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Most Influential Africans of 2021

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Most Influential Africans of 2021

New African editor Anver Versi welcomes readers once again to our annual celebration of the brightest and best Africans of the last year.

Welcome to our selection of the 100 Most Influential Africans of 2021 – see below for the full list.

Over the years since we first started publishing this listing, its reach and significance have grown beyond our wildest expectations.

That is just how it should be and vindicates our decision to provide an annual showcase for Africa’s best and brightest. Recognising, honouring and celebrating the achievements of those who go the extra mile in their endeavours and whose efforts positively affect the lives of others near and far has long been a tradition in most societies.

Marking such distinction takes many forms – from community and industry to national honours. The British in particular have taken the awarding of ‘gongs’ to an almost mythical level, forever changing the lives, and often fortunes, of those who receive them.

Then the major international awards such as the Nobel Prize also create their own magic and many times raise often obscure individuals, toiling away unseen and unnoticed on their passions, into the full beam of the global spotlight – such as happened to our very own winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah.

At the international level, in parallel with the national and industry awards (such as the Oscars for film; Grammys for the recording industry and Emmys for TV) has been the massive popularity of the Most Influential awards – which cut across various disciplines as well as nationalities.

It is believed that the first version of this began with a book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, by Michael H. Hart in 1978. Hart’s criterion was how the course of human history was changed due to the actions of the people ranked – for better or for worse.

The book became very popular and was often used as reference material and to support or disprove arguments about historical figures. Time magazine, perhaps the best regarded publication not only in the US but around the world, picked up on it and in 1999, published its first Time 100 feature.

The people who appear on the list are recognised for doing something to change the world – regardless of the consequences of their actions. The final list of influencers is chosen by the editors of Time after consultations with their international staff as well as alumni of the list.

The listing continues to have a powerful impact across the world.

Swimming against the tide

New African has been published for over 50 years, charting the Africa story from the time of when the continent began to be liberated, through its growing pains to where it is today – but for most of this time, we swam against the current during an era when global news was controlled by the Western media.

African affairs were relegated to the sidelines most of the time – unless there were wars – and analysis was often simplistic and negative.

African personalities did not make the news unless they were classified as dictators or projected as strange or weird. Even the athletes who won gold medals were portrayed as strange anomalies – their achievements the result of poverty or natural climatic conditions.

Of the continent’s entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, writers, social workers, philosophers, thinkers, academics, adventurers, sportspeople in general, there was hardly ever a mention.

What was insidious was that apart from our publication, and a few others that followed, the pan-African communications space was owned by the large Western media – The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Economist and the US giants, CNN, Time and Newsweek.

They banged on about what the novelist Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie has called the ‘single story’ of African negativity. African achievement could not get a look-in. Given the scope of the Western press and the esteem it was held in, reinforced by powerful radio broadcasts that shaped the news and views of the day, many Africans came to believe in their own sense of worthlessness compared to others.

Some have described this as an enervating ‘colonial hangover’ that has been difficult to shake off even after generations.

But we who had come from different corners of Africa to London to work on the magazine, knew better. The Africa we knew was rich in character and humour and talent and we could not recognise the Africa that was being portrayed by the big publications. We set out to tell the African story the Africa way and to celebrate our Africanness – and we still do that today. While attitudes are changing, there is still a long way to go.

In this regard, our annual listing of the 100 Most Influential Africans has been playing a crucial role – as interest in the listing goes well beyond the continent’s borders. It gives us a chance to celebrate achievements and find hidden gems of talent and effort in our great continent.

Despite the lockdown and the havoc caused to everyday life and business by the pandemic, we have managed to find 100 inspiring stories to tell – including how the creatives, once shunned from the global stage until recently, are now dominating it.

Discover the 100 Most Influential Africans of 2021 in our six categories: Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Changemakers, Opinion Shapers, Creatives and Sportspeople – click on the links in the list below for their full biographies.

Most Influential Africans of 2021

Leaders

Akinwumi Adesina, President, AfDB, Nigeria

Aziz Akhannouch, Prime Minister, Morocco

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor, Sierra Leone

Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, Director, ARC, Senegal

Samia Suluhu Hassan, President, Tanzania

Hakainde Hichilema, President, Zambia

Paul Kagame, President, Ruanda

Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy, UNFSS, Rwanda

Martha Koome, Chief Justice, Kenya

Kwasi Kwarteng, Politician, Ghana

Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General, AfCFTA, South Africa

John Nkengasong, Director, Africa CDC, Cameroon

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General, WTO

Ali Bongo Ondimba, President, Gabon

Benedict Oramah, President, Afreximbank

Félix Tshisekedi, President, DR Congo

Entrepreneurs

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Tech Guru / Investor, Nigeria

