Twenty-five years after the former Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko visited Harvard amidst protests, eight-time NBA all-star and philanthropist Dikembe Mutombo spoke about development projects in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo—formerly known as Zaire—on Thursday at the Law School.
Towering over the podium, the seven-foot two-inch 18-year NBA veteran discussed the hospital he founded in the DRC’s capital Kinshasa, as well as efforts to improve education and prevent Congolese brain drain.
“The world is becoming one place,” Mutombo said, calling shortcomings in education and healthcare in West Africa the “responsibility of every human being living on this planet.”
Near the end of his basketball career, Mutombo launched a foundation in his name and opened a hospital in 2007. Today, the hospital has served over 120,000 people, according to the foundation, and offers many of its services for free or reduced costs.
Mutombo discussed the rapid outflow of doctors, who leave for higher wages in South Africa, Europe, and the U.S. To combat brain drain, Mutombo has funded training for over 400 doctors and nurses at his hospital, who have gone on to pursue careers in the DRC.
The outbreak of Ebola demonstrates the need for better healthcare in West Africa, Mutombo said, citing the lack of doctors and medical facilities in the countries most affected.
Today, Mutombo said he has set his sights on building a school on the outskirts of Kinshasa as well as a “welcome house” next to the hospital to accommodate volunteers and doctors.
“My motivation has always been to improve the wellbeing of the people of Africa,” said Mutombo, who currently serves as the NBA’s global ambassador. “I believe the Africa of my ancestors will be not be the Africa of my descendents.”
Mutombo grew up in then-Zaire, before matriculating to Georgetown University with the help of a USAID scholarship, and walked on to the basketball team in his sophomore year. After graduating with a degree in linguistics and diplomacy, Mutombo was drafted fourth overall in the NBA draft and quickly earned a reputation for his defensive skills.
Law School professor William P. Alford, who serves on the board of Special Olympics International with Mutombo, invited the former NBA player to campus and moderated a question and answer session. Following his address, Motumbo stopped by the Harvard men’s basketball team’s practice.
After Mutombo finished answering questions, a swarm of students surrounded the prolific shot blocker turned philanthropist.
"It was great to see a different perspective of him—we all know him as a basketball player,” said Law School student Daniel J. Binette. “He was really inspiring...[in] giving us a charge to make a difference in the world.”
—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.
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