Here are 20 Africans that should inspire your 2016

The Africa rising narrative has been called into question several times. It was called a myth by former deputy governor of Nigeria’s central bank, Kingsley Moghalu and Tanzanian millionaire Ali Mufuruki called it false. Although the old clichés of Africa being a continent where war and poverty reign with pestilence have not completely changed, as several parts of the continent still grapple with poverty, as well as war and terror, but the continent has one thing going for it, which makes the hopeful ‘Africa rising’ narrative bold enough to hold on to; its people. Even if Africa is not rising as claimed by Mufuruki, Africans are rising and are impacting the continent and the world at large. Their lives inspire other Africans to follow their dreams and they are moving Africa closer to the future we all hope for, one step at a time.

Our Africa 20 are listed below in no particular order. ~(Groups are counted as one)

Patrick Njoroge

Patrick Njoroge  

When Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Patrick Njoroge as central bank governor, he was relatively unknown, so the president was criticized over his choice. But getting to know Njoroge changed everything. What struck Kenyans was not his PhD in Economics. It was also not his years of experience working for global lender International Monetary Fund (IMF). What was captivating for most Kenyans was his modest lifestyle. Who rejects the perks of public office? Patrick Njoroge said no to three official cars and a palatial apartment.

It is just six months into his reign as central bank governor but the impact of his ingenuity is already being felt. He brought inflation under control in his first month and helped stabilise the shilling. Banks in Kenya know he is not going to overlook any incontinence and flouting of the law. Two banks have been hammered already. He is not the typical African public office holder. He made Africa proud in 2015.

Akinwumi Adesina

Akinwumi Adesina 

Adesina’s story is a story of sheer determination to succeed. Born to a farmer in southwestern Nigerian State, Ogun, he didn’t quite leave the path he knew from infancy; agriculture was everything. But he would not be the type of farmer his father was, he wanted more and Agricultural Economics seemed perfect. He stayed true to his dream and saw it through.

Adesina rose to prominence in Africa with his work as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture. The world told and retold the story of how he sanitized the agricultural sector and made things work. He strengthened Nigeria’s agricultural economy by pursuing bold reforms and innovative agricultural investment programs to expand opportunities for the private sector. He went about preaching the agricultural gospel — agriculture should no longer be seen as a development programme but like a business — winning souls as he did. This success would earn him a place in the annals of history as it propelled him to become the first Nigerian president of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Now as AfDB president, he wants to help Africa build its energy and agricultural infrastructure. Known to be a doer, Adesina has the world’s support.


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

South Africa is not always tolerant of women, according to findings by the United Nations, but the brave women of the country have found a way to become relevant despite cultural constraints impeding their growth. Today, South Africa has one of the highest proportion of female parliamentarians in the world and Dlamini-Zuma occupies the top office at the African Union, the first woman to do so.

Having rose through the ranks in the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party, the freedom fighter has become an inspiration to South African women and has been speaking up for women in Africa, urging empowerment by governments across the continent. She declared 2015 as the year of women empowerment. In September, she noted that few women in Africa have land rights and said it had to change.

The ex-wife of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has become very important politically and she is being tipped as the successor to the father of her four children.


Chris Kirubi

Smart and opportunistic, sometimes eccentric; Kirubi is one of the greatest inspiration for any Kenyan who wants to go into business. He rose from his modest begining to prominence in the 1970s when there was coffee boom.

Although, he is Kenya’s second richest man after Uhuru Kenyatta, but it is not his wealth that makes him inspirational, it is his investment acumen. Kirubi caused a stir earlier in the year when he bought 2.1 million shares of loss-making Kenyan Airways (KQ). He made the investment shortly after the airline announced that it suffered a record-setting net loss of Sh25.7 billion ($252 million) that left it in a negative capital position of Sh5.9 billion. But Kirubi said he was going to invest more money despite this. The businessman said he was showing support for the national carrier, but more importantly, he believes KQ has a bright future as a carrier owned by Kenya — the hub of growth in East Africa.

