What is influence and how do you measure it? It will always be hard to agree on a common understanding and meaning of influence.
Understandably, this always generates wide debate. How do we determine these people’s influence? And why does it matter that we assemble this list, you may ask. One yardstick we used was to emphasise that influence is not about popularity and popularity is not always influential. The influencer’s impact on public, social and political discourse, however, is what largely helps us determine their influence. They contributed in redefining the African narrative in 2013 and we feel they will play a big role in 2014 – hopefully, for Africa’s good.
Idris Elba, Actor – Sierra Leone/Ghana
A much sought-after film and television actor, Elba was born in London to a Sierra Leonean father and Ghanaian mother. He has taken both Hollywood and TV acting by storm, in hits such as The Wire and Luther. But film critics believe his lead character in the recently released the film adaption of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, – which has already been awarded the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Los Angeles Britannia Humanitarian Award – could be the- game changing role of his career.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author – Nigeria
Adichie is unstoppable. 2013 has been yet another good year for this daughter of Nigerian soil with two major accomplishments to file under her name: the release, to unprecedented acclaim, of her much anticipated novel Americanah and the release of the movie adaptation of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Yes, it has been a good year, but Adichie does not look like a lady who will be slowing down in 2014. As someone who is not afraaid to confront the difficult subjects of race, gender and politics, and is a proud African, who continues to campaign against the one-story narrative about Africa, we can’t wait to see what she will do next.
Alek Wek, Supermodel – South Sudan
The influential fashion magazine I:D has dubbed her “Model of the Decade”. The US’s People magazine listed her as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People”. But the Sudanese model’s influence extends far beyond the fashion world and societal concepts of beauty. As a former refugee, Alek knows what it is like to be forced to flee one’s home. Hence, she is a passionate advocate for refugee rights. She is a world- acclaimed role model who transcends her industry.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Actor – Nigeria/UK
Chiwetel Ejiofor has the lead role in two of 2013’s biggest films – 12 Years A Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, and the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning novel, Half of A Yellow Sun, directed by Biyi Bandele. His portrayal of former South African president Thabo Mbeki in the new Channel 4 drama Endgame was also another stellar performance. Prior to the theatre release of both films, Ejiofor won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Patrice Lumumba in A Season in The Congo, a theatre production about the first democratically elected leader of the DRCongo at The Young Vic theatre in London. Born to Nigerian parents in the UK, the award-winning actor is garnering an Oscar buzz for his mesmerising performance in 12 Years A Slave. The roles he has taken on this year prove once again what an African A-list, Oscar-deserving actor he is. Will 2014 be his year?
David Adjaye, Architect – Ghana/UK
David Adjaye is a Ghanaian-British whose architectural firm won the contract to design and build the US Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington DC, which is due to be unveiled in two years. Adjaye admits this is one of the most important commissions of his career. At the young age of 45, he has accomplished what most in his career can only dream of. His firm has also been shortlisted in a competition to build the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Adjaye is one of a handful of African architects with global renown, transcending his profession to become a global commentator on architecture, design and politics.
DJ Sbu, Producer – South Africa
Sbusiso Leope, popularly known as DJ Sbu, is not only a media personality and businessman but through his music and his engagement with the South African youth he has become a cult figure and is considered an epitome of South African popular culture. Despite his harsh upbringing in the deprived township of Tembisa, he has overcome his obstacles and is today helping shape positive youth culture. He hosts the Sound Revival show on Metro radio and appears on the most popular TV game show in the country – Friends Like These. He co-owns the record label TS Records with TK Nciza, and the current South African premier music sensation Zahara is signed to their label. Sbu has truly inspired many, particularly the youth this past year. He gives three talks a week to disadvantaged schools around South Africa and helps offer bursaries and mentorship.
Don Jazzy, Music Producer – Nigeria
One cannot talk about contemporary Nigerian music without a mention of Don Jazzy, described as Africa’s number one beat maker. Founder and CEO of Mavin Records, Michael Collins Ajereh, 31, is better known as Don Jazzy and is an award-winning record producer and singer-songwriter. Before he set up Mavin Records, he was head to Mo’ Hit Records, which at its height was home to some of Nigeria’s most successful artists, like D’Banj. He has produced hit songs for some of the biggest names in Nigeria’s music industry including; D’Banj, Tiwa Savage, Dr SID and Wande Coal.
Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Fashion – South Africa
A businesswoman and humanitarian, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe has redefined the African fashion landscape with the yearly showcases produced by African Fashion International (AFI), the company behind Mercedes-Benz fashion weeks in South Africa. A medical doctor by profession and a fashion connoisseur by passion, she transitioned into the fashion world when she realised that the fashion and clothing industry can play an important role in entrepreneurship. She has since gone on to place the African fashion industry on a global platform through AFI. She also heads the Motsepe Family Foundation, which focuses on projects that positively impact on people’s health, education and the nurturing of young talent.
El Anatsui, Artist – Ghana
He is revered by critics and art lovers on both sides of the Atlantic, and an inspiration to a young generation of African artists. El Anatsui is one of the most exciting contemporary visual artists on the international art scene today. His work transcends boundaries and he has received widespread international acclaim for his sculptural experiments. His iconic “bottle-top installations” have provoked international attention with institutions queuing up to acquire these monumental work for their art space. Over time, his work, which is mostly compromised of large external installations, has been installed and exhibited in some of the world’s most prestigious art institutions.
Lupita Nyong’o, Actress – Kenya
Lupita Nyong’o’s breakout role as Patsey – a brutally abused plantation worker – in 12 Years A Slave, has earned her an Oscar buzz for her first feature film. She recently won the New Hollywood Award at the annual Hollywod Film Awards. Prior to 12 Years A Slave, she starred in the ground-breaking MTV Base series Shuga, about “the lives of sexually active young Kenyans [which] highlights the risks associated with unprotected sex” and the impact of HIV/Aids. Her role as Ayira catapulted Nyong’o to the attention of audiences in Kenya, and across Africa.
Omar Sy, Actor – Senegal
Omar Sy, half Senegalese and half Mauritian, has been described as France’s first black superstar, making waves by starring in the highly acclaimed and highest grossing French film in decades, The Intouchables. He received the Caesar Award, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for the role. This has catapulted Sy to global recognition and he will feature in the upcoming X-Men – Days of Future Past movie. 2014 looks good for this young, gifted and African talent.
Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, Actress – Nigeria
To her global fans, Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde embodies true African beauty beyond measure. But there is more to the Nigerian sex bomb popular known as Omosexy. The gorgeous actress and mother of four’s meteoric rise in 2013 – a year which saw her become the first African celebrity to reach 1 million likes on Facebook, and named as one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine for their annual Time 100 list. Her debut reality show, Omotola: The Real Me, made headlines as the most popular TV series across Africa. But that was not all! It fixated her millions of fans, revealing fascinating insights into one of Africa’s most recognised faces. She is also increasingly becoming a social activist in her own right, although a vocal critic of the current African political dispensation. Despite her popularity, she has no political ambitions. Yet.
P Square, Musicians Nigeria
Peter and Paul Okoyo have defined and set a benchmark for a new generation of Nigerian and African artists to follow with their energetic and infectious sound. According to the MTV Africa Website, their music is “Afrocentric in that it combines western and African rhythms in creating a marvellous blend of R&B, Hip Hop and Dancehall songs.” Hit after hit, the twin brothers have become apt at giving audiences songs that cut across age, gender and geographical boundaries. They are arguably Nigeria’s biggest musical export in the last few years, and have collaborated with some of the world’s biggest hip-hop artists, like Akon.
Trevor Noah, Comedian – South Africa
Trevor Noah grew up in Soweto, and has used his life experiences to build a career as a comedian of note, possibly being Africa’s most internationally popular comedian. Noah started working on stage and television in South Africa, but has since spread his wings, selling out tours in Europe and the US.
Fatoumata Diawaraa, Musician – Mali
The multi-talented Malian singer-songwriter is truly a non-conformist; she defied tradition and escaped Mali as a teenager when under pressure from her family to get married. Today, Diawara is using her music to expose the cultural prejudices faced by women across Africa and the world. Her self-titled debut album, Fatou was released to international acclaim. She has toured Europe and the US and earlier this year organised renowned musicians across Mali to do a Peace song for the nation during the days it was under threat from militants.
NoViolet Bulawayo, Author – Zimbabwe
NoViolet Bulawayo won the Caine Prize for African writing in 2012, and this year has been shortlisted for the coveted Man Booker Prize for her novel We Need New Names. This makes her the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be accorded this honour. With accolades from far and wide for the beautifully written We Need New Names, not only will she continue to play an important role in African writing, there is no doubt that a new star of African female writing is truly born. The one-to-watch.