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.
Adam Habib, Academic – South Africa
Prof. Habib is one of the leading academics in South Africa and Africa. A colleague called him a tough, uncompromising academic and thought leader. The Vice Chancellor of Wits University is a prominent political commentator. Sought after by the local media, he is a true opinion-shaper in his country, and his writings on a number of diverse subjects including democracy, development issues and institutional reform mean he has vastly transcended his borders. Despite being recognised as one of the best institutions in Africa, Wits has suffered flagging pass and completion rates, as well as fractious management-teacher relations. His vision is to make it a top 100 global university by 2022.
Calestous Juma, Scientist – Kenya
The dazzling progress of the Harvard Kennedy School-based scientist, Professor Calestous Juma, has not fallen away since he last appeared on the list. This down-to-earth intellectual continues to trailblaze in science and sustainable development, with a specific focus on Africa. Juma is a strong advocate of the importance of science and innovation on the continent. He directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project and serves as Faculty Chair of the Innovation for Economic Development executive programme. Science and technology is a big focus in his work and he has never wasted an opportunity to promote it.
Francisca Nneka Okeke, Scientist – Nigeria
Francisca Okeke, a Professor of Physics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, recently received the much coveted L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award for her contribution to the understanding of climate change. In a male-dominated industry, Okeke has proved to be a true role model to women not just in Nigeria but across Africa, and is a big advocate of more women in science. Her specialisation, changes in the upper atmosphere, could prove critical to foreseeing the advent of adverse weather patterns and also, dramatic phenomena like tsunami and earthquakes. Driven by an unquenchable thirst to find answers, Prof. Okeke plans to plough her prize money into even more research.
Kelvin Doe, Engineer – Sierra Leone
Once a person gets invited to speak at a TED event then it’s an indication that you are a game-changer. Kelvin Doe is one such young person. As a young boy in rural Sierra Leone, he would pick up scrap metal and discarded electronic materials and invent gadgets. He invented a radio transmitter and started broadcasting as DJ Focus, giving a voice to the young people in his community. At age 14 he enrolled in GMin’s Innovate Salone ideas competition, building a generator from scrap metal, which led to him being invited to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the “Visiting Practitioner’s Program”, the youngest person ever to be accorded that privilege. A video of his story was put on YouTube and instantly went viral, garnering over four million views in a short space of time. A true star in the making.
Margaret Mungherera, Psychiatrist – Uganda
Dr Margaret Mungherera is the first woman of African descent to be at the helm of the World Medical Association (WMA). This Ugandan is known to be a straight shooter and brazen in her actions to improve healthcare in Africa. She has commented that it is a good thing she is President of the WMA because Africa is where the institution needed to be more active. Dr Mungherera comes from a background of medical practitioners and always knew she wanted to be a doctor, though she did not initially think she would reach these heights.