The African Humanities Programme (AHP) has launched a book authored by Prof. De-Valera N. Y. M. Botchway, of the Department of History, University of Cape Coast, on the social history of boxing in Ghana with a spotlight on the three-time boxing champion, Azumah Nelson.
The book titled Boxing is No Cakewalk! Azumah ‘Ring Professor’ Nelson in the Social History of Ghanaian Boxing explores the social history of boxing in Ghana and its connection with Azumah Nelson who is a celebrated boxer in the country and beyond. The book explains how boxing has contributed to shaping identities and positive socioeconomic transformations in Ghana through the life, work and experiences of Azumah Nelson. Prof. Botchway is the first Ghanaian to have his book published in the African Humanities Series which is under the auspices of the AHP and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Azumah Nelson was A Source of Unity for Ghana
Speaking at the launch, Prof Botchway described Prof. Azumah Nelson as a professional who wanted to get something for himself but at the same time was thinking about Ghana whenever he fought at the international stage. He noted that Azumah Nelson was a source of unity for Ghana at a time when the country was going through lots of troubles in the 1980s. According to him, Azumah Nelson won the World Boxing Title when Ghana was going through food crisis and at the same time Ghanaians were being repatriated from Nigeria”
The professor of History noted that Azumah Nelson harnessed boxing as a tool of social mobility adding that he did not only use boxing to make himself a millionaire but to project the image of Ghana. “This is a legend who is alive and I feel that we need to celebrate him,” he elaborated.
Prof Botchway who is a fellow of AHP noted that as a boxer, Azumah Nelson intellectually understood the dynamics of Pan Africanism. “He understood the struggles of the people of African descent and he used this uncommon platform [the boxing ring and his status as a champion] to articulate the aspirations of the so-called black people to the world,” he said.
Rationale behind the Book
Explaining why he wrote on boxing, Prof. Botchway said most [Ghanaian professional] historians were interested in producing works about economic and political history neglecting the social and cultural aspect of history. He stated that “It is so because it has been a legacy of colonialism; colonial historians basically focus on kings, queens, presidents and wars” and, therefore, his decision to break the monotony from the trend and enter into social and cultural history.
According to Prof. Botchway, Ghana has a strong history of boxing which he said was a popular sport among the Ga ethnic group where Azumah Nelson hailed from. He indicated that boxing was part of the imperial agenda of the British which they wanted to use to control the people of the Gold Coast. However, he noted that the British did not realise that the indigenous people had combat sports. “The Ga have what they call Asafo atwele, an indigenous fisticuff sports” which facilitated their easy participation and adoption of the foreign style of boxing”. He said that although the British banned the indigenous fisticuff sport among the Ga and imposed boxing on them, the local people employed urgency, by using local agency and inventiveness to assimilate this sport. “In effect, they created markers of ethnic and cultural identity so boxing is not just a sport that the Ga people engaged in, it has become part of their ethnic identity,” he pointed out.
Youth Should be Inspired by the Book
Commenting on the honour done him, the celebrated boxer, Prof. Azumah Nelson, thanked Prof. Botchway for acknowledging his contributions to the nation and to humanity. “I am honoured by this gesture and I can only thank the author for finding me fit to write about in his bid to motivate the youth in society,” he said. Azumah Nelson was optimistic that the book would inspire the younger generation to work hard to be great personalities in future.
The Book Gives Hope to People in Inner Cities
The Minister of Inner Cities and Zongo Development, Dr. Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, who was the chairman for the event said he was proud to be part of the book launch adding that “The bastion of boxing in Ghana comes under the purview of the Ministry of Inner Cities and Zongo Development, so I am happy to have had the opportunity to be associated with the book launch”.
Dr. Abdul-Hamid said Inner City people were considered as underclass and, therefore, for a person from this background like Azumah Nelson to rise to become a global icon was a motivational story for people in these communities who aspire to get out of their social circumstances in which they were born. “The human being is made up of nature and nurture, for most times we allow the nurture bit to trap us into not been able to progress. I can go to the inner cities and brandish this story for every young child in these communities to aspire not only to become boxers but whatever sport or profession it is, whether you’ve been to school or not, you can aspire for great things” he noted.
Copies of the book and further information about the document can be obtained from the African Books Collective and African Humanities Series.