From riches to rags: The sad story of Suleiman Bilali

Suleiman "Surf" Bilali: He hardly makes ends meet, often depending on hand-outs from friends. (Image: Courtesy)

We meet former Kenyan international boxer Suleiman Bilali whose riches to rags story has not yet been told.

Although the word champion aptly befits him due to his exploits in the ring during his boxing career, Bilali has nothing to show for it and is now a pale shadow of a pugilist who once lived large and drove sleek cars.

It’s a sad end for a two-time All Africa Games champion who traversed the globe winning gold medals and cutting a niche for himself as one of the best light flyweight boxers Kenya and the region.

On this day, I find him sitting at the rickety benches outside the City Stadium perimeter fence wearing a forlorn and desperate look appearing to have lost hope in life.

As we prepare for a chat with him, several youth in the vicinity are busy chewing khat (miraa) while others are in a drunken stupor after imbibing cheap alcohol in the makeshift structures within the locality.

The sight of Bilali can make hearts bleed as he is sickly and grappling with injuries sustained in two motor vehicle accidents with no assistance in sight.

This sad state of affairs is choreographed with the deplorable life Bilali is leading at the adjacent Muthurwa Estate.
He can hardly make ends meet and depends on hand-outs from friends. “I have now resigned myself to fate. There is nothing as painful as representing Kenya at the world stage, then lose your job following health problems and be left by your countrymen to suffer,”said Bilali.
Bilali’s problems began in 1998 when he suffered a head injury during a training session.
He would recover and go on to win the Sydney Olympic Games qualifiers in Egypt in 2000 before the problem recurred, requiring a head scan.
With no finances to foot the medical bill, Bilali says he sought assistance from the Commissioner of Sports Gordon Oluoch who promised to help but nothing came out of it.

“I suffered blurred vision and still depends on pain-killers to date and the problem seems to be worsening,” added Bilali.

Former Prisons and national team coach George Gichuki who accompanied the boxer to Egypt summed it up: “Its hard to believe that this was the stylish boxer I was proud of as a coach and who has been neglected even after all the fame he brought to the country.”

Bilali’s health problems seem to have impacted negatively in his performance at the Australia Olympics where he was bundled out in the quarter-finals unlike two other Kenyan pugilists in lightwelter Fred Munga and middleweight Peter Kariuki who advanced and were snapped up by scouts turning professional in the process.

There were more woes for the boxer in 2004 when he was run over by a Matatu, leaving his job as a General Sevice Unit (GSU) officer hanging in the balance.

Three years ago, Bilali ventured into professional boxing but faltered disappointingly in his debut and has never stepped into the ring since.

Following his success at the 2003 and 2007 All Africa Games in which he clinched gold medals in both editions, he earned the Head of State Commendation, but he would later lose his job as an officer at the disciplined forces empty-handed because of his deteriorating health.

He also lost his wealth and investment in mysterious circumstances to friends and family who took advantage of his mental state.