Olugbenga Agboola, Techpreneur, Nigeria

Mimi Alemayehou, Independent Director, Twitter, Ethiopia / Kenya

Roberta Annan, Investor, Ghana

Aliko Dangote, Industrialist, Nigeria

Tomi Davies, Investor, Nigeria

Makhtar Diop, Managing Director, IFC, Senegal

Serge Ekué, President, BOAD, Benin

Isaac Fokuo, Investor, Ghana

Ilham Kadri, CEO, Solvay Group, Morocco

Strive Masiyiwa, Entrepreneur, Zimbabwe

Ralph Mupita, CEO, MTN, Zimbabwe

Alioune Ndiaye, CEO, Orange MEA, Senegal

Myriam Sidibe, Marketer, Mali

Patrick Soon-Shiong, Entrepreneur / Inventor, South Africa

Bosun Tijani, Techpreneur, Nigeria

Victor Williams, CEO, NBA Africa, Sierra Leone

Lionel Zinsou, Financier, Benin

Moez-Alexandre Zouari, Retail, Tunisia

Changemakers

Ayoade Alakija, Health Activist, Nigeria

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Scientist, Eritrea

Mary-Jane Bopape, Climatologist, South Africa

Rebecca Enonchong, Tech Entrepreneur, Cameroon

Timnit Gebru, Computer Scientist, Ethiopia / Eritrea

Julie Gichuru, Media Personality, Kenya

Aida Habtezion, Scientist, Eritrea

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Activist, Chad

Anne-Marie Imafidon, Mathematics Wizard, Nigeria

Paula Kahumbu, Conservationist, Kenya

Sefora Kodjo Kouassi, Activist, Côte d’Ivoire

David Makara, Lawyer, Kenya

Ndoni Mcunu, Climate Scientist, South Africa

Vanessa Nakate, Climate Activist, Uganda

Catherine Ngila, Research Scientist, Kenya

Reine Dominique Ntone Sike, Aerospace Engineer, Cameroon

Angelique Pouponneau, Environmentalist, Seychelles

Jeremiah Thoronka, Inventor, Sierra Leone

Opinion Shapers

Simon Allison, Journalist, South Africa

Zain Asher, TV Anchor, Nigeria

Hopewell Chin’ono, Journalist, Zimbabwe

Edward Enninful, Editor, Vogue, Ghana

E. Gyimah-Boadi, Political Scientist, Ghana

Afua Hirsch, Writer, Ghana

Khabane Lame , TikToker, Senegal

Zyad Limam, Publisher / Editor, Tunisia

Lesley Lokko, Architect / Educator, Ghana

Achille Mbembe, Political Scientist, Cameroon

Dambisa Moyo, Economist, Zambia

Nnenna Nwakanma, Web Activist, Nigeria

David Olusoga, Historian, Nigeria

Hannah Ryder, Economist, Kenya

Minouche Shafik, Economist, Egypt

Zainab Usman, Commentator, Nigeria

Rama Yade, Director, Atlantic Council, Senegal

Creatives

Virgil Abloh, Fashion Designer, Ghana

Yemi Alade, Singer, Nigeria

Osei Bonsu, Curator, Ghana

Sami Bouajila, Actor, Tunisia

Michaela Coel, Actress, Director, Writer, Ghana

David Diop, Writer, Senegal

Bernardine Evaristo, Writer, Nigeria

Damon Galgut, Author, South Africa

Abdulrazak Gurnah, Writer, Tanzania

Cush Jumbo, Actress, Nigeria

Daniel Kaluuya, Actor, Uganda

KiDi, Singer-Songwriter, Ghana

Pulane Kingston, Art Collector, South Africa

Sidney Kombo-Kintombo, Special Effects Artist, R Congo

Elsa Majimbo, Comedienne, Kenya

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Writer, Senegal

Thuso Mbedu, Actress, South Africa

Lupita Nyong’o, Actress, Film Maker, Kenya

Abel Selaocoe, Musician, South Africa

Wizkid, Singer, Nigeria

Marie-Cécile Zinsou, Art Historian, Benin

Sportspeople

Letesenbet Gidey, Athlete, Ethiopia

Ahmed Ayoub Hafnaoui, Swimmer, Tunisia

Sifan Hassan, Athlete, Ethiopia

Ons Jabeur, Tennis Player, Tunisia

Eliud Kipchoge, Athlete, Kenya

Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon, Athlete, Kenya

Francis Ngannou, UFC Boxer, Cameroon

Mo Salah, Footballer, Egypt

Nafissatou (Nafi) Thiam, Athlete, Senegal

Written by Anver Versi with Omar Ben Yedder, Gail Collins, Neil Ford, Clayton Goodwin, Wanjohi Kabukuru, Shoshana Kedem, Michael Renouf and David Thomas.

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