Kirubi doesn’t just know when to invest, he also understands the perfect exit. He and Centum Investments sold their shares in insurance group UAP Holdings to Old Mutual in a deal that earned them over Sh7 billion ($69 million). Kirubi’s 9.58 percent stake earned him over Sh2.8 billion while Centum Investments raked in more than Sh4 billion for a 13.75 percent stake. At the time, Kirubi held 25.2 percent stake in Centum, meaning he earned more. He had since increased his Centum stake to 29.9 percent.

Centum Investment where he has a controlling stake pulled a Kirubi earlier in the year, allotting each of its 90 employees Sh11.1 million in bonuses as it celebrated a 160 percent increase in profits for the financial year ended March 31.

Kirubi never stops to amaze. In 2004, he bought Kenyan radio Capital FM despite his conviction that the media sector is not profitable. He had one sole objective; having fun. He has been having fun ever since, presenting and deejaying his own radio show as DJ CK.


Tonje Bakang

The Cameroonian entrepreneur born in France did great in 2015. The subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) company he co-founded in 2013, Afrostream, had a lot of breakthrough in the year after launching out of Y-Combinator. Two years of hard work finally paid off with an investment from French telecommunications giant Orange, through its Orange Digital Ventures. He also raised money from Venture Funds  TheFamily, Cross Culture Ventures ILP, ACE & Company.

Bakang has also signed a deal with BET France, the newly-created Gallic channel of the Viacom-owned network, and another multi-year deal with USA-based Sony Pictures Television to distribute 55 movies and 3 TV series on its streaming platform focused on African, African-American and African-Caribbean films and television series.

The Cameroonian entrepreneur is not worried that there are several players in the VOD services space already and more are coming on board. Rather, he sees an opportunity for quicker establishment of the market. He believes taking an approach different from what is already on ground will ensure Afrostream’s success. With consumer behaviour tending towards on-demand services, 2016 will be an even greater year for Bakang. Already, the streaming service which launched in September has attracted well over 2,000 subscribers.


Almaz Ayana

She showed the world a glimpse of her brilliance in the 2013 Moscow world championships, winning a gold medal. Her 5000m victory at the 2014 Continental Cup in Marrakech, Morocco proved the previous year’s feat was no fluke, but no one saw her breakthrough run of 14 minutes 14.32 seconds on a 5,000m race, coming. Her time at the Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, in May, is the third fastest ever and it left the athletics world surprised. She was very close to the world record held by fellow Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba (14:11.15) and with her progress, it seems it would be only a matter of time before she breaks it.

A month later, Ayana dominated the 3000m at the Mohammed VI d’Athletisme in Rabat, the Moroccan capital. She broke her personal best of 8:24.58, broke the African all-comers’ record, and set an outdoor Ethiopian record.

Her great run continued in August when she won the World Championship in Beijing with a time of 14:26.83 beating world record holder Dibaba with 17 seconds. The 2015 IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich also ended with Ayana coming out tops finishing at 8:22.34, a meeting record.

Ayana is finishing 2015 better than the previous year and her success is the result of hard work and dedication as she says her rigorous training are done at high altitudes in Ethiopia. She used to live in a small rented room. Now, she has bought her own house where she lives with her husband who is also her coach.


Namwali Serpell

Never had a Zambian author won the prestigious Caine Prize for African writing until Namwali Serpell. Serpell, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, won the Prize this year, for her short story The Sack. It was not her her first time being involved in the Caine Prize; her first published story, Muzungu, was shortlisted in 2010.

Serpell’s historic victory is inspiring to many but more than the victory, observers were surprised by her decision to share the £10,000 (about $15,000) prize money equally with the four other shortlisted writers — Masande Ntshanga, FT Kola, Elnathan John and Segun Afolabi.

“I think people assume from the outside that it’s an act of generosity or purported kindness on my part but it was not,” she told South African online news platform Mail&Guardian, on Skype from the United States where she resides. “It was a protest against the structure of the prize, so I made the decision on my own, having looked at the various factors and thought about what meant the most to me. And the money is not what meant the most to me. I thought the prize structure worked against the spirit of supporting and encouraging my fellow writers,” Serpell said.


