As 2016 draws to a close, the annual lists come thick and fast, marking the highlights and low blows of the year – anything from the top tweets of 2016 to the Person of the Year is likely to be on our radar in the next few weeks, before we swiftly turn our attention to 2017 with an array of new lists. Think ‘Top Destinations for 2017’, ‘Gadgets for the Year Ahead’ and of course the never failing trends for the shiny, new year ahead.
One of the lists that I always look forward to is the New African magazine’s annual Most Influential Africans list, now in its fifth year, profiling the Africans on the continent and the diaspora who’ve made their mark on the year. Not only do I get to keep up with those I admire, but I also get to discover new names in politics, business, education, literature and other fields.
ThuIn a break from the past, New African named their ‘Person of the Year’ in Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Commended for a new style of leadership, he is recognised for his efforts to combat corruption and for his principled approach.
Also interesting is the involvement of a number of respected analysts and experts who have selected their most influential personalities across a variety of fields: politics, civil society, education, business, sports and techpreneurs. The most influential policymakers were selected by former Executive Secretary of the UN-Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes while the business section was edited by McKinsey Partner, commentator and policy adviser, Acha Leke. Other guest editors are Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership University (Education); Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam (Civil Society); Ory Okolloh, Director of Investments at Omidyar Network Africa (Techpreneur); Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, co-founder of Cassava Republic Press (Publishing and Literature); and Osasu Obayiuwana, New African’s Associate Editor and sports journalist (Sports).
32 African women feature on this year’s Most Influential list; from politics to civil society, from business to sport. They are all inspirational, with certainly much more under their sleeves for 2017. Five of these are Nigerian women, some more established in their fields than others, but all worth getting to know – if you don’t already.
No 2016 influential list would have been complete without Adichie. She was selected by fellow Nigerian Bibi Bakare-Yusuf for the way “she has taken African literature further into the Western mainstream and made it a must-have fashion accessory, to be sampled by the likes of Beyoncé and loved by Dior and Vogue.” The author of bestsellers such as Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, also became the new face of British pharmaceutical chain Boots’ cosmetic range No. 7, and has helped build an empowering image for African women.
Following two terms as Nigeria’s finance minister, helping temper the country’s corrupt image, and her time at the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s has now turned her attention to enhancing the lives of others, as chair of the GAVI board, the international non-profit organisation that supports vaccines and immunisations. In her role, she has often highlighted the economic benefits GAVI’s work will have on the continent – citing the statistic that for every dollar spent on the immunisation of children, $16 can be saved in healthcare costs.
Nigeria’s Environment Minister Amina Mohammed is leading the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiative and has mobilised global civil society to engage in the SDG framework. Having served on the task force for gender and education for UN’s Millennium Project and as the Special Adviser on Post2015 Development Planning to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, she is well suited for the new task at hand.
The brains behind the Lagos-based recycling company Wecyclers, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola is one of the pioneers of the change in attitudes towards recycling and waste management in Nigeria. Subscribers to her service earn points per kilo of recycling, which can be redeemed for cash, electronic and household goods. In four years, Wecyclers has signed on more than 11,000 households and collected almost 1,000 tons of household waste.
Another name selected by Bakare-Yusuf is Ainehi Edoro, the brains behind The Brittle Paper, a carefully curated online space that not only focuses on highbrow literature, but also actively promotes genre literature. With her website, Edoro aims to engage with readers who enjoy African writing and shape their taste.