Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria. It may be early days, but President Goodluck Jonathan is truly in the spotlight following his meteoric rise and his victory in the April elections. What is in store for him will impact the rest of the continent as he strives to keep Africa’s most populous and complex country united and to place it on the path to glory. The world will have to wait, watch and see whether Jonathan’s luck runs out or rides high.
Wael Ghonim, Egypt
The face of Egypt’s “faceless revolution”. Working for Google in Dubai, he set up the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Saeed” after the death of an Egyptian activist in police custody. When Wael returened to Egypt at the end of January to join the thousands of other protestors he was incarcerated. The demonstrators had no leader or voice, so when freed Wael became the face that symbolised the revolution. He is now a popular activist seeking the engagement of the people to develop a fairer and more robust political system in Egypt.
Prof Attahiru Jega, Nigeria
Prof Jega is today one of the most recognisable faces in Nigeria since he was elected as chairman of the Electoral Commission in Nigeria. With the calm of a university professor and determination of a former union activist, this humble man, in record time, co-ordinated INEC’s registration of 75m voters and oversaw the most credible and fairest elections in Nigeria’s democratic history. He is held in high esteem and has the full trust and support of the President. He will be at the forefront of the conversation when it comes to Nigeria.
Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, Tanzania
Appointed deputy secretary-general of the United Nations in 2007, Dr Migiro is the first black woman to hold this esteemed position. A lawyer by profession, she has a special interest in issues around peace and the elimination of violence and discrimination against women. She is well-known for saying “Where you have a woman emposered, then you have the opportunity also of empowering communities and imparting the skills and education that will form the foundation for equality and dignity in communities.”
Paul Kagame, Rwanda
Scars of the 1994 genocide will always bear on Rwanda’s political history. But 17 years on, the country is remarkably transformed and has confounded its naysayers. Widely recognised as a top reformer, President Paul Kagame has shown admirable ability in rebuilding the country from the ruins of the genocide, for which he has earned diverse accolades. He is not without his critics who accuse him of war crimes and human rights abuses. But President Kagame continues to be widely praised for his leadership in peace-building and reconciliation, good governance and women’s empowerment.
Nelson Mandela, South Africa
Africa’s most revered and respected statesman. A household name worldwide, at 93 years old Nelson Mandela continues to be a global inspiration. His leadership acumen, his courage, humility and selflessness make him a stand out. His life story is widely considered symbolic of the triumph of the human spirit over man’s inhumanity to man.
John Githongo, Kenya
One of Africa’s most fearless whistleblowers, he risked his life as Kenya’s anti-corruption czar, unearthing a US$1bn corruption scandal which involved some of the country’s top ministers. Githongo, a former investigative journalist, whose passion against corrupt African leaders wins him no friends, has earned himself international acclaim, including a recent appointment as a commissioner on Britain’s Independent Commission for Aid (ICA), which has been set up to scrutinise the effectiveness of British overseas aid spending.
Nana Rawlings, Ghana
The former First Lady is considered one of Africa’s most socially progressive and influential women. She is the founder of the 31st December Women’s Movement, a women’s empowerment organisation, of which she has been president for 30 years, to the disdain of her critics. She firmly believes that women hold the key to ending poverty if givern the means to do so. Last month she announced she will challenge the incumbent President John Atta Mills to be the ruling National Democratic Congress party candidate in Ghana’s next presidential elections.
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
The controversial leader who has dominated Zimbabwean politics since coming to power on a popular wave of colonial liberation over 30 years ago, continues to mesmerise the world as well as vex his opponents with his ability to hold on to power. Questions about what went wrong in one of Africa’s “breadbaskets” keep the name of Mugabe in international headlines and he is always a subject of discussion in most fora about Africa’s political and economic future, as people consider what there is to be learnt, or not learnt from his example.
Kofi Annan, Ghana
Some people’s fame and influence precedes them. Kofi Annan is one of those people. After finishing his two terms as UN secretary general, and returning to his home country Ghana, Annan’s influence on the continent is arguably bigger today than it ever was. Like wine becoming better with age, Annan’s work, after the UN, gets even better by the day. He sits on the board of a number of influential panels and works tirelessely to improve peace and governance as well as dedicating much effort to his pet project, overseeing a green revolution in Africa.
Kah Walla, Cameroon
She is described as a possible next “Johnson-Sirleaf”. The fearless 46-year old founder of Cameroon O’Bosso (“Cameroon Let’s Go), a civil society organisation that supports free and fair elections, is the only female candidate in the upcoming presidential election due in October this year. She is the recipient of the 2011 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for Leadership in Public Life, which honours and celebrates women leaders who are working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity and protect human rights.
Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria
Fashola has made a name for himself among Lagosians by getting things done and transforming the way the city is run. If Lagos were a country it would be Africa’s 5th largest economy and Fashola has changed mindsets and dynamised the city. He is touted the world over and aims to transform Lagos into an afficiently run megalopolis.
Julius Malema, South Africa
He conjures adulation and disdain in equal measure. Malema, the 30-year old leader of the ANC’s influential youth wing, has become a household name in South Africa. He is famous for his straight-talking and provocative attitude on burning issues such as land reform. To his critics he is a foul-mouthed, anti-white radical, bent on resurrecting the politics of race and hate in the “rainbow” nation. But his undeniable popularity among the majority of black South Africans is something that cannot be ignored.
Jacob Zuma, South Africa
The leader of Africa’s largest economy, which is the only African member of the Group of Twenty major economies and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group of emerging economies. With a seat at the high table, Jacob Zuma’s influence stretches beyond South African and continental borders. And it matters to the whole continent how he exerts himself on the international scene.
The first female president in Africa and one who commands respect wherever she goes. Doubting Thomases said she would never deliver and resurrect Liberia from the ravages of years of civil war. But under her presidency, Africa’s oldest republic is slowly finding its feet again. Although there is a lot still to be done, many believe that Johnson-Sirleaf deserves the credit for the positive changes thus far. In just one term, she has stabilised Liberia’s economy, maintained peace and installed a sense of pride. President Johnson-Sirlead has become not only an inspiration and role model to millions of African women, but also a symbol of women’s empowerment.
Salva Kiir, South Sudan
Salva Kiir, the president of Africa’s newest country, South Sudan, can claim some “luck” on his way to the top. He came into his own when his former boss, John Garang, died in a harrowing helicopter crash in July 2005. Kiir took over the reins and the cause of the Southern Sudanese and using his dogged pragmatism, led his people through tough and tortuous negotiations to independence in 2011. It is hoped that his reign as president of South Sudan, which begins in July this year, will bring improvement (and peace) to the new nation.