100 Most influential Africans of 2015.

Author:Idris, Ahmed
Position:Cover story

The year 2015 saw powerful alliances made or broken; elections won and lost; influential positions obtained or denied; the battle against Ebola largely won; economies boom and others stumble; business deals secured whilst others crumbled; innovation and creativity was redefined by African geniuses; sporting history was made and new faces and heroes of the field emerged. It is also the year African leaders took even bigger steps in pushing the AU's Agenda 2063, amid heightened civil activism demanding a better Africa. We look back on the year and highlight the men, women and movements that shaped 2015 in all these fields--the New African 100 Most Influential Africans.

Politics and Public Office


President Muhammadu Buhari

Man of the moment

By James Schneider

Writing of a French coup in the 19th century, one great thinker wrote that history repeats itself "first as tragedy, then as farce". For Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria, a late 20th century coup may have ended in tragedy, but Buhari's triumphant return to Aso Rock through the ballot box this year was far from a farce.

Buhari started 2015 as the underdog in Nigeria's most significant election since 1993. The former military ruler was the flagbearer for a powerful opposition, united for the first time. He had a great deal of popular support and was undergoing an ultimately successful image makeover. However, his opponent, the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, had the power of the state security services harassed journalists and opposition politicians--and huge campaign funds: newspapers practically doubled in size during the election period with pro-Jonathan adverts and supplements.

Then, in early February, the military postponed the elections for six weeks. The official reason was to fight Boko Haram, but many feared foul play. History might repeat itself: 1993 the tragedy, 2015 the farce. The 1993 elections were meant to transfer power from a decade of military rule, which Buhari himself started with his 1983 coup, to a civilian, elected government. Instead, MKO Abiola won the election but military ruler Ibrahim Babangida annulled it, ushering in another six years of dictatorship.

But the farce wasn't to be. When elections were eventually held at the end of March and beginning of April, Buhari and his All Progressives Congress swept to victory. Jonathan conceded defeat around 12 hours after New African was the first outlet in the world to project a Buhari victory. The doom mongers had warned that elections could even lead to civil war. Instead, the world watched as Nigeria had its first transfer of power from one party to another at the ballot box, in elections that were generally fair and mostly free of violence.

Buhari's first six months as elected president, having assumed office on 29 May, were focused on two things--tackling corruption and Boko Haram--and overshadowed by one: a lack of a cabinet. The president, elected as an anti-corruption broom to sweep out Nigeria's stables, has received praise for his efforts to make Nigeria's petroleum sector and ministry finances more transparent. He has also successfully increased cooperation between Nigeria and its neighbours in the fight against Boko Haram.

Buhari finally swore in his cabinet on 11 November. But much of the government's power will remain centralised with the president. Not only will he be the oil minister, but his appointments suggest he will continue to be the driving force in defence, foreign, and much of economic policy. 2015 was Buhari's year. With power seemingly so centralised in his hands, Nigeria will need him to repeat the feat in 2016.


Goodluck Jonathan

Gracious in defeat

2015 should have been a year to forget for Goodluck Jonathan. He entered the history books as the first Nigerian president to be voted out of office. His People's Democratic Party's (PDP) 16-year run in power that started with the return to civilian rule ended under his watch. In November, the PDP tried to distance itself from Jonathan, suggesting he was the wrong candidate and shouldn't have been the flagbearer in 2015 and even in 2011.

However, losing power and accepting that loss is likely to be Jonathan's greatest legacy and history will treat him kindly for it. It was Jonathan that appointed the independent-spirited Attahiru Jega to head the electoral commission. Jonathan endorsed Jega's process of improving the fairness of Nigeria's elections, which ultimately led to the president's ouster.

It should not be forgotten that halfway through the results being announced--a process that took two days--Godsday Orubebe, a Jonathan ally from the Niger Delta, disrupted proceedings accusing Jega of "tribalism" in what was later reported by Reuters to be part of a plot to kidnap the election supremo. Jonathan's brief phone call to concede defeat and then his request to his more excitable supporters to respect the result did much to prevent disaster.

