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The 100 most influential Africans (1-10)

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This article is part of the dossier:

The 100 most influential Africans

By Alison Culliford, Olivia Konotey-Ahulu, Nicholas Norbrook, Oheneba Ama Nti Osei and Marshall Van Valen

Posted on June 28, 2019 10:11

The top 10 in this year’s ranking of the 100 most influential Africans are examples of the heights of African leadership in the world, both at home and in the diaspora.

1 – Aliko Dangote
Money talks

He’s the richest black man in the world and Africa’s richest man, with an estimated wealth of $10.3bn. Within Nigeria, Senator Ben-Murray Bruce called him “more influential and powerful than (President Muhammadu) Buhari”. The billionaire’s latest project is a $10.5bn oil refinery that will be Africa’s largest, so Dangote will not be sitting on the sidelines when it comes to oil-­sector reform debates there. He is investing in the continent’s manufacturing and agribusiness capacity, and plans to launch the long-awaited London IPO of Dangote Cement in late 2019. Meanwhile, his philanthropy is taking flight.

2 – Elon Musk
Rocket man
South Africa 

The yo-yoing of his company shares, his hirings and firings and off-the-wall tweets keep Musk in the headlines. He may be a maverick but his ideas are shaping the future, from reducing global warming with his electric cars to urban transportation on a cushion of air and plans to establish a colony on Mars. His Boring Company could help a boom in urban public transportation, and he is a big pessimist about the impact of AI. He donates to both the Democratic and Republican parties in the US, saying it is necessary to pay up in order to have a voice.

3 – Koos Bekker
Go-getter in Asia
South Africa

When China-based Tencent sneezed in August 2018, Naspers share price caught a cold. It didn’t last long, but it showed how tied the fortunes of the South African media and entertainment behemoth are to its largest holding (Naspers owns 31% of the Chinese internet giant). Buying a stake in Tencent in 2001 makes Bekker the Buffett of Africa: the initial $32m investment has grown to $116bn since then, and Bekker famously waived a salary to get paid in stock options when he was CEO. With the bulk of South African pension funds invested heavily in Naspers and allegations of Gupta-style influencing in a 2017 broadcasting deal, Bekker said the company would work on its transparency at the 2018 annual general meeting.

4 – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The sun keeps rising

The Nigerian author-cum-public intellectual continues her stratospheric ascent and is as often seen behind a mic as in print these days – engaging audiences about racism, sexism and the human condition. She started the year 2018 slaying a French journalist for her lack of knowledge about Nigeria and ended it on stage with former US first lady Michelle Obama. Who’s next?

5 – Trevor Noah
Mic wrecker
South Africa

One of the US’s most prominent voices critiquing the presidency of Donald Trump, Noah has brought millennial-inspired thinking and an astute outsider’s view to The Daily Show and taught some Americans that Africa is not a country. With the renewal of his contract in 2017 his job is secure until 2022, which will carry him through the febrile US election season. He is also quite funny.

6 – Tidjane Thiam
Master strategist
Côte d’Ivoire

Thiam’s turnaround of Credit Suisse since 2016 has left bankers and analysts awestruck. Ignoring naysayers, the Ivorian CEO relegated the derivatives traders and recast the bank as a wealth-management operation focusing on emerging markets. He explained his view to Euromoney: “This is a fabulous bank. Or let me be more precise: it has always had a fabulous bank within it.” But it faces big blowback for its role in the Mozambique tuna bond scandal.

7 – Davido
Naija pop idol

He has riches (he’s worth $16m), good looks, fast cars and political clout. Using his music to inspire Nigerians to vote in the 2019 elections, he also lent his star appeal to presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar’s campaign, seriously upstaging the 72-year-old politician. His next act will be to crack the tough US market, with his eyes set on a gig at Madison Square Garden, having filled the 15,000-seat O2 Arena in London in January.

8 – Enoch Adeboye
Sacred networker

In 2017 Pastor Adeboye’s resignation from leading his five-million-member church in Nigeria was greeted with dismay by congregations around the country. Nigeria’s highest-profile pastor, who numbers the Nigerian vice-president Yemi Osinbajo among his followers, had to step down from running the domestic operations of the church he had built up almost from scratch after a new law put a 20-year cap and 70-year-old age limit on the leadership of non-profit organisations. Adeboye could have argued that The Redeemed Christian Church of God was not, strictly speaking, “non-profit”, with Forbes quoting the net worth of the man born into poverty at €39m, but he chose not to.

9 – Kumi Naidoo
Crime fighter
South Africa

Appointed as secretary general of Amnesty International in August 2018, Naidoo was a youth activist in apartheid South Africa and the first African head of Greenpeace. By making clear the link between environmental crimes and human rights abuses, Naidoo heralds a new era for Amnesty, widening its focus from political prisoners to indigenous peoples and everyone in between. “We need to redefine what it means to be a strong leader. Because strong leaders don’t bully activists. Yet that is exactly what is happening with a global crackdown on NGOs. We need to see less vitriol and more compassion from our leaders,” he explained on Twitter.

10 – Abiy Ahmed
Change agent

Catapulted into office in April 2018 by the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Abiy has made a huge splash at home and internationally. In 11 months, he has made peace with Eritrea, released 60,000 political prisoners, calmed ethnic tensions, signed multimillion-dollar infrastructure deals with China, started liberalising the economy, persuaded diaspora Ethiopians to contribute $2.4m to a trust fund, filled his cabinet with women, diffused a potential military coup by doing press-ups with soldiers… and the list goes on.

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