and sustain an upward trend in football development with a key focus on qualifying Gambia for AFCON or FIFA World Cup,” he added.
His critics might have thought these were sugarcoated words, but unbeknown to them, the fruits were not far from yielding.
Everyone can make a promise, but a few visualize commitments; Kaba is one of those men whose foresight, like a microscope, delivers the necessary depth to lead to outstanding achievements in Gambian football. The results the continent witnessed in Cameroon are testaments to his magical touch.
This was not achieved on a platter; when he assumed office in 2014, this country of about 2.6 million people had yet to learn how it feels to play in a significant FIFA or CAF competition. Instead, it had undergone four decades of consistent failure. Kaba needed to systemize his knowledge and experience from the different roads he’s walked on.
His early days saw The Gambia pitted in a star-studded group with Cameroon, South Africa, and Mauritania for the 2017 AFCON qualifiers. The campaign started with a famous goalless draw in Johannesburg against South Africa before a narrow 1-0 loss to Cameroon and a 4-0 thumping at home in the hands of South Africa. Then came AFCON 2019, a competition they would miss again.
Show me a man who has never failed, and I will show you a man who might never rise when he falls. Kaba died twice but redeemed himself in his third attempt, an attempt to get the world to appreciate the art of the Gambia and its machinery as the scorpions joined the big boys before the global cameras.
Before the senior national team made history in the AFCON qualifiers, the baby scorpions, the national U-20 boys, were making a name for the Gambia in Mauritania, achieving significant feats in the U20 Cup of Nations, where they reached the semi-finals, losing the final ticket to Ghana. But the stride was so tangible.
All this happened alongside great success in women’s football. Despite the cultural hindrances related to women playing football, the federation has significantly improved the women’s game with the FIFA LIVE YOUR GIRLS FESTIVAL focused on breaking barriers facing women’s football. Since the launch of this project in 2014, about 2,230 girls have participated in the beautiful game, setting up inter-school competitions for girls.
Increased participation, including the training of about 380 coaches in women’s football across the country, has driven considerable improvements in many spheres.
For instance, the number of women’s football clubs is 17, with 510 registered players, 37 female officials, and two female coaches. Most players from these female clubs make up the women’s national team called the Queen Scorpions. In 2017, the team played its first-ever international match against Guniea Bissau in a two-legged home and away fixture, which the stinging ladies won.
In 2018, GFF registered its women’s national team for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON). They were drawn against Burkina Faso in the preliminary stages of the qualifiers.
The team edged out Burkina Faso on penalties to book a place in the final stage. They lost to Nigeria, the most successful female national team in Africa.
His colleagues within the region, West Africa Football Union (WAFU) Zone A- a nine-member zone with Cape Verde, Guniea, Guniea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone as members began to feel it is a travesty to football for his knowledge to be limited to the Gambia.
Bajo was elected unopposed as president of the zone during a meeting in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, where CAF held its 44th Ordinary General Assembly, replacing Antonio Souare of Guinea. He is the first Gambian to ascend to the throne of Zonal leadership.
Kaba will serve a two-year term, but history has shown that he has the idea to have his fingerprints on football in the region after his tenure.
“Our zone is among the strongest on the continent, Bajo noted after his election, but we will not rest on our laurels and will continue to work hard to continue to improve,” he added.
“As you know, the African champions Senegal are from our zone. There are other similar success stories, but we want to continue improving.
“I will work with my colleague FA presidents to organize more competitions and capacity building to achieve our targets.”
Members of his zone await what he brings to the table, including his home country. Moreover, there is a sense that occupying the position makes it easier to implement his extensive football development programs within The Gambia and beyond in partnership with CAF and FIFA.
Many believe when Mustapha Raji, President of the Liberia Football Association ( LFA), became the leader of WAFU A, his influence helped his country improve and develop its football infrastructure.
The same is expected of Kaba, whose administration is in its second tenure but has achieved the most in the history of Gambian football.