The zoologist from Bayelsa came to power after his predecessor died, ending a possible constitutional crisis, and left power in a manner that avoided another potential crisis. His successes and failures on policy can be debated, but he helped entrench constitutional and electoral norms. For this, he will be well remembered.

Profiled by James Schneider


Amina J. Mohammed

She's got the goals

Amina J. Mohammed is a technocrat with serious pedigree. She has spent the last three years as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning. In other words, Mohammed is Ms Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, for the billions of people across the world whose lives will be influenced by the SDGs over the next 15 years, Mohammed is one of the most influential people they may not have heard of.

Hardly a stranger to the public in her native Nigeria, her profile rose further towards the end of the year when she became one of only four female ministers appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. In a widely praised appointment, Mohammed is now Nigeria's environment minister.


Attahiru Jega

The deliverer

It is not often that quiet academics become national heroes and pop culture icons. Attahiru Jega completed this feat and played a role of enormous historical importance for his country during his five years as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Jega oversaw two presidential elections. His first, which saw incumbent Goodluck Jonathan defeat long-time challenger and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, was a dramatic improvement on the 2007 election.

This year's re-run was Jega's crowning glory. Under enormous pressure from the state, security services, the media, and the military, Jega was able to deliver a system of biometric voter registration that secured a much freer and fairer election. The opposition won for the first time.

With his job done, Jega retired in June this year. His unflappability in the face of endless challenges and complications spawned the slogan "Keep Jega and carry on" (a play on "Keep calm and carry on", a British World War II poster).

What other electoral commission heads can claim such a record--and their own poster?


Mmusi Maimane

The new rabble-rouser

"A black leader of South Africa's 'white' opposition" is how one popular British newspaper announced his appointment as leader of the official white-dominated opposition party--the Democratic Alliance (DA)--in May this year. Another newspaper described Maimane (pictured below)--a theology graduate--as "The Obama of Soweto", referring to his hugely popular oratory skills, both in parliament and public speaking. His ascendance to the helm of the DA was a moment that was described as a game-changer in South African politics and as predicted the 35-year-old has definitely realigned South Africa's political discourse in 2015. The youthful leader has not been afraid to bare his teeth--who can forget that "you are a broken man residing over a broken society" jab at President Jacob Zuma during this year's State of the Nation address. Maimane has also increasingly amassed the support of black youths to a party once viewed as untouchable by the majority black population. The world watches what will become of this "young Turk"--come the next elections.


Paul Kagame

The intrepid agitator

When the head of the Rwandan secret service was arrested in London on the back of a Spanish arrest warrant, the president of the country, Paul Kagame, made a vitriolic attack against the West, likening the act to slavery and colonialism. Needless to say, and with the support of Cherie Blair--a personal friend of the President--in her role as QC, the detainee was soon released. Kagame is considered by some as a strong man who delivers results, a 'benign autocrat' who has transformed his country. The question now is, will he run for a third term? Irrespective, Kagame remains one of the most articulate and listened-to leaders, who is influencing the global discourse on Africa and has changed the fortunes of his country.


Malema's EEF

The non-conforming radicals

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, led by its maverick sharp-tongued leader Julius Malema, is unarguably an entity whose influence in 2015, love or loathe it, cannot be brushed aside. Its mantras, especially those that tear apart the ruling ANC's failures in providing for the basic needs of its majority black population, more than two decades after the fall of apartheid, has been the strength and making of the EFF. The party, popular with the disgruntled youth, has gained further traction this year by championing the highly publicised youth-led campaigns #rhodesmustfall and recently, #feesmustfall, which achieved policy change. This is not to forget how Malema constantly reminds the Zuma government of its failures in the 2012 Marikana mining massacres, in which police shot and killed 34 innocent striking miners. So popular is the EFF that its...

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