As has become customary for several years now, New African publishes its annual listing of the 100 Most Influential Africans (MIA) of 2019, as thoughts turn to the end of the year and preparations for a brand new one to come.
The MIA listing also provides a rapid review of some of the major events and developments across the continent through bite-sized highlights of achievements of individuals in various countries and in virtually all sectors of life.
As in previous listings, and in keeping with the UN's International Year for People of African Descent, we make no distinction between Africans living and working in the continent and those in the diaspora. Both have germinated from the African seed.
How have Africans fared in 2019 compared to previous years and in what ways have they been most influential? There is no easy answer to this as there are so many variables to consider and the world outside Africa itself has been undergoing some extraordinary changes.
That said, perhaps we will look back to this year as one of great vintage. Politically, the people have asserted their rights and in Sudan and Algeria, forced regime changes--putting leaders on notice that they remain the masters of their fates.
By and large, some political leaders, as well as those running continental institutions, put the interests of their people ahead of their own ambitions. It did not come as a surprise that Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize. We believe our listing reflects this aspect of the continent's politics.
We also of course recognise the enormous but often unsung contribution of those indefatigable souls who have dedicated their lives to improving the lot of the ill, the marginalised, the victimised and the vulnerable.
Africa's economy has had something of a rollercoaster ride--with peaks of performance countered by troughs of regression--especially in the battle against poverty.
But again we find champions at both ends represented in our listing.
But an increasing number of what are termed 'disrupters'--those that eschew traditional approaches to business and set off on original paths--are appearing in our listings.
This is wonderful news as these are the pioneers who are providing new solutions for often age--old problems.
In the world of arts, culture and sport--the essential soft power that defines nations--Africa has been going from strength to strength. This is one arena where Africa and the world compete--if that is the right word--on a level playing field.
The yardstick for sporting prowess, whether that is in breaking athletic records, winning world trophies or displaying exceptional skills, is universal. So is artistic achievement in writing, acting, music, fashion. Talent--not entrenched economic, military or political power--is the determinant for success.
And as our listing clearly shows, Africa is full of talent. What is more, this talent can and does travel--whether it takes the form of acting in huge movie blockbusters, or fronting TV shows, or winning literary awards--African talent is rocking the" world.
Written and edited by reGina Jane Jere and Anver Versi.
With Omar Ben Yedder, David Thomas, Tom Collins, Shoshana Kedem and Naomi Nwauzu
Politics & Public Service
'Blooming in agriculture and now booming in banking' aptly describes the career curve that defines the bow-tie-loving Akinwumi Adesina, the former Nigerian agriculture minister who is now president of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Adesina is on a mission to prove that Africa is bankable. He has created a dealmaking platform through the Africa Investment Forum but his crowning achievement this year was the record capital increase for the AfDB. The bank continues to be the standard bearer, especially when it comes to international investors benchmarking African risk.
Oulimata Sarr is deputy regional director for UN Women, covering West and Central Africa, where she is a continuous source of energy and inspiration. But it is her indefatigable work creating networks, driving and supporting different initiatives, to not only shape the African agenda but transform African outcomes, that make her stand out. She is a truly dedicated servant of the African continent who has always put the interests of Africa before her own. Reflecting her earlier financial background, Sarr is also currently the Jury President of the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards business plan competition for sub-Saharan Africa.
President Paul Kagame
Even if by his standards 2019 has been a relatively quiet year, Rwanda's Paul Kagame continues to make the continent's most-influential lists. Perhaps this is because of his sheer dynamism and the impact his decisions have on other countries.
On a continent where the default speed is 'slow, going to slower,' Kagame is express--whether trying to sort out the AU's finances, or physically remove border barriers or set up industrial zones, Kagame wants it all done yesterday. In the process, he leaves a lot of bruised egos in his wake.
After marking 25 years since the horrific genocide in his country with solemn events and fresh pledges for it never to happen again, Kagame has devoted his energies to making sure the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali will be one to 'savour and remember'.
But he seems to collect detractors as quickly as he does admirers, and whatever Kagame does, or does not do, causes widespread ripples all around; as such, he remains one of the most influential people in Africa.
"In Africa today, we recognize that trade and investment, and not aid, are pillars of development."
President Nana Akufo-Addo
Africa beyond Aid
In May this year, the UN Secretary General re-appointed Akufo-Addo as the co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocate Group, which comprises 17 influential public figures, chosen to commit their time to raising awareness and pushing for faster action on the SDGs.
On the home front, the elephant, so the saying goes, continues his merry way to market despite the howling of a thousand dogs. So it seems with the Ghanaian leader; critics keep sniping away at him but he rolls on to ensure that Ghana's record for stability and aims for growth are not tarnished.
This year has seen work continue on the construction of the 400MW Bridge Power Project, the world's largest liquefied petroleum gas-fired power plant, which once complete, is expected to solve most of the country's energy issues. Meanwhile, the country's imaginative 'Year of Return' campaign, marking 400 years since the first slaves were shipped from its shores, has brought a projected 500,000 visitors, boosting the tourism industry.
President Mahamadou Issoufou
'Mr AfCFTA'--champion of African trade integration
In the African economic integration discourse, 2019 was the year of President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is fondly referred to as 'Mr AfCFTA'. While holding the highest office in Niger, President Issoufou has also spent most of the last three years leading the team of experts and technocrats who negotiated and developed the modalities and roadmap of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The operational phase of the much-heralded continental project was aptly launched in Niamey, the capital of Niger, in July this year, in recognition of Issoufou's efforts to champion and push for the formation of one of the largest free trade areas in the world.
Additionally, in terms of recent regional influence, perhaps no other African leader has had as much impact as President Issoufou, who has also been an active force in the collective endeavour to battle the rising threat of terrorism in the Sahel, through the five-nation G5 Sahel initiative, which comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Issoufou is also the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This January, under his leadership, Niger will join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member and there is no doubt he will use the platform to champion Africa's cause.
"Africa must unite in order to be strong in the international system ... the AfCFTA is the foundation. Against this background, our efforts to establish the AfCFTA will produce results if we remain united, speak with one voice and consolidate our integration."
The AU youth envoy shaking things up
Aya Chebbi is the African Union's first-ever youth envoy. The creation of this position comes at a time when the voices of African youth demanding change and inclusion in Africa's political and economic landscape have become hard to ignore. She is vocal in seeking "intergenerational co-leadership", persistently calling for youth to co-lead. Before taking on her current role, Chebbi was already a popular youth activist, feminist and blogger.
She caught the world's attention for her uncompromising, peaceful activism during the Tunisian revolution, which changed the political discourse of that country. She is also the founder of the Afrika Youth Movement (AYM), one of Africa's largest Pan-African movements, taking the agenda of African youth from the margins of society to the centre of regional and international discourse.
In addition, Aya is founder of several other platforms including the Youth Programme of Holistic Empowerment Mentoring (YPHEM), which coaches youths to be positive change agents. She recently launched the Afresist project, a youth leadership programme and multimedia platform documenting youth work in Africa.
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