Lost bout: Kenyan boxers’ battle with melancholy and poverty


Nairobi, Kenya – Suleiman Wanjau Bilali, one in every of Kenya’s most interesting boxers with medals at worldwide occasions, has been out and in of rehabilitation centres 3 times due to his alcohol habit and melancholy since he was sacked from his job in 2012.

Bilali is unkempt, determined and can’t coordinate his thoughts effectively whereas talking. He talks in sheng (Swahili-English slang) whereas chewing miraa – a stimulant, also called khat. It takes a number of probing and endurance to have the ability to perceive what he’s saying.

Wearing an outdated, black T-shirt and outsized khakis, Bilali seems to be pale and skinny. You can scent the alcohol in his breath. His fingers tremble as he sits down.

Bilali’s scenario is broadly documented. Many Kenyans have been protesting on social media and native media retailers since 2012, calling on the federal government and sports activities our bodies to assist the previous boxing star that Kenya was as soon as happy with.

Despite this outcry, the federal government has by no means give you a plan to assist Bilali.

After intense public strain final 12 months, former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was the final one that paid for his remedy at a rehabilitation centre utilizing his personal funds.

“Sonko took me to a rehabilitation centre and also catered for my treatment,” Bilali advised Al Jazeera.

“When I left the centre late last year after spending three months there, I went back to alcohol and miraa. I have no house and I struggle for food. Friends help me with food and a place to sleep. Some of my good friends give me little cash which I use to buy alcohol and miraa.”

100 1178Bilali on the neighborhood centre which he visits generally [Mary Mwendwa/Al Jazeera]

In addition to the medals and representing Kenya on the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, Bilai can be a recipient of the Head of State Commendation.

But two accidents – in 1998 and 2004 – triggered the beginning of his fall.

“In the primary accident, I used to be knocked down by a rushing automobile whereas coaching alongside the highway and I had a fractured leg. In the second, I obtained head accidents and a fractured shoulder.

“I lost my job in 2012 and my life has been full of misery since. I was depressed and my life took a totally different turn. I lost all my investments and my wife left me. Due to the sickness, making ends meet is my biggest challenge.”

Bilali generally visits the Muthurwa Community Centre, situated on the fringes of the Nairobi enterprise district. He says many boxing stars are scuffling with psychological well being points and whereas he’s prepared to educate kids within the sport, with out assist he’s unable to return out of melancholy and battle off the urge for alcohol.

Stephen Muchoki, 65, is one other former nationwide boxing star. He now lives alone in a small compound in Nairobi’s Dandora property.

His life now is stuffed with struggles regardless of him elevating Kenya’s boxing flag excessive at worldwide levels.

“I retired from amateur boxing in 1978 after winning the world title at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Yugoslavia. The same year, I won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Canada,” Muchoki advised Al Jazeera.

100 1162Mukula, a boxing coach, is frightened about the way forward for boxing in Kenya [Mary Mwendwa/Al Jazeera]

For 5 years, Muchoki took half in skilled boxing in Denmark however returned to Kenya in 1983.

“My coronary heart was in Kenya. I needed to serve Kenya and characterize my nation. Sadly, my life has by no means been the identical. There had been no correct constructions to facilitate and care for former boxers like myself. I used to be alone. The little I had invested completed and I used to be again to zero.

“No one bothered to even give me some pension after I had brought fame to Kenya.”

Muchoki now volunteers as a coach on the Kariokor Boxing Club in Nairobi. He says he has been living in poverty with out earnings after he retired.

“Smoking makes me feel good. It is not easy as a former star to live in poverty. I have no pension or anything that brings money for me, this kills me slowly.”

David Munyasia is one other bantamweight boxer (54kg) who solely hangs on the hope that someday, his legacy can be remembered and appreciated.

Munyasia began his profession within the early 1990s when he participated in junior championships. He then represented the Kenya Defence Forces and the nation at worldwide occasions.

Now, Munyasia has no work and is hooked on chewing khat.

“I feel depressed because I have no job despite being a boxing legend in Kenya,” stated Munyasia.

100 1171Former boxers are inspired by youth curiosity in boxing however stay frightened about its future within the nation [Mary Mwendwa/Al Jazeera]

Kenya’s tradition and sports activities ministry didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s request for remark.

Dancun Kuria, a communications director on the Boxing Federation of Kenya, agrees that there are lots of former boxing stars who are actually living in deplorable circumstances.

“We have been accused of neglecting former boxers,” Kuria advised Al Jazeera. “Some of them did effectively at novice degree however issues modified once they went skilled. We can’t intervene within the case of pros as a result of it’s not inside our mandate.

“In professional boxing, players deal with a boxing commission where agents and promoters arrange for games.”

Kuria stated he’s conscious of the scenario Bilali, Muchoki and Munyasia are in.

“Our hands are tied. We don’t have enough sponsors and some of these cases are difficult to handle without financial support.”

Kuria additionally stated among the boxers affected are to be blamed themselves for the scenario they’re in.

“Many of those boxers didn’t have a plan for his or her post-boxing lives. They obtained carried away by fame and after boxing, their lives modified and plenty of are actually depressed and affected by different social issues.

“We are encouraging new boxers to take education seriously through our current training sessions so that they have an extra skill. We also bring onboard trainers on financial management, therapists, and psychologists.”

Given the remedy among the former boxers have acquired, Charles Mukula, a coach at Dallas Boxing Club, is frightened about the way forward for a sport he believes can take Kenya far.

“I’m a volunteer coach. I have children as young as five coming here to be trained,” Mukula advised Al Jazeera.

“I don’t have proper boxing gear for training. It pains me when I see the zeal for boxing from youth yet no one cares. I sometimes get old boxing gear from former boxers who trained through this club.”