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 against Abdullahi Kent of Kenya.
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 Senghor warmly 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.
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.