Part 2: 30 Most Notable Africans of 2013
18 Jan 2014
This next installment of The 30 Most Notable Africans of 2013 brings you names that may be new to you and others which are better known. In either case, they are names you should know if you want to know where the changemakers are. If you missed Part 1, you can catch it here. I hope these individuals inspire you to live boldly and fearlessly and make a positive impact in whatever you do.
#1. FRED SWANIKER
Country of Origin: Ghana
What: Based on a 2012 study by the Brookings Institution (a US-based think tank), of Sub-Saharan Africa's nearly 128 million school-aged children, 17 million will never attend school. Another 37 million children will learn so little while in they are in school that they will not be much better off than those who never attend school. These dire statistics are in large part what motivated Fred Swaniker to put his frustrations with the educational system in Africa into tangible action when he co-founded the African Leadership Academy in 2008. The Academy’s mission is to identify young people throughout the continent that have the potential to develop and implement important new ideas that can transform Africa.
Why I’m Inspired: As someone who lived and grew up in various parts of the continent, Fred recognized the impact of education in transforming society and chose to follow the examples of educational entrepreneurs in his family. This powerful changemaker first had the idea for the African Leadership Academy while living in Nigeria in 2003 and realizing the dearth of effective and ethical leadership in Africa. His goal is to educate and develop 6000 leaders for Africa over the next 50 years—a goal he is well on his way to achieving.
As he so aptly stated in this CNBC interview: “[As Africans] We must stop blaming the rest of the world for our problems and take ownership of our own destiny.” Accountability anyone?
Click below for the next profile.
Country of Origin: Nigeria
What: It has been said that behind any successful man, is a strong woman. In the case of Dr. Rose Ihedigbo-Franklin, this saying would need to be amended to include “many” successful men. If you’re an American football fan, then the name Ihedigbo might sound familiar. James Ihedigbo is the star safety for the 2012 Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens, as well as the founder of the Hope for Africa Foundation, which helps provide educational services for underprivileged communities in Africa. But make no mistake, his mother is a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Besides being a proud mother of five and an accomplished educator herself, she co-founded the Nigerian American Technological and Agricultural College (NATAC) in 1999 with her late husband Apollos. NATAC is working in Nigeria to equip the country’s young people to support themselves, contribute to society, and provide a better life for their families.
Why I’m Inspired: Published in 2013, Dr. Ihedigbo's book, Sandals in the Snow, is a glimpse into the life of a newly-arrived African family in the U.S. trying to make their way in a society that doesn’t understand their colorful clothing, loud and aggressive talk, and strange food. As an African immigrant myself, I was able to relate to many of the stories she shared in her book, which were both inspiring and entertaining. Her story is a reminder that anything is possible with faith, passion, commitment and a great sense of humor.
Country of Origin: Kenya
What: If you ever doubt the life-changing power of the arts, then you need look no further for proof than the Kenya-based Kuruka Maisha Foundation. The organization received the International Spotlight Award from First Lady Michelle Obama as part of the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards. Kuruka Maisha—which means “jump into life” in Swahili—was founded by Kenyan engineer and community activist, Nick Balongo in 2004, as an effort to address the pressing issue of Nairobi’s 150,000 street children. Balongo’s started the organization as way to find meaning in his work—which he was not getting at his full time job at the time.
Why I’m Inspired: What started as a few organized soccer matches with youth on the streets of Kenya’s capital, has turned into an institution that trains Nairobi’s street children in the circus and performing arts, helping them build confidence and life skills, and eventually find pathways out of poverty. Since its inception, the organization has successfully enabled nearly 400 street children to establish themselves in the community and stay off the streets, as well as find gainful employment using the skills they were taught in the program. I love the arts!
