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Ten Most Influential Africans. . by saninng (m): 12:07am on August 21
Sani Ibrahim
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,University
Agricultural economics and extension
100Level, Nigeria.
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1 Wangari Maathai.

Environmentalist, Kenya
“African women in general need to know that it’s OK for
them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as
strength, and to be liberated from fear and silence.”
That’s what Wangari Maathai said once. Those words
didn’t shock anyone, given her drive as an African woman
and her relentless fight for women’s liberation. Little
wonder, then, that Wangari was the first woman in East
and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree.
But her international recognition was for her persistent
struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental
conservation. The Green Belt Movement, which she
founded in 1977, has planted over 45 million trees around
Kenya so far, a feat that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize
in 2004. In her own words: “Until you dig a hole, you plant
a tree, you water it and make it survive you haven’t done
a thing. You are just talking.”
2 Chinua Achebe.

Novelist, Nigeria
Everybody has heard of the 1958 novel Things Fall Apart ,
the groundbreaking account that began Chinua Achebe’s
path to being one of Africa’s most prominent literary
figures. The book has sold over 12 million copies and
been translated into more than 50 languages. Chinua
Achebe fought colonialism and Western biases through
his writing, but more importantly he sought to revive
literature and to rewrite the story of a continent that had
long been told by Western voices. As well as influencing
African writing, Achebe’s work contained strong moral
energy that captured the loss that faced many Africans as
Western empires invaded and threatened their lives.
3 Kofi Annan.

Diplomat, Ghana
The first African to be elected from the ranks of UN staff,
Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the
United Nations. One of his biggest contributions – what
he calls his “personal priority” – is the fight against HIV/
AIDS. Annan will be remembered both for his Five-Point
Call to Action to combat the pandemic, and the creation
of the Global AIDS and Health Fund – which eventually
earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. The fund has
been instrumental in fighting HIV/AIDS and reducing its
prevalence considerably through various interventions. So
far, it has received some US$1.5 billion in pledges and
4 Nelson Mandela.

Statesman, South Africa
A man is born in 1918, in Transkei, South Africa. He flees
to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage. Works as
a watchman and then a clerk as he pursues a degree in
law. Activism knocks at his door and he joins the African
National Congress, establishing a youth league with one
Oliver Tambo and so begins the fight against apartheid.
The man and seven defendants are brought before a
judge in the famous Rivonia Trial. They escape the
gallows but face life imprisonment. The man, after the
sentence, says defiantly: “I have cherished the ideal of a
democratic and free society in which all persons live
together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an
ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs
be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
But the man doesn’t die. He spends 27 years in a horrible
prison, a former leper colony; Robben Island. He is
released as apartheid crumbles. The man becomes a free
South Africa’s first president. There is a Nobel Peace
Prize. And lots of advocacy work. On 5 December 2013
the man dies. Only some men just don’t die. They remain
a looming metaphor of lessons on humanity. Nelson
Mandela. Madiba!
5 Desmond Tutu.

Cleric, South Africa
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu played a
prominent role in ending apartheid by drawing
international attention to the iniquities of the regime.
Tutu was the first black person to hold the highest
position in the South African Anglican Church, as
Archbishop of Cape Town, and was also named the
president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. But
Tutu recalls what must have been his greatest honour –
the introduction of Nelson Mandela to the nation as the
new South African president. He remembers whispering to
God, “If I die now, it would be almost the perfect
moment. This is the theme for which we had all been
Desmond Tutu has earned his place alongside the world’s
foremost human rights activists. His teachings are not
just limited to his specific causes but cross the
boundaries to speak for oppressed people everywhere.
6 John Garang De Mabior
Liberator, South Sudan
Africa is the home of liberators, but none with the
tenacity and the charisma of John Garang. He is
remembered for his beard, bulky physique and the jet-
black skin of his Dinka ethnic group.
For more than 20 years he fought in one of Africa’s
longest-running bush wars as the leader of the Sudan
People’s Liberation Army to liberate the Christian, animist
South and the Muslim, Arab-speaking North. It’s his
efforts that eventually set a series of events that saw
South Sudan emerge as the independent state that it is
7 Kingsley Holgate.

Explorer and Humanitarian, South Africa
Holgate is easily Africa’s most colourful modern-day
explorer. He uses his travels to support rural communities
by distributing tens of thousands of mosquito nets to
pregnant mothers and children under the age of five, or
spectacles to those who can’t access optical services.
You’ve probably seen him on National Geographic
crossing rivers in dugout canoes, traversing deserts on
foot or probing some remote corner of Africa in a mud-
caked Land Rover. His most successful adventure was
called The Outside Edge – a 448-day, 33-country
expedition tracking the outline of Africa and promoting
malaria prevention. If you don’t remember Holgate for his
grisly, larger-than-life white mane, you will remember him
for the lives he has changed in Africa.
8 Julius Kambarage Nyerere.

Nationalist, Tanzania
‘Mwalimu’, as he was fondly referred to, belonged to a
generation of African post-independence leaders such as
Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah
who had unshakable beliefs in their mission to lead their
countries through their strong political ideologies.
It was these convictions that put Nyerere at the forefront
in the formation of the Organization of African Unity,
OAU, now the African Union. He was also the architect of
ujamaa, a socialist philosophy that revolutionised the
agricultural system.
Nyerere was a devoted pan-Africanist committing
resources, time and energy to foreign affairs that would
shape the landscape of countries such as Uganda (he
helped in ousting Idi Amin) and Burundi. To his credit he
stepped down peacefully and voluntarily at a time when
African presidents chose to cling onto power until their
deaths or coups.
9 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Stateslady, Liberia
In Africa women nurture, inspire and effectively raise
communities. Ellen is one of those women that continue
to inspire the girl-child. Her successes are numerous,
including being Africa’s first elected female Head of
She has also been ranked among the top 100 most
powerful women in the world by Forbes (2012), the first
most powerful woman in Africa (Forbes Africa 2011);
among the 10 best leaders in the world (Newsweek,
2010); among top 10 female leaders (Time, 2010); called
‘the best President the country has ever had’ (The
Economist, 2010); and as one of the six “Women of the
Year” (Glamour, 2010).
More notable is her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize award for her
‘non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for
women’s rights to full participation in peace-building
10 Paul Kagame.

Stateman, Rwanda
Kagame has as many detractors as he has fans, but one
thing is certain: Kagame has not only transformed a
country, but he has become Africa’s metaphor of
In 1994 Rwanda was engulfed by ethnic genocide and the
world watched in diplomatic stupor. Eventually, after over
a million deaths, Rwanda ended up being saved by one of
its own: Paul Kagame.
He did it by defeating Hutu extremist forces and by
creating a lasting peace, co-existence and economic
prosperity in a land that nobody thought would recover
from that harrowing time. Rwanda still hasn’t recovered
fully, but under Kagame the country has remained
peaceful and stable, earning it the title of Africa’s ‘biggest
success story’. Kagame is more than a saviour of
Rwandan people; he is the public advocate for new
models of foreign aid that has helped its country be self-
He might not be remembered for a lot of things, but for
sewing Rwanda together he deserves to be in Africa’s
history books.

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