Forgotten Kenyan Luminaries who should be in the Kenya Hall of Fame
Accompanying this email is a brief list of Kenyans from the 19th and 20th centuries who played a worthy, significant and notable role in shaping this country of ours, who history has forgotten, disregarded and shunt aside. We are in the year 2020, November 2020 to be precise, at the doorstep of the year 2021, where many things have gone wrong in this country of ours since independence in 1963, and continue to. The priority in this country of ours right now though is survival, not history, most understandably so. History right now in Kenya is a “luxury” as we continue to deteriorate further as a people and as a country.
However, it is a curse to disregard or disrespect your elders, your ancestry, your lineage, your background and your history, because none of us would be here today without either one, or all.
So, much as history is a “luxury” in these harsh times we continue to live in, it is also a priority, because scorning history amounts to scorning our elders, our ancestry, our lineage and our background, which is a curse.
We need to make peace with our past, and with each other too, to restore sanity and direction in this country of ours. It is said that when the gods want to finish you, they first make you go mad. Have we gone mad and do the gods want to finish us? And if this were the case, to start with, why do the gods want to finish us? Have we crossed too many lines, too many red lines?
There was life before us and there will be life after us, Kenya was there before us and Kenya will be there after us, albeit with a new cast, as has been the case through the ages.
Things will not always be the way they presently are in Kenya, and we shall rise as a people and as a country one day, possibly even in our time if we will it. Nothing good comes easy though, and good things involve sacrifices, significant sacrifices.
This country of ours has a puncture, we do not exactly have a spare wheel, and we must keep on moving the best way we can. We are in a wilderness in the dead of the night surrounded by all manner of adversities, including wild animals like hyenas, jackals and wild dogs, waiting for our vehicle, the vehicle with a puncture that we are in, to grind to a standstill, and then pounce.
We are in the dead of the night, so even if we did have a spare wheel, it does not matter at this point, because disembarking from the vehicle would be suicidal.
The hyenas, jackals, and wild dogs are however unaware that we do not have a spare wheel, which works to our advantage, because they will give up the stalk at daybreak, because from past experience, the hyenas, jackals and wild dogs are aware that aside from spare wheels, help shows up pronto at daybreak, armed help, help with guns, so the hyenas, jackals and wild dogs are fearful of their lives the sooner it gets to daybreak, and scatter very fast at the first sign of daybreak.
So it’s a mixture of things in this predicament we have put ourselves in and here we are having to buy time, as much of it as possible, by pretending to move on in a vehicle with a puncture, as we e.g. play “mind games” with hyenas, jackals and wild dogs.
Apart from not having a spare wheel, we have not taken good care of the vehicle for decades now, like service it regularly, and it is at the point of breaking down altogether at any moment, something the hyenas, jackals and wild dogs are also thankfully unaware of, so again “mind games.” A good part of this life actually, is “mind games,” which is why women live longer than men.
We have run down a good vehicle, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. However, the vehicle is not beyond salvage, or beyond redemption.
Also, one of the most terrifying and unsettling things in this life, is to hear a fully grown lion roar next to you, and those too are roaring outside, not on our trail though, but on the trail of the hyenas. Hyenas and lions don’t like each other very much, and are like Donald Trump and Joe Biden. No actually, it’s not that bad, with Donald Trump and Joe Biden anyway, but with hyenas and lions it is. Hyenas and lions brutally maul each other to death, whatever opportunity they get. Lions are much stronger and agile than hyenas, so they have an advantage, but when a pack of hyenas corners a lion…
Ours, to all intents and purposes, is a country and a nation in both decline and evolution, in equal measure. If you slip, fall down, and get up again, then you are in evolution. If you however slip at the very same spot again, and this time sprain an ankle and therefore need medical attention and medical care, then you are in decline.
Kenya is both in evolution and decline in equal measure, so we should be hard on ourselves in half measure, and not be too hard on ourselves in equal half measure. We are Human, not perfect.
