Right at the heart of Kariobangi South is a veteran boxer who hangs his gloves to inspire others into the sport he loves. James Onyango is a professional boxer who has seen the glitz and the gross of the sport, however remaining loyal to his passion and passing his skills to aspiring individuals around his neighborhood.
Struggle underlying most of his childhood days, Onyango cultivated his boxing career from the Korogocho slums in Nairobi after drawing inspiration from a newspaper article he read of a boxer who represented the country in the commonwealth games.
“I got inspired when I happened to read a newspaper then I saw a certain boy known as Moses Kinyua, he represented Kenya at the commonwealth games in 1999 and he inspired me. I thought to myself if this boy lives here in Korogocho and has won himself a silver medal, then I had to achieve the same ambition. That was back in the year 1999.”
Outrageously persistent, Onyango worked his way up the ranks of boxing personalities in Kenya, unfortunately never getting the call up to represent the nation. He however progressed his professional career to becoming the commonwealth Africa welterweight champion in 2017.
“At hand, I have 2 belts, one I won in 2017 against a Ugandan citizen at the commonwealth Africa welterweight title. It was a 12 round match but I knocked him out in the 10th round at the Nyayo stadium. Everything went as planned, I was well prepared, and the support from fans was in plenty and the victory made me happy and proud.”
Life in the limelight for Onyango was short-lived, the slump beginning in the year 2018, when he failed to attract sponsors. A situation that saw the once upon a time superstar languish in poverty, settling in Kariobangi South Estate.
“The problem is sponsorship, you can stay for about 2 years without getting a fight and that becomes a problem. That stalls continuity. You lack a manager who sets your career in order. That is how the situation is, so the sponsorship, that is what ails boxers.”
Onyango now tries to inspire others into boxing and trains interested residents of Kariobangi south. Most of his residents being young children whom he tries to nature from a tender age.
“I came to realize that there are so many kids and youth who aspire to be renowned in boxing but since there are so many barriers to their dreams such as drugs or girls getting into early pregnancies, I thought it better to start an initiative that would instill discipline in them.”
The passionate boxer has dedicated his unfinished open structure; which he could use to set up a business, and turned it into a gym, filling it up with improvised training equipment.
“The gym is still low, we don’t have enough equipment, we don’t have the boxing kits, and I only have two pairs of boxing gloves and one pad, that’s what I have been using. The weights also we don’t have them if at all we get any sponsor or anyone who is willing to chip in and provide what we need then I’ll appreciate.”
Bernad Benito Wamenju who is one of Onyango’s trainees, calls for transparency by the sporting authorities in the country, saying corruption is killing the sport.
“The biggest challenge we have in Kenya as a country is that we are not united, for instance, if today am elected as the chairperson of the boxing committee, I’ll be corrupt whereby I will appoint my nephews, nieces, relatives and even my friends. That is not the way to go.”
A Kenyan-based Nigerian boxer, Francis Azubike who trains with Onyango believes lots of Kenyan youth are very talented however their ambitions are depleted to a state of hopelessness.
“A lot of youth here are very determined to move forward from where they are to another level but due to the environment and lack of sponsorship with no help whatsoever, they will end up maybe being a drug addict, a drunkard or engaging in various crimes.”
Onyi’s assistant trainer Edwin Bwanzo on his part decries the financial challenges they have met in running the initiative, he however insists the humanitarian effort shall not cease.
“The initiative that Onyi has come up with is quite notable and if there is somebody out there who has the ability to sponsor such kind of an activity here, then it will be a good thing for the youth of Kariobangi South and Kenya at large.”
What remains to drive Onyango through the adversities he is facing is the ant mentality of hard work with the hope that one day, a top boxer shall emanate from his project.