Dambisa Moyo, Zambia. A controversial yet admirable economist, whose books Dead Aid and How the West Was Lost have put Western aid and democracy under a new spotlight and brought them into question. She has both critics and admirers for the issues she raises in these books, and is one of the most sought-after speakers globally on issues concerning Africa’s economic future.
Graca Machel, Mozambique
It is not because she is married to the world’s most esteemed statesman that she is featured here, for Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, wields her own political and social influence at a global level, particulary on the issues of education and children’s rights. Among other high-profile continental and worldwide duties, Graca currently sits on the influential Africa Progress Panel along with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Souhayr Belhassen, Tunisia
The 53-year old former journalist is a seasoned human rights campaigner who long campaigned against the Ben Ali regime. She is today president of the influential NGO, the International Federation for Human Rights (FDIH) and continues to champion freedom of expression, freedom of association and all other universal rights across the world. She was recently awarded the Takreem Arab Woman of the Year award in Qatar.
Bineta Diop, Senegal
She is a gender and peace activist. The founder of Femmes Africa Solidarite, Diop’s activism and campaigning focuses on women-led peace building in the most fragile states.
Helen Zille, South Africa
The leader of South Africa’s main opposition party – the Democratic Alliance – is increasingly broadening her influence as a vocal critic of the ruiling ANC’s policies. Zille made a name for herself as a political journalist and leading anti-apartheid critic working for the Rand Daily Mail. She has become one of the most powerful women in South Africa. Zille is succeeding in moving her party away from the image of a “political home of South Africa’s white liberals” to one that appeals to a broader audience.
Ory Okolloh, Kenya
A social activist, lawyer and blogger she currently holds the position of policy manager for Africa with Google. During and after the 2007 Kenyan election violence, Okolloh established a website called Ushahidi, meaning “witness” in Swahili. The popular website recorded eyewitness reports of the violence using text messages and Google Maps. The technology has since been adapted for other purposes (including monitoring elections and tracking pharmaceutical availability).
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somalia
She is most noted for writing the script and providing the voice-over for Submission, the film produced by the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, which criticised the treatment of women in Islamic societies. He was later murdered by and Islamic fundamentalist who also threatened Ali’s life, a threat she lives with in exile in America today. A former MP in the Netherlands, she has also set up her own foundation (AHA) to fight abuses of women’s rights by militant Islamists.
Professor Wangari Maathai, Kenya
A houseman name globally for her dedication to environmental protection and green issues. She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement and first woman in Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” She remains one of Africa’s best-known female agents of change on climate and environmental issues.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Nigeria
Co-founder of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), the first Africa-wide grant-making fund, which supports the work of organisations promoting women’s rights in Africa. AWDF has to date supported over 800 women’s organisations in 42 African countries. Bisi, who is married to the governor of Nigeria’s Ekiti State, has served on many platforms. Most recently she was appointed co-chair of the African Grantmakers’ Network, which was launched to promote an African voice in the field of philanthropy.
Dr Frannie Leautier, Tanzania
A Tanzanian national of high academic and professional standing, Dr Frannie Leautier is the executive secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation. The ACBF, under Dr Leautier’s tenure has channelled billions of US dollars of donor money into improving human lives and national institutions all over Africa. A former vice president of the World Bank, this powerful but softly-spoken and humble woman has totally transformed the face of the ACBF, to the extent that today when she is speaks big men sit up and listen.
Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, South Africa
Dr Moloi-Motsepe is the founder and CEO of African Fashion International (AFI), which is now a household name for showcasing African fashion design and talent as well as promoting the continent’s textile industry. A medical doctor by profession, she previously worked in public hospitals in Johannesburg and Pretoria, mainly in paediatrics, and due to her interest in women’s health, ran a successful women’s health practice in Johannesburg, before setting up the AFI.