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{UAH} Muhammad Ali and Africa, a case of love at first sight

Remembering Mohammed Ali On The First Anniversary Of His Death.

Muhammad Ali and Africa, a case of love at first sight

By  on June 4, 2016 — Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who has passed on at 74, had a long love affair with Africa. The continent was the stage of perhaps his greatest triumph: "The Rumble in the Jungle" in Kinshasa, Zaire. He was beloved across Africa and he visited the continent frequently. From the reactions pouring in, it's clear many of his fans on the continent feel they have lost a part of themselves.

The Greatest: Ali's exploits inside the ring won him a lot of hearts in Africa. (Photo: H. Michael Karshis via )

Pound for pound the greatest boxer who ever lived, a champion inside the ring and a hero to millions outside of it, Muhammad Ali, who succumbed to respiratory complications on Saturday, inspired affection wherever he went. In Africa, he occupied a space somewhere between "adopted son" and "ambassador at large".

It's impossible to exaggerate the larger than life figure that Ali is in Africa and how easily he won hearts on the continent, even among those who could not have been alive when he bestrode the world of boxing like a colossus. Unlike in today's social media age where do-nothing celebrities seem to crawl from every nook and crevice, Ali managed to become a household name in Africa and the world when you had to do it the hard way.

Stop the average person on the street in every city, town, village or hamlet in Africa and he or she is sure to know who Ali is. Not just that, but they could also probably rattle off a few of his quotes at the drop of a hat. "Impossible is nothing!" You can't put a price on that kind of fame or sheer charisma.

Love at first sight

It was love at first sight too. People forget, but Ali beat George Foremen in the "Rumble in the Jungle" partly by getting in his head with a little help from the people of Kinshasa. Ali rattled the younger man by turning the people against him. He had them shouting "Ali bomaye" (often misspelt as Ali bumaye) which translates to "Ali kill him". It didn't help that Foreman got off the plane with a menacing German shepherd on a leash, the same breed of dog colonial policemen used to terrorise people when the Congo was ruled by Belgium.

At any rate, the people were on Ali's side and this made Foreman furious. This anger blinded him to Ali's tactics and contributed to one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. The victory cemented Ali's status as a giant among giants. It's also worth pointing out that successfully staging the biggest bout of its time was no mean feat for Africa either. Ali had won and so too had Africa.

"His wins were our wins"

As news of his passing has spread, warm tributes from his fans across Africa have been pouring in. Many have been sharing their remembrances, telling the world how Ali inspired them during dark times. For example, some South Africans remember the boxing great as a source of tremendous inspiration during the apartheid era.

Since his passing, many commentators have noted that Ali's greatness transcended sports, religion, politics and race. From the reactions online, he clearly transcended nationality too since many on the continent see him more as an "African hero" than as an American.

Ali in Africa

The boxing great visited Africa frequently in his lifetime. During his visits he was equally at home spending time with people on the street as with icons like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah or visiting State Houses in Kenya and Egypt.


We live in hyperbolic times but Ali walked the talk. Like he said, "its not bragging if you can back it up". Our world is much poorer for his passing. He was truly the greatest.

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