As we get to the list of forgotten Kenyans below, who we need to revive and give a permanent place in the “Kenya Hall of Fame,” in our ongoing evolution and decline, let us also draw inspiration and direction from a golden generation of heavyweight boxers of the past, fronted by five luminaries, namely Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes.
Of the five luminaries, Muhammad Ali stands out, and it is not for nothing that he is referred to as “The Greatest.”
George Foreman, who is still alive, at 71 years of age, was a huge, strong and powerful fighter, and not just that, he was also skillful and fast, a lethal combination indeed, with Foreman resorting to either skill and speed, or raw brute force and strength, as the situation dictated.
Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes were slightly smaller versions of George Foreman, same models of vehicles, but with slightly less power i.e. slighter lower Calibre Calibrations (CCs), as is the formal term used in motor vehicle engineering.
Ken Norton was however also a huge guy, like George Foreman, but Foreman knocked out Norton, made it look so easy, because Foreman resorted to and combined all his strengths to knock out Norton i.e. as mentioned, strength, power, skill and speed.
George Foreman also knocked out Joe Frazier twice, making it look so easy both times. The first time was devastating, like how Germany beat Brazil seven goals to one at the 2014 World Cup. The second time was more respectable on Frazier’s part, the equivalent of say, four goals to one. Both times the referees stopped the fight to save Frazier from further ravaging i.e. both fights were Technical Knockouts (TKOs), in Foreman’s favour.
Muhammad Ali was huge, fast and skillful, but not as strong or as powerful as Foreman, Norton or Frazier.
Boxing can indeed be a brute sport, and chances are that it will be banned in the distant decades ahead, or even in our time actually, because e.g. Ken Norton unintentionally broke Ali’s jaw in their fight, and Ali could not talk or eat for a while after that, as he recovered. Ali was indeed a “big mouth” of sorts, and after Norton broke his jaw, the press and media joked that “The big mouth has finally been shut!”
Boxing has also caused more than one death over the years. For example, professional bouts were reduced from 15 rounds to 12 rounds after a boxer took a heavy beating, went into a coma, and then died.
Muhammad Ali relied heavily on his skills and on his speed, and on psychology too, and it worked. Muhammad Ali was daring personified, the kind of person, in symbolic terms, to walk past a pride of lions, and not just that, further provoke the lions by telling the lions to their faces “to do whatever they wanted,” leaving the lions in shock, bewilderment and symbolic laughter as the lions asked each other in amazement “What’s wrong with this guy?”
And it’s not that Ali did not have strength or power, it is that in many more cases than one, Ali had less stronger and less powerful punches than the opponents he fought in his illustrious career.
To demonstrate how Ali very effectively used psychology in his technique, nothing stands our more than his iconic fight of 30th October 1974 with George Foreman, one of the greatest sporting events of our time, if not the greatest.
Given Foreman’s track record with knockouts, partly illustrated above, it was expected that Foreman would knockout out Ali in either the second or third round, in the days when professional fights were still 15 rounds. Ali instead spectacularly and remarkably knocked out Foreman in the eighth round in one of the most amazing and edifying reenactments of “David vs. Goliath” of our time.
To start with, and just moments after the start of round one, Ali threw what is referred to in boxing as “a right hand lead” punch at Foreman, which is an insult in boxing, because it implies that the boxer the “right hand lead” punch is directed at, is “slow and clumsy,” which George Foreman certainly was not, and the very initial “right hand lead” punch that Ali directed at Foreman, is the equivalent of the example given above of Muhammad Ali passing by a pride of lions in broad daylight, and not just that, provoking and taunting the lions.
Foreman was insulted, in shock and in bewilderment, which his reaction and body language openly reveal, clearly wondering, like the lions above, “What’s wrong with this guy?”