Country of Origin: Ethiopia
What: Ethiopian-born singer, Wayna, has been on the popular music scene since 2004 when she released her first album, Moments of Clarity–Book I. Although well received, it wasn’t until the release of her next album, Higher Ground in 2008 that she garnered wider recognition by industry insiders and music fans alike. Her clear, melodic vocals and soulful style led to a Grammy nomination in 2009 for her song “Loving You.” Now back with her third album, The Expats, Wayna is letting you know: “This album is a departure from what you know of me.” It has already received rave reviews, with one music critic comparing the songs to “tunes that bloom with fruitful themes and lyrics.” I’m sure we’ll be seeing this talented East African songstress on the scene for years to come.
Why I’m Inspired: After a conversation with an industry exec who took some time to listen to some new tracks she had been working on, he told her “… he could hear Jill Scott, he could hear Lauryn Hill, he could hear Erykah Badu…where is Wayna?” At that point, she realized that she hadn’t fully come into her own as an artist. In a move that is to be applauded for its boldness in an industry that promotes over-commercialization, Wayna decided that with her Expats album (released November 2013), she was going to take a risk and incorporate rhythms and sounds that were an ode to her African roots. In this interview with Afripop, she states:
“When you do hold a piece of yourself back, whether consciously or not, when you finally stop doing that, it feels liberating and you want to emphasize it for the world.”
Now that is an empowering thought: Just Do You. Thank you Wayna!
Country of Origin: Ghana
What: Born in Tanzania to a Ghanian father, David Adjaye is one of the most recognized and gifted contemporary architects of today. Established in 2000, his firm Adjaye & Associates has cultivated a Who’s Who roster of clients including the Nobel Peace Centre, New York’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and Brad Pitt. In 2009, his firm was a member of a consortium that was selected to design the $500 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC.
Why I’m Inspired: Right before winning the bid to design the Smithsonian NMAAHC, Adjaye was forced to negotiate with his creditors to stave off insolvency of his firm due to a stroke of bad luck in which four major projects were either postponed or cancelled all around the same time. Since successfully getting his firm back on solid footing, this gifted architect has continued to collect awards and recognition including being named the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s Architecture Innovator of 2013. Most recently, he partnered with famed Ghanian designer, Ozwald Boateng—co-founder of the Made in Africa Foundation—on the Naguru-Nakawa project in Uganda. This groundbreaking development will be Africa’s largest planned urban redevelopment project and is being touted as a model to be replicated across Africa. Despite his global influence, this is one architect that has never forgotten that home is where the heart is.
Country of Origin: Uganda
What: Voted Africa’s 2013 BEFFTA winner for Best Comedian and dubbed Uganda’s Queen of Comedy, Kansiime Anne has quickly made a name for herself in the entertainment world with her in-your-face, slapstick skits. Tune into her YouTube channel, and you’ll easily find yourself spending hours watching her bite-size, but incredibly funny episodes. From making empty promises as an elected official ("I will employ my engineers so that they pull down the sun a little closer and bring you affordable electricity.") to attempting to arrest a Ugandan citizen for drunken walking, you will be doubled over in uncontrollable laughter as you watch this talented comedian morph into myriad characters.
Why I’m Inspired: Kansiime is a woman who lives life on her own terms while still remaining grateful for the success she has found doing what she loves. Her brand of humor is actually political satire and social commentary wrapped up in comedy. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she has managed to do more than hold her own—while making us laugh and think at the same time.
Country of Origin: Nigeria
What: As the Chairman of the multi-billion dollar investment firm, Heirs Holdings, Tony Elemulu has become a mainstay on the international business scene. A popular subject matter expert on economic development in Africa, he recently coined the term Africapitalism: the public, private, and development sectors all coming together, united in a single objective of creating jobs and social wealth. His belief that no one can develop Africa except Africans, is the driving force behind his passion for empowering the private sector.