Samuel Malinga

Young, creative and passionate about his community, Malinga is the archetypical African innovator. From a rural community in the very poor Kumi District of North East Uganda, Malinga grew up with the harsh socioeconomic challenges which pervade most African communities. At age 12 he moved to the Naguru slum in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and there he was faced with the community-wide problem of poor sanitation and lack of proper waste management. These difficulties inspired Malinga to think up innovative solutions that would tackle head on the pervasive challenges in rural areas, like the one he hails from, and urban slums, like the one in which he grew up in. One of his innovations is the conversion of faecal sludge into briquettes that basically do a better job as cooking fuel than charcoal or firewood.

Today, Malinga is one of the most revered young innovators in Africa and this year, he has been recognised in several publications and events for his innovations. Earlier in December, Samuel Malinga won The Tony O. Elumelu Prize in Business at The Future Africa Awards 2015.

Uzodimma Iweala

Uzodimma Iweala

German theologian who lived in the 15th century, Martin Luther once said: “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Iweala did and today, the book he wrote several years ago has gone down in history as Netflix’s first original feature movie.

Beasts of No Nation was developed from the undergraduate thesis work (in creative writing) of the Nigerian at Harvard.  It premiered on Netflix on October 16, 2015 and has been screened at major international movie festivals and nominated for several awards.

Uzodimma Iweala, who is also a medical doctor was 21 when he wrote Beasts of No Nation.

Tidjane Thiam

Tidjane Thiam

When Thiam was appointed the chief executive of British multinational life insurance and financial services company Prudential in 2009, he became the first black person to lead a FTSE 100 company. But his glorious career did not end there. In June, the Ivorian became the CEO of Switzerland-based multinational financial services holding company Credit Suisse. When news of his appointment came out in March, the bank’s shares soared almost 8 percent.

Thiam was hired for one task: deal with the group’s underperforming investment bank, and that is what the Ivorian has been trying to achieve, making some difficult but necessary decisions as he did.

The Group of Thirty (G30) announced earlier in December that Tidjane Thiam has accepted an invitation to join its membership. Thiam is also a member of the Africa Progress Panel.

Adebola Williams and Chude Jideonwo

Chude Jideonwo and Debola Williams

In Africa, you can theorize and it will be accepted as a fact that young people do not have what it takes to provide inspiration, direction and leadership to fellow youths. Such a theory might hold water until the Nigerian duo of Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams show up.

To most Nigerian youths and by virtue of their recent move across the African continent, this duo can be described as the Moses of the 21st century leading fellow youths out of a bleak socio-political and entrepreneurial past.

In 2004, Chude and Adebola, in their 20’s, embarked on an ambitious journey to create a social enterprise focused on human capital development. Part of their strategy was to build a critical mass of passionate young people who are motivated to find effective and innovative ways of addressing social issues. They leveraged this relationship with youths to kick-start the annual Future Africa Awards, an event that has seen the spotlight thrown on over a thousand young achievers across the continent.

This year, they celebrated 10 years of The Future Awards. To some, it seemed like a double honours celebration as Chude an Adebola recently made the news around Africa as the youngest presidential campaign communications managers. Red Media, a marketing communications company founded by the duo was saddled with the responsibility of creating campaign messaging that helped upturn Nigeria’s political default of always having an incumbent win elections, a feat that will go down in the annals of Nigeria’s political history.


Trevor Noah

Noah is fast becoming one of Africa’s best exports with his exploits at the American news satire television program The Daily Show, succeeding Jon Stewart who hosted the show until 2015 from 1999.

The South African’s mixed-race heritage, his experiences growing up in a Soweto township, and his observations about race and ethnicity are leading themes in his comedy which has won him several accolades. While his audience figures are down from Stewart’s, Comedy Central says Trevor is attracting a more ‘millennial’ audience, which is a good thing.

No one would ever expect a young South African to be the ideal successor to legendary Jon Stewart but Noah has proven show after show since September, that he was the right choice. 2016 can only be better.


