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From rags to riches and back to rags: The story of Conjestina Achieng, Kenya’s most popular female boxer

Conjestina Achieng displays his titles. (Image: Courtesy)

Kenyans remember her quick rise to the top as the country’s most popular female boxer.

At her prime, she easily dismantled opponents, won titles and providing Kenyans an entertainment they had never seen before and many young girls dared to dream.

But just like her rise, her downfall has equally been spectacular. Those accolades and praises have now been reduced to ridicule and gossip as those who once adored her now keep away. That is the sad story of Conjestina Achieng.

Born 37 years ago in Umiru village Siaya county, Achieng’s passion for boxing grew at an early age probably from the influence of her brother who was in the national team.

She would go on to win four world titles under different weight categories, registering 17 wins and four draws and became a crowd darling who christened her “Hands of Stone”.

Being unemployed, Achieng, who normally earned about Sh22,000 a fight, relied on boxing to pay for her one rented room in Nairobi’s Lucky Summer estate.

She became the first African woman to hold an international title when she beat Ugandan Fiona Tugume to take the vacant WIBF middleweight title. After seven amateur bouts, “Conje” made her pro debut in 2002 which earned her product endorsements.
But then disaster struck. In January 2011, Conjestina’s father sent an appeal to Kenyans to help him take her to hospital after her behaviour deteriorated from the norm.
According to him, Conje had removed her son from school, set ablaze to all her boxing gear and disposed of all the equipment from her gymnasium, which she had opened in 2009. She was admitted at the Mathari mental hospital in Nairobi and later released.

But she never recovered and the following year, a local Tv channel showed Conje in a state of confusion and utter despair. She was said to be living in poverty having not paid her Sh2,000 rent for four months and under the care of her younger sister.

Unable to maintain the city life, Conje moved back to the village and has been in and out of hospital since then as the mental disorder persists. Her mother Gertrude Adala says it has been difficult to cope given the family is in financial difficulties. Her father is also diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Just last month, Conje was denied admission to Kisumu District Hospital due to what the doctors said lack of space. Had she had the money, maybe an alternative would have been sought.

She has now been reduced to a beggar who roams the streets of Yala town with neighbours and passers-by sympathizing from a distance as others ridicule.

“When she was young, neighbours would report to me that Achieng has been beaten by some boys after she revenged a fight. That somehow made me proud. Today, she is a shadow of her former self,”said Amada, summing up Conje’s misery.

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