And it’s not just Foreman who was taken aback. Those present and those watching the bout live worldwide who understood boxing and what a “right hand lead” means in boxing, were equally bewildered and taken aback, equally wondering “What’s wrong with this guy?”
Ali’s psychology card, Ali’s psychology trump card, worked very effectively, and distorted and disjointed whatever strategy that Foreman had, or intended to have.
Ali kept throwing “right hand leads” throughout the eight rounds, kept taunting Foreman psychologically and physically and almost actually knocked out Foreman in the fifth round, with a furious rapid delivery of his trademark “lightening speed” punches, but Foreman kept his balance and also “kept the faith” at his end, to his credit.
Foreman actually put in a number of good punches too on his part throughout the eight rounds, and it was not entirely a one sided fight.
At certain times in the fight, Ali also looked in trouble, with the audience present going dead silent at those moments, because the audience present was fiercely pro-Muhammad Ali. For example, the audience reacted in ecstasy in the fifth round when Ali almost knocked out Foreman, and reacted in ecstasy again in the eighth round when Ali knocked out Foreman, with police swiftly moving in for crowd control.
The fight was fought in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), then known as Zaire.
Overall, Muhammad Ali took a bold and daring risk with “a pride of lions,” that worked, remarkably so at that, it must be said. His very own corner, including his manager Angelo Dundee, were left aghast and perplexed by Ali’s renegade unconventional approach to the fight, and kept barking at Ali from ringside to “quit fooling around and stop playing with fire,” calls that Ali ignored. Ali clearly knew what he was doing, which is one reason why it will be hard for history to forget or ignore Muhammad Ali.
There are soldiers and then there are warriors. Soldiers are much more conventional and structured than warriors. Warriors are trailblazers that break with convention, many a time rewriting books and strategies on warfare by introducing whole new techniques previously not thought of or considered.
Muhammad Ali was a soldier and a warrior both in one, of a kind that emerge once or twice in a spread of two or three generations.
Muhammad Ali was indeed a class fighter. Even if Ali had not knocked out Foreman in the eighth round, he clearly looked headed for victory had the fight gone the full 15 rounds, on points that is, because he also concentrated by scoring many crucial points with many of his trademark jabs at and on Foreman. And swift those jabs were i.e. Foreman didn’t see them coming.
For most of the eight rounds Foreman was clearly lost, in a world of confusion of his own. Muhammad Ali really made George Foreman look like a novice, like a new entrant to boxing, with Ali loving every moment of it, because Ali “was supposed to have been swiftly knocked out by Foreman in the second or third round.”
Just like Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden in the just concluded November 2020 US presidential election, where at a certain point, Biden clearly looked headed for victory, the Foreman – Ali fight of 1974 looked strongly and comfortably in Ali’s favour either way i.e. had he not knocked out Foreman in the eight round, and had the fight gone the full 15 rounds.
Muhammad Ali for President. Of America or Kenya? Both. Rest in Peace, Champ.
Fast forward to 1st October 1975, Manila, the Philippines, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier.
George Foreman underestimated Muhammad Ali in 1974, and in 1971, Muhammad Ali underestimated Joe Frazier.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought three times, 1971, 1974 and 1975. Frazier won in 1971, and Ali won both other times. In 1971 in particular, Frazier came close to knocking out Ali by knocking Ali down to the canvas with a spectacular left hook, but Ali quickly got up.
Muhammad Ali fully got what he deserved from Joe Frazier in 1971, because as mentioned, he underestimated Joe Frazier, took Joe Frazier for granted. Muhammed Ali made his point very well with George Foreman in 1974, and Joe Frazier too made his point very well with Muhammad Ali in 1971.
Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali had “a love hate” relationship, because of some of the things Ali said to and about Frazier. Ali, as part of his technique, as mentioned above, used taunts and psychology on his opponents.
