Death has once again robbed the world of a worthy citizen, Mohammed Ali, aged 74. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, Ali, took the world by storm when at age 22, he defeated the then reigning champion, Sony Liston in 1964 in what appeared to be a David and Goliath fight. Among athletes particularly boxers, he was certainly ranked among the elite, having won the heavyweight title three times in his 21-year career. Nicknamed "The Greatest", he was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were the first Liston fight, three bouts with rival Joe Frazier, and "The Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman, in which he regained titles he had been stripped off seven years earlier. Ali was of another age, and yet he was ageless. The battles he fought in and out of the ring probably seem like ancient history to some who only know him through archival images and film. But for those who were lucky enough to have witnessed him in his prime, his presence was unmistakable. But it was his life outside the ring that inspired the strongest adjectives. He described himself variously as the greatest, the prettiest, the brashest, the baddest and the fastest.
Shortly after winning the Liston fight, Clay converted to Islam, changed his so called slave name to Ali, and gave a message of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination. He loved and defended what he believed in with all his strength. Once a journalist asked him "what do you feel to be of the religion of Osama Bin Laden?" and he answered: "what do you feel to be of the religion of Hitler? When he had to serve in the US army during the Vietnam War, he refused the draft. As a consequence, on August 28, 1967, he was stripped of his boxing license and World Champion title. And this was his position. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over" Ali's actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counter-culture generation.
Judging from his civil rights activism, it was not surprising that he chose to visit Ghana in 1964. Because of its pioneering role in the Pan African movement and the independence struggle, Ghana was particularly attracted to independence fighters, empowerment champions, anti-colonial activists and revolutionaries. Adam Clayton Powell, George Padmore, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Richard Wright, and C.L.R James all came to Ghana.
As Ghanaians join the world to mourn this great man, there is the need to recognize that Ali became great not only because he could box, but he also stood his grounds against the unjust system in the United States that looked down on the black race. He did not hide behind closed doors and lamented the unjust system which wanted him and other blacks to feel inferior, unworthy, and unloved. He spoke out for the voiceless, walked his talk and paid the price for it. It will be ironic to praise Ali for his bravery and behave timidly. His death should be a wake up call for all to speak up against the ills in our society. Let us speak up against corruption, tribalism, intolerance and violence irrespective of whose ass is gourd. In an age of growing intolerance it is important to remember that there was a time when the great Ali was also shunned on account of his activism, race and religion. Perhaps his ultimate acceptance and the message of unbending fairness that he embodied in life may be the final lesson he can bestow on us in death. To quote President Obama in his tribute to Ali “His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today. Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it.” Perhaps the best way we can remember Ali is to go back to his quote, “When I’m gone, they’ll just have to look at the records and look at my actions. Then it is up to the people to rank me where they want ... And after they review all the facts, they’ll have no choice but to conclude that I am the Greatest Of All Time!” unquote. Yes indeed, he was the greatest. May his soul rest in peace.
BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.