Face2Face Africa has compiled places Muhammad Ali has visited in Africa back in those days.
Muhammad Ali’s first visit to Africa came in 1964, which was also his first major trip outside of America. The charismatic 22-year-old had just been crowned heavyweight Champion of the World, after defeating Sonny Liston. He had also experienced an epiphany that was the beginning of a spiritual journey that continued throughout his life.
Ali described his visit to three countries on the continent as a Pan-African tour and a pilgrimage to the Fatherland.
Muhammad Ali and Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah at the state house.
Ghana, 1964 (May 18)
Ali spent two straight weeks in Ghana, when he visited in 1964. He was welcomed on his arrival at the national airport in Accra by an unbelievably large crowd of admirers who were all too eager to meet the reigning king of boxing. Ali was accompanied on his trip/pilgrimage byHerbert Muhammad, the son of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.
Ali meets the Asantehene, paramount chief of the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. Photo credit: Myjoyonline.com
During his stay, Ali also found the time to treat some 40,000 Ghanaian spectators to an exhibition bout against his younger brother, Rahman. By the end of his visit to Ghana, Ali had endeared himself to many and even acquired a taste for tropical coconuts.
Nigerians fill the streets of Lagos to welcome Ali.
Nigeria, 1964 (June 1)
Ali arrived Lagos in June 1964, after spending 14 days in nearby Ghana. Hundreds of people awaited his arrival at the airport, and many more filled the streets to welcome the champion. Even the announcement of a decision to cut short the length of his visit from the initial full week to three days did not dampen the spirits of crowds that greeted him everywhere he went.
Ali would visit Nigeria again in 1980 to call for an African-wide boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Muhammad Ali, in Nigerian attire, spends some time with elementary school kids.
Ali offers prayers at the Al-Hussein mosque in Egypt.
Egypt, 1964 (June 3)
As a world champion heavyweight boxer, Ali’s fame preceded his highly anticipated arrival to Cairo, Egypt, in June 1964. As if his sports notoriety was not enough, at the time, Ali was a recent convert to Islam, so many Egyptians felt an instant connection with him.
While in Egypt, Ali visited the Aswan Dam, met with the Supreme Islamic Council, and prayed at the Al-Hussein mosque. He was also a guest of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ali went on to spend a total of 20 days in Egypt before returning to America.
Mohammad Ali enjoys the wonders of Egypt. Photo credit: ahram.org.eg
Boxing promoter Don King (in white, from left), Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko, and Ali. BBC
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 1974
Formerly known as Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo was the setting of Muhammad Ali’s epic “Rumble in the Jungle” match against George Foreman. The fight was orchestrated by boxing promoter Don King and sponsored by Zairian leader Mobutu Sese Seko.
The widely hyped fight marked 32-year-old Ali’s return to Africa after 10 years. He was clearly the crowd favorite of the two African-American fighters when he landed in theCongo. Hordes of Congolese admirers cheered him on non-stop throughout his three-month stay up to the morning of his eventual victory.
Ali looks on as Foreman struggles to regain consciousness. Photo credit: BBC
Ali arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as a U.S. special envoy in the middle of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, which had invaded Afghanistan. After the invasion, the United States decided to boycott the Moscow Olympics of 1980. For the boycotts to have the maximum impact on the Soviets, the Americans decided to enlist as many other countries as they could to shun the Games. Ali was dispatched to Africa as a special envoy to convince African countries to join the boycott.
But the visit didn’t go very well.
The Tanzanians were not convinced by Ali’s message and openly questioned if he had become a tool of American imperialism. In the end, then-President Julius Nyerere didn’t care to grant Ali an audience.
Continuing his role as a U.S. envoy, Muhammad Ali visited Kenya in 1980. This time, Ali was able to meet with Kenyan Minister of Culture Kenneth Matiba and Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi in the State House. He was also successful in convincing Kenya to join the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Ali later treated his fans in Nairobi to an exhibition fight againstAbdullahi Kent of Kenya.
Ali wows Kenyans with an exhibition match against one of their national boxers. Photo credit: Nairobi Wire
Welcomed by an admiring crowd of thousands of Liberians, Ali arrived at the airport in Monrovia. Liberia’s historically close relations with the United States made it easy to convince the West African nation to join the Olympic boycott.
Senegal was the last stop on Ali’s five-nation tour of Africa as a U.S. special envoy. He arrived in Dakar to the usual cheers from admiring fans. And while Senegalese President Leopold Senghorwarmly received him, he made it clear to Ali that Senegal would not support the boycott since it was the nation’s diplomatic policy to separate politics from sports.
Muhammad Ali kisses a Liberian orphan while residents cheer. Photo credit: AP/David Guttenfelder
Ali embraces a delighted orphan. Photo credit: Getty Images
Ivory Coast, 1997
Seventeen years after his visit in 1980, Ali returned to Africa in 1997. At 55 years old, Ali had been noticeably slowed down by Parkinson’s disease. Still, he found the strength to fly all the way to the Ivory Coast on a goodwill visit to deliver critical food aid, medicines, and moral support to orphans who were a part of the refugees’ brutal civil war in neighboring Liberia. The Ivory Coast would be the 8th and final African country Ali visited.