For instance, he called Floyd Patterson “a rabbit,” he called Joe Frazier both “ugly” and “a gorilla,” and he called Joe Louis and Ernie Terrell “Uncle Toms.” An “Uncle Tom” is a derisive term used to describe African-Americans that hold White Americans in awe and deference, a derisive term that dates back to the days of slavery in America.
Many African-Americans have in particular never forgiven Muhammad Ali for calling Joe Louis an “Uncle Tom.”
Two African-Americans are regarded as the pioneers of boxing in the African-American community, namely Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, Joe Louis more than Jack Johnson, because Joe Louis became a global icon in his time, just like Muhammad Ali did in later decades.
Many African-Americans of Joe Louis’ generation drew heavy inspiration from Joe Louis’ accomplishments, believing that if Joe Louis could do it, if Joe Louis could break age old barriers, if Joe Louis could break the glass ceiling, they too could, inspiring many African-Americans of those times to equally excel, not just in sport, but in academia too, and as professionals.
Every community in the world and all races, all people of the world regardless of race or ethnicity, need beacons of hope and beacons of inspiration. Joe Louis was just that to the African-American community, and remains just that to the African-American community i.e. a beacon of hope and a beacon of inspiration.
So it was unforgivable to many African-Americans for Muhammad Ali to demean and despise Joe Louis and his illustrious legacy.
Joe Frazier was another African-American, at an individual level, who never quite forgave Muhammad Ali for calling him “ugly” and “a gorilla.” Joe Frazier is also an American icon at two levels i.e. in America in general at one level, and in the African-American community at the other.
So other than Joe Frazier himself, there are also many other African-Americans who feel that Muhammad Ali should never have called Joe Frazier and other African-American boxers names, because it was already bad enough that the African-American community was battling racism, discrimination and marginalisation in America, it was already bad enough that the “N” word was frequently used on African-Americans by all other Americans, not just White Americans.
What’s more is that Muhammed Ali (originally known as Cassius Marcellus Clay), was from a privileged middle class background, unlike other African-American boxers like Frazier, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Larry Holmes, both Sugar Rays i.e. Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, Michael Gerard Tyson i.e. Mike Tyson, and Evander Holyfield.
What actually propelled Muhammed Ali into boxing, fame, fortune, status, history and immortality was a bicycle of his that was stolen when he was a teenager. Ali thereafter went to a gym to learn how to box so that he could teach the thief a lesson. One thing led to another, Ali (then Cassius Marcellus Clay), really became good at boxing, and the rest is history.
In principle though Muhammad Ali was from a privileged background, from a family that could afford to buy him a bicycle, Joe Frazier was not. And then to add to the tension, Ali called Frazier names i.e. “ugly” and “a gorilla.”
As mentioned, Frazier never quite forgave Ali for this, while Ali insisted that it wasn’t personal, and that these were just part of his gimmicks, Muhammad Ali’s gimmicks.
The legend even goes that Muhammad Ali once sent someone to Joe Frazier to apologise on his behalf on realising that Joe Frazier had been offended, that Joe Frazier had taken it personally. The legend goes that Joe Frazier rejected the third party apology, stating that Ali would have to apologise to Frazier in person. It is unclear if Ali ever did so, though it does not appear so.
Is this really an article on illustrious Kenyans that Kenyan History has forgotten, or an article on illustrious African-American boxers? Much much more of one than the other, right? Please be patient, Kenya comes back to the picture soon.
Back to 1st October 1975, Manila, the Philippines, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, their third fight following their first two of 8th March 1971 and 28th January 1974.
Their third fight of 1st October 1975 was the most fierce, ferocious and brutal of the three, with both men giving it their all.
Ali had the edge over Frazier throughout, though less significantly than he did over Foreman the previous year in 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire, today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Frazier on his part was unrelenting, steady, confident, and refusing to be cowed or intimidated.
Unknown to Frazier, his stubbornness paid off, because after the 10th round, Ali said to his manager Angelo Dundee, that he couldn’t go on, that he was out of energy, strength, tactics and gas, that Frazier was unrelenting despite all the punches and punishment he had received.
