Kinshasa, DRC – The 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” that pitted Muhammad Ali against George Foreman is perhaps the most memorable yet least essential aspect of boxing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.
Boxing has been used as a vanity project and a tool for peace.
In 2009, Ali’s daughter, Khalia, paid homage to her father with a humanitarian visit to DRC. Five years later, President Joseph Kabila’s brother staged a highly publicised commemorative fight. In the country’s eastern regions, where armed conflict is ongoing, some NGOs train former child soldiers to channel their aggression through boxing programmes.
Beyond the nostalgia, serious boxers, officials and institutions face a sober reality. Internal strife tied to dubious elections has been reported within the Congolese National Boxing Federation. Paltry funding curbs the chances of enthusiasts launching careers in amateur and the lucrative world of professional boxing.
Despite these hurdles, the popularity of the sport continues to soar. Amateur boxing clubs, vetted and unregulated, keep surfacing in major cities.
According to National Boxing Federation President Alidord Banguila, about 1,000 championships are organised in the DRC annually, and at least 100 active boxing clubs exist in Kinshasa alone.
Most of these clubs, including Club Livulu, owned by trainer and former welterweight boxer Charles Kisolokele, 59, persist through improvised training grounds, and a dash of hope.