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Most Influential Africans of 2021
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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