Why I’m Inspired: What sets this savvy Nigerian businessman apart is his commitment to supporting entrepreneurship in Africa through the Tony Elumelu Foundation—an African-based, African-funded philanthropic organization. Since its founding in 2010, the foundation has, amongst other accomplishments: invested in innovative African businesses; helped create the Rwanda Commodities Exchange for African farmers get better prices for their produce; worked with African governments to foster an environment in which the private sector can flourish; and, created leadership development initiatives to transform management education in Africa. With more people like him, the “Africa Rising” narrative might actually begin ringing true at the grassroots level.
What: In late 2012, Amini Kajunju made history when she became the first African woman to head up the Africa-America Institute (AAI), a 60-year-old organization whose mission is to grow the capacity of Africa’s youth in order to help them escape poverty through education, skills training, dialogue, convening activities as well as engagement and research. AAI also serves as a bridge to Americans who want to learn more about Africa. It is the oldest nonprofit organization of its kind in the United States. Since taking on the leadership of AAI, Kajunju has helped develop a renewed strategic vision which includes new programming. As part of that programming, a speaker series will launch in 2014 to provide a forum for visionary thought leaders to engage in dialogue on issues of mutual concern to the African continent and the U.S.
Why I’m Inspired: As a longtime proponent, myself, of creating bridges between people of the African Diaspora, it’s great to see the rejuvenation that AAI has experienced since Kajunju came on board. When asked about her new role and the challenges women leaders face, she stated in this interview with Black Enterprise magazine:
“I don’t allow people to intimidate me. I’m respectful and engaging, yet fearless… I’d encourage women to find their voice and always express what they want and need. People respect those who state their case and say it with eloquence. They have no choice but to hear you.” Enough said.
Country of Origin: South Africa
What: The fact that there are a number of artists and entertainers included on this list is not a mistake. More often than not, we take for-granted those individuals in our society that—although using humor, music or the arts to make a living—also use those same tools to promote social change and make a point that may not have the same impact in any other form. Comedian Trevor Noah is one of those individuals who has used his gift to speak on race matters that are still very uncomfortable for people to discuss in general. A product of a Black South African mother and a Swiss father, Noah recalls being born during the apartheid era and lamenting the fact that his lighter skin color automatically gave him more privilege than the woman who had given birth to him.
Why I’m Inspired: At only 29, this young comedian knows how to take full command of the stage, selling out shows around the world. That’s an impressive feat, considering that his themes of choice are his mixed-race heritage and upbringing, and his observations about race and ethnicity in a society that is still very hung up on skin color. In one of his routines, he jokes:
“In the streets my father couldn’t walk with us, he would walk on the other side of the road and wave at me—like a creepy pedophile. And my mom could walk with me, but every time the police went by she would drop me. I felt like a bag of weed.”
What: Opal Tometi is the Co-Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) an organization which educates and advocates for immigrant rights and racial justice with African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, African and Caribbean immigrant communities. Tometi is also responsible for coordinating the Black Immigration Network (BIN), a nationwide network of organizations and individuals uniting for racial justice and migrant rights.
Why I’m Inspired: As a first generation Nigerian-American activist who was born and raised in Arizona, Opal has been active in the migrant rights movement for more than 10 years. She was the 2012 recipient of the ‘Unsung Hero for Justice’ Award by the African American Legislative and Leadership Conference of Arizona. In 2013, she spearheaded a Pan-African immigration rally and legislative visits on Capitol Hill which attracted hundreds of participants from the Diaspora; garnered major media coverage; and, drew the likes of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Here’s her take on immigration reform and why all people of color should care about the issue:
“Immigration reform is not just a Hispanic issue. Our organization is working to tell the story of Black immigrants (African, Caribbean, Afro-Latino); especially as we’re seeing an attempt to reverse the gains made by the Civil Rights movement through the anti-immigrant movement. It’s time to put a decisive end to the regressive politics that only further disenfranchise and criminalize communities of color.” This up-and-coming human rights advocate is definitely one to watch.
Who else do you think should be added to this list? E-mail me with your suggestions, and don’t forget to sign up for the e-news so you don’t miss the third and final installment of the series! If you missed it, click here to read Part 1 of this series.