Frazier was determined to fight to the bitter end, no matter what. The fight for Frazier had taken on another dimension i.e. it was not just about the title i.e. Boxing Heavyweight Champion of the World, it was about Frazier getting even Ali, it was about Frazier teaching Ali a lesson, it was personal for Frazier, not just professional.
Angelo Dundee responded to Ali by telling him to dig deep into his inner self, to dig deep into his untapped inner reserves and get on with the fight i.e. there were still five more rounds to go.
Angelo Dundee’s pep talk worked, and Ali came out guns blazing in the 11th round after almost giving up. Frazier continued to take a fierce and brutal beating but remained steadfast. Unbelievable.
By the 14th round, Frazier’s eyes were all puffed up from unrelenting punches, Frazier could hardly see, and Frazier was now relying on instinct and a blurry eyesight to fight Ali.
After the end of the 14th round Joe Frazier’s manager Eddie Futch gave a sign to the referee that they were calling in the fight, that their fighter was badly injured and could not go on, that the fight was over, that Muhammad Ali had won the fight on a Technical Knockout (TKO).
Joe Frazier insisted to Eddie Futch that he was good and ready to go on with the fight, but Futch held Frazier back and gently whispered in his ear “No no no Joe, the fight is over… let it go Joe, let it go.”
Two great managers, right?
Joe Frazier was injured, physically and emotionally, was in tears, but listened to his manager Eddie Futch.
Joe Frazier was also a big man, true blue, a warrior, an officer and a gentleman, and while still in tears, got up from his stool and walked over to Ali’s corner to congratulate him. Both men hugged.
Is there a gentleman somewhere right now in the United States of America who has just lost a presidential election, who can learn from Joe Frazier? Yes there is.
Joe Frazier was a billionaire in his character, even though he had only a very small fraction of the money the other billionaire has, the said gentleman right now in America. The said gentleman right now in America needs to become both kinds of billionaires, the one he already is, and the Joe Frazier type billionaire. America needs to move on, the whole world needs to move on.
Back now to the Republic of Kenya, November 2020. There are multiple lessons that Kenya and Kenyans can learn from the illustrious history above of the illustrious boxers above of illustrious past eras in boxing, not least Angelo Dundee’s famous advise to Muhammad Ali after the 10th round to dig deep into his inner self, to dig deep into his untapped inner reserves and get on with the fight.
Facing the Republic of Kenya and the people of Kenya is not just the 11th round, are not just five more rounds, but numerous more rounds, and it would help to be guided by Angelo Dundee’s famous advise to Muhammad Ali of 1st October 1975.
We are in both evolution and decline, as mentioned above, we are a people like any other, we must not give up, and must remain as unrelenting and as steadfast as Joe Frazier above. The struggle continues, “a luta continua.”
Now for that brief list below of Kenyan luminaries that we have forgotten and neglected, a list that is by no means exhaustive, a list that still needs to grow and evolve further, a list that must have it’s rightful place in a still evolving and still emerging Kenya i.e.
1. Otenyo Nyamaterere
2. Makhan Singh
3. Kimnyole arap Kurgat
4. Elijah Masinde
5. Johannes and Emilie Hoffman
6. Odera Akang’o
7. Manilal Ambalal Desai
8. Mwankega wa Malowa
9. Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee
10. Wasonga Sijeyo
11. Edward Carey Francis
12. Bernard Mate
13. Aggrey Minya
14. Seraphino Antao
15. Walter Fanuel Odede
16. Musa Amalemba
17. Arthur Ochwada
18. Harry Leakey
19. Benaiah Apollo Ohanga
20. James Muimi
21. Lawrence Oguda
22. Muindi Mbingu
By Mundia Kamau
Forgotten Kenyan Luminaries who should be in the Kenya Hall of Fame