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100 Most Influential Africans (2012): Science

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100 Most Influential Africans (2012): Science

Bright Simons, Ghana. The young and energetic founder of the award-winning technological start-up, MPedigree, Bright Simons ‘company is taking on the counterfeit drugs trade – a black market industry that accounts for as much as 10% of the pharmaceutical industry and results in the deaths of nearly one million people worldwide each year.

Simons hopes to save lives, however, as patients using his SMS message-based verification system will be able to cross check the validity of their drugs, with their manufacturers records stored in a centralised database.

“It’s the first time that innovations from Africa are going to other parts of the world. It’s changing the traditional story about the continent and demonstrating that Africa can be the source of groundbreaking innovations. This is a genuine reversal of the usual narrative.”

 

Juliana Rotich, Kenya

The power of information technology and social media has grown rapidly and has become a staple to Africa’s progress. But Kenyan-born tech boffin Juliana Rotich has taken computing to a new level through Ushahidi Inc, a web-based reporting system that utilises crowd-sourced data software to formulate visual map information, in crisis or violence-affected areas. Ushahidi was first used during the post-election violence that engulfed Kenya in 2007, helping the media to cover the violence effectively and put pressure on authorities to stop the bloodletting. In 2012, Ushahidi (“testimony” in Swahili) grew into a strong international organisation with worldwide branches.

“We started in one country in Africa and now the platform is used in 132 countries. Let’s explore what the future of real-time data can be.”

 

Calestous Juma, Kenya

A professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project at Harvard Kennedy School, Calestous Juma has played a key role in improving Africa’s developmental practices. Once an elementary school teacher in Kenya, Juma now advises nations on the ever more complex relationships between modern technological advancements and sustainable development. He runs Harvard’s Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project which describes poor infrastructure as Africa’s soft underbelly.

“Africa’s educational systems have so far paid little attention to training in the engineering fields and related business knowledge. This shortfall is likely to be filled by finding new ways of tapping into Africa’s diasporas.”

 

Edna Adan Ismail, Somalia

Edna Adan is at the forefront of the fight for women’s maternal health in Somaliland, is an unrecognised, self-declared state that used to be a region of Somalia. It has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. A former World Health Organisation civil servant, she returned home in 1997, after her retirement, to build the Edna Adan University Teaching Hospital of Somaliland in Hargesia, the region’s capital, in an area where no hospital had ever been built.

“My message to governments is to allocate more funds, instead of spending money on tanks and guns and bazookas… on health, education, infrastructure, water and sanitation. Education is one of the strongest gifts you can give to a human being and particularly to a woman in Africa.”

 

Herman Chinery-Hesse, Ghana

With fortune comes fame, and owning one of the largest software companies in West Africa certainly has its benefits. Often called Africa’s Bill Gates, Chinery-Hesse built up his company, like all good techies, from humble origins: his bedroom. Now his company, theSOFTtribe, has over 250 clients, as well as being an official ‘development partner’ for Microsoft in Ghana. Always on the hunt for new ideas, the Ghanaian has attained legendary status within the ICT sector. “Herman is the godfather of the software industry, not just in Ghana but in all of Africa,” says Eric Osiakwan, Ghanaian IT consultant.

“No matter how much money comes to us from outside aid and so on, our real investments are coming from within Africa, Brazil, China, India. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with Africa.”

 

Maryke Labuschagne, South Africa

Winner of the $100,000 Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Award earlier this year, Prof Labuschagne has worked tirelessly for the past 20 years in an effort to improve the durability of crops against many destructive elements common to the continent, such as heat, drought and diseases. She also undertakes training missions throughout Africa and has visited scientists in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Nigeria and Angola to name but a few.

“There is a real shortage of plant breeders on the continent. The more breeders we can involve in even the remotest of countries, the better for Africa.”

 

Michael Joseph, Kenya

Recently lured out of well earned “sabbatical” by telecoms giant Vodafone, Michael Joseph is a man in high demand. His decade-long stint as CEO of Kenya’s Safaricom resulted in one of the truly remarkable African revolutions in recent memory: M Pesa. Spearheaded by Joseph, the simple-to-use mobile banking system has transformed the banking industry in East Africa and propelled Safaricom from a mid-level mobile network operator into a visionary market leader. Now at Vodafone, he is looking to bring his radical brand of banking to the masses in Egypt, South Africa, Ghana and Tanzania.

“Mobile changes lives. It also transforms societies and economies: a 10% increase in mobile penetration in a country equates to a 1.2% increase in GDP growth.”

 

Tebello Nyokong, Lesotho

Professor Tebello Nyokong, born in Lesotho, is celebrated for dedicating most of her professional life doing scientific research and developing ground-breaking drugs for use in a relatively new form of cancer treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT). The effects of the treatment, unlike chemotherapy, can be localised, and as such offer a much cheaper and much less intrusive alternative. She is also involved in research for developing methods for the clean up of environmental pollutants such as insecticides and herbicides. The L’Oréal-Unesco Award for Women in Science winner is a rare role model for women studying science in Africa.

“My driving force is to succeed for the sake of all women, for all black people, and for Africans as a whole. I feel Africa has been portrayed as nothing but a continent of war and hunger, and I want to show that, that is not the case.”

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