Why Muhammad Ali was beloved of Africa
There was more substance to Ali than just his prowess in the boxing ring, or even his infamous smack talk – he possessed a love for Africa and her people.
Arguably the world’s most famous boxer, the moment that cemented his ties to African soil came on 30 October 1974 during what was dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle”. Facing undefeated world heavyweight champion, George Foreman, in the ring in Kinshasa, Ali taunted Foreman with the words “Ali bomaye” (Ali kill him). The 60 000-strong crowd chanted with him, shaking Foreman’s confidence. Ali knocked Foreman out in the eighth round, to be crowned the victor, which catapulted the African continent onto front pages around the globe.
Ali had made several trips to Africa prior to this fight, becoming an icon to Africans for the manner in which he championed his blackness. He was welcomed by crowds in Ghana in 1964, who lined the streets on his first visit to Africa. He embraced his roots, calling himself an African, and was a powerful voice for the 1960s civil rights movement. On a visit to Kinshasa in 1964, Ali was quoted as saying: “I’ve never felt so free in my life. Free from America where I’m not really free.” This was the same year that he shed his name Cassius Clay, which he called “my slave name”.
Not only was he the face of the Black Power movement, but Ali also fought against white supremacy by refusing to serve his country when he was called up to the draft in 1966. He knew he would still be oppressed because of his skin colour on his return from fighting in Vietnam. Ali faced prison for this decision and his boxing licence was revoked. This act of defiance was something every black African could identify with.
He met with several African leaders to champion Africa’s cause, including Ghanaian president John Mahama, pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah as well as Nelson Mandela, who shared his love of boxing. And despite battling Parkinson’s disease, he flew to Ivory Coast in 1997 to provide food for 400 orphans who were in need after Liberia’s civil war led them to flee the country.
Ali’s legacy lives on in Africa’s streets, her people and her struggle for freedom.
A young, passionate Muhammad Ali rose to international fame when he beat world heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa during Rumble in the Jungle. It cemented his fame as well as his love for the African continent.
CREDIT: By Unknown –  Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 bekijk toegang 2.24.01.04 Bestanddeelnummer 924-3060, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37191915