Denis Mukwege, DR Congo
This Nobel Prize-nominated Congolese gynecologist, described as tireless, inspirational and selfless, has spent the past 10 years treating and saving the lives of over 30,000 women victims of sexual violence in his home country of DRCongo. In September, as an outspoken critic of the horrors the resource-war has inflicted on women, he made a speech at the UN condemning the “impunity of mass rape in DRC” and criticised both President Joseph Kabila and the Rwandan government’s role in the conflict in Eastern Congo. A month later, he survived when armed men ambushed his South Kivu home, held his two young daughters at gunpoint, shot at him and killed his guard. He survived and fled to Brussels.
“This violence has been going on for 16 years! 16 years of errancy; 16 years of torture; 16 years of mutilation; 16 years of the destruction of women, the only vital Congolese resource… the international community has shown its lack of courage… But until when must we continue, helpless, to witness the massacres?”
Chouchou Namegabe, DR Congo
With the horrific violence against women and children still pervasive in eastern DRCongo, Chouchou Namegabe is a pioneering voice for justice in the country. She is credited for her bravery in highlighting the use of rape as a weapon of war in DRCongo. Her daring move to broadcast the “graphic testimonies” of rape survivals was met with resistance and threats, but she hasn’t been deterred. She is a co-founder and director of the South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM), which empowers women through the media.
“As a journalist, I don’t have guns to fight against rape and sexual violence, but I have my own weapon which is the microphone. By giving my microphone to victims, to tell their stories, it’s the first way to help them heal. When the victims speak, their voices call for actions. We want this war against women to end. It’s really a big crime.”
Kandeh Yumkella, Sierra Leone
Kandeh Yumkella is the director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. He is a brilliant commentator we should be paying attention to. Since he took over at the helm of UNIDO, he has raised the issues in the world’s major forums of the impact of industrial pollution, green energy and industry, and technology transfer, and how they impact the developing world. Last year he was also tasked with heading the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All intitiative. In October, he was the recipient of the prestigious UN Global Leadership Award, which salutes leaders from a variety of sectors.
“I fervently believe that economic growth and the fight against climate change should not just proceed hand in hand; they are two parts of the same whole. Again, effective international cooperation must be the cornerstone of renewal.”
Jay Naidoo, South Africa
Well-known in South Africa for his no-nonsense approach to “getting the job done”, Naidoo is one of the key drivers of development and change on the continent. His past achievements have earned him numerous accolades across the globe but it is his current undertakings that excite us the most. He recently launched a unique social initiative programme – as part of an investment and management company he co-founded – aimed at promoting sustainable models of development. He is also chairman of the influential Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition organisation tasked with combating malnutrition throughout the globe.
“Who benefits from the inefficiencies at our borders; the failure to connect our infrastructure; who benefits from the murky world of bureaucratic red tape that hides the corruption?”
Michel Sidibé, Mali
Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), advocates coordinated international action against the disease. With scientific developments that will allow millions to be treated and prevent the spread of infection, he believes that the end of the Aids pandemic is in sight. There has been a 20% worldwide decline in the number of infections since 2001. However, he is under no illusion that the battle has been totally won – there is still the poverty, gender inequality, homophobia, prejudice and funding shortages that mean the disease continues to put millions at risk.
“Ending Aids is as much a social challenge as a clinical one. One of the clearest lessons of the past three decades is that illiteracy and poverty fuel the spread of HIV and that education can slow it.”
Hadeel Ibrahim, Sudan
Hadeel Ibrahim, daughter of the famed billionaire philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, had big shoes to fill, but fill them she did. As founding director of Africa’s premier good-governance watchdog, The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, she is already dramatically shaping developmental issues on the continent. Along with her work for the foundation, she currently sits on the board of a number of organisations. She has the ear of her father and is increasingly the spokesperson for the foundation. She will take some stopping when she eventually takes over the reigns of her father’s foundation.
“There hasn’t been a lot to inspire confidence since the early 1980s. People internalise what they hear and see about themselves – and this is a night that celebrates excellence and achievement.”
Craça Machel, Mozambique
Graça Machel, or Mama Africa as she is affectionately known, still commands huge international respect. The forthright activist is still highly involved on many fronts, in civil society with her own association helping women and the underprivileged. She is also a key member of the business community, especially in her home country of Mozambique. She sits on the board of a number of international organisations focusing on development and governance in Africa.
“When we empower girls, everybody benefits. Yet the reality is that women are still treated as second-class citizens of this world”
Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Kenya
Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is the founder and executive director of the Kenya-based Akili Dada, an award-winning leadership incubator nurturing a generation of young African women. Educator and philanthropist, Kamau-Rutenberg works at the intersection of academia and social entrepreneurship. Her vision is to educate and empower young African girls to become future leaders, who will help shape the continent’s destiny.
“Women are really not being engaged in decision-making. Part of what we are trying to do is to make sure there are women at the table, who are well equipped to make a valuable contribution in positions of influence and ensure they are educated, articulate and prepared.”
Dr Frannie Léautier, Tanzania
With Africa buoyed by a positive economic climate, the role of capacity building on the continent is more important than ever before. Dr Frannie Léautier is one of Africa’s leading women, heading one of the continent’s most important organisations – the Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). The ACBF has been so successful during her tenure that the Tanzanian-born academic has become a powerful voice in Africa’s advancement agenda. Her words are increasingly taken as a call to positive action.
“As Africans, we must think with our hearts, but also with our heads in order to bring back the confidence and the can-do spirit we had in the 1960s. If we can get that right, as one billion people with a common destiny, we will be bigger than China.”