This Is How Cassius Clay Became The America’s Mohamed Ali; Africanus

In the evening of 28 January 1974 Africa chooses his camp. Between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, the continent has praised “the African” Louisville:

In the Zairian capital, the most beautiful set of “boxing business.” Right, Muhammad Ali, the darling of African athletes. At left, George Foreman, the woodcutter of the ring.

For a month, several articles are dedicated to Muhammad Ali in the magazine Jeune Afrique. American boxer moves into the columns of the weekly voice of Africa along the continent celebrates its independence. Cassius Clay was born in the Rome Olympics along with Black Africa knew his first Olympic champion. This fight is a great excuse to talk about the revival of Africa and black America. As early as June 1973, journalists train their players in a series of feature articles on the impact of this meeting on the Zairian people and the whole of Africa.

This is a chance not to be missed, a visibility that no other African country may have more opportunity to have. In the wake of the meeting, the weekly recalls great moments in African boxing and actors that contributed to its formation and development. The match is not left out.The popularity of Ali is exposed when the weekly ad program provides tours Ali in Abidjan, Libreville, Bangui, Yaoundé … In contrast, Foreman, the “unloved”, is treated in a banal way. It only mentions his strength, his German shepherd Dago, and his photo at the Olympics in Mexico 1968 waving the American flag. He is accused of not playing the game and not to say he loves Africa, Zaire and Kinshasa. And the press wonders what is this boxer who does not even try to say a few words in Lingala, the national language? The weekly Jeune Afrique published a survey showing that Foreman is behind in the hearts of Africans:

Mohamed Ali is clearly the favorite of Zaire, at least if one believes the survey by the Zaire Journal: 75% of readers think that the victory will return him […] Mohamed Ali is perhaps, with James Brown and Aretha Franklin, the best known African-American celebrities.

Aside from Zaire’s participation in the FIFA World Cup in 1974, no sports event was also followed nor commented, and journalists all want a victory of Mohamed Ali.

The weekly panafricanist created in 1960, when the wind of emancipation of African nations and the rise of civic movements in the United States, expects the organization of the match it is an African success soundboard observed worldwide. Moreover, following the meeting, reflected in its pages a sense of accomplishment on behalf of Zaire and Africa:


Joy has made to the Zairian victory over George Foreman Muhammad Ali has been more intense than they had experienced it a few months ago when their Leopards [nickname of the national soccer team] took away the CAN [Cup African Football Nations]. The stakes were much more important and Zaire has demonstrated on this occasion its ability to organize to perfection a sports competition of the highest level. […] Nearly 60 000 people came to watch the killing of “bad” George […] animation groups and orchestras in vogue took turns on the lawn around the ring, and the mob chanted almost without interruption his war cry, “Ali Buma ye!” After the entry into material represented by the fighting between the Zairian Tshinza and Dahomey Oke […], Muhammad Ali showed that it was indeed the strongest, the greatest.

In Abidjan, the Ivorian capital, Ziguinchor in southern Senegal through Johannesburg, the great South African city, Africa has taken him round the body the cause of Mohamed Ali, the challenger, the “son of Africa. “ George Foreman, the favorite, “the American”, is left in the hands of foreign insensitive to calls for an Africa free, independent and proud. This fight is the hope of a reconciliation between Africa and a part of America that hears speak out his African; and Mohamed Ali embodies this furtive hope.

In 1974, several West African countries are in a year of celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of their independence and their break with the colonial authority. The historical referents are steeped in this history that is not theirs. We must therefore import heroes that transcend imagination and break boundaries. Ali is one of those. It will be adopted and idolized throughout black Africa, particularly in urban areas. In the Zairian capital, Ali is revered in the streets, to Nsele (the place of his retreat east of Kinshasa) in the villages. When children see, they chanted “Ali Bombaye! Bombaye Ali!” which means in Lingala: “Ali, kill him Ali, kill him!” Ali knows exactly what to say and how to react to suggest that all Zairians are his brothers, better: it is almost one of them …


From “Mohamed Ali”, Claude Boli, published by Gallimard.



Written by How Africa

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