Monica Musonda

When Musonda left Dangote group, a conglomerate owned by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, in 2012, she faced an uncertain future in her new company Java Foods, established to provide affordable nutrition to the southern African market. But she was brave. Today, the rapid growth of the food company testifies to how far-reaching the effects of determination and hard work can be.

Musonda noticed that wheat was only used to make a few products, with much of the country’s annual harvest exported. Java Foods could use more of the wheat, and so came eeZee Instant Noodles among other products. The entrepreneur’s noodles are now Zambia’s biggest-selling brand and she hopes that the brand would become East and Southern Africa’s leading quick meal option in the next five years. Her company also produces pasta and will start porridge production from local grains next year.

The Zambian lawyer has maintained a good relationship with her former boss and now serves on the board of Dangote Industries Zambia Limited. She also serves on the board of Central Bank of Zambia and she’s the Chairperson of Kwacha Pension Trust Fund, Zambia’s largest single employer pension fund.


Ibukun Awosika

Awosika made history by becoming the first woman to be appointed chairman of one of Africa’s largest lenders First Bank of Nigeria Holdings Plc in the bank’s 121 years of existence. She was non-Executive Director before her appointment in September.

Her rise to prominence in business is inspiring to African women as she started out early to pursue her goals. She worked as a show room Manager for just three months after the one-year compulsory youth service, at Alibert Nigeria Ltd, the furniture company where the bright idea of what she wanted to do was developed. She left and set up Quebees Ltd, a furniture manufacturing company, from which The Chair Centre Ltd later evolved.

In a bid to give back to the society and help Nigeria in addressing its unemployment challenges, Awosika co-founded the Afterschool Graduate Development Centre (AGDC), a national career centre in Lagos, Nigeria. She is also the immediate past chairperson of the board of trustees of Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ), and currently the Chairperson of Intermac, the organisers of SmartCard Conferences in Nigeria and Kenya.


Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola

What started as a one-page assignment has grown to become a big deal, evolving to become Wecyclers, a social enterprise that works with low-income households using an incentive-based model to tackle the widespread waste problems in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city.

Since Wecyclers started in 2012, the company has grown in leaps and bounds and has not finished any year without an award since 2013. This year, the social enterprise won the Seif Awards for social entrepreneurship. It also won $55,000 prize money at the Pitch For Lagos startup pitch event in July.

Adebiyi-Abiola knows that waste is currently a big problem for people living in poor conditions, but wants to turn it into a solution. Wecyclers, therefore, offers convenient household recycling service using a fleet of low-cost cargo bikes. The enterprise powers social change using the environment by allowing people in low-income communities to capture value from their waste. Households get rewarded with redeemable points based on the volume and quality of recyclables that they give. Wecyclers sort and aggregate the materials and then sells it to Nigerian recyclers.

Mo Abudu

Mo’ Abudu

Are you an African woman looking for inspiration? Look no further, Mosunmola Folake Abudu (nee Akintunde) is the inspiration you need to do what seems impossible. Abudu is today one of the most powerful women in African media and one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Global TV but her influence in the space did not just fall on her laps; it took years of challenging herself and breaking boundaries.

Years of successful hosting of Africa’s first syndicated talk show Moments with Mo, aired on M-Net with TV coverage in 48 African countries, proved her worth but what came thereafter was more than anyone’s expectation. In 2013, she launched EbonyLife TV, Africa’s first Global Black Entertainment and Lifestyle network, which is now ranked as one of the most watched channels on the DStv platform by women, and youth aged between 18 and 34. EbonyLife TV annually produces over 1000 hours of premium, original, and homegrown Anglo-African entertainment programming, 80 percent of which belongs exclusively to the TV, making it the largest self-owned library on the continent.

Often called Africa’s answer to American media proprietor Oprah Winfrey, the Nigerian media entrepreneur and self-taught TV host had achieved so much but she wanted more. In 2014, she set up EbonyLife Films which has completed its first feature film titled FIFTY, released recently globally and also on on-demand internet streaming service Netflix.


Adii Pienaar

South African Pienaar and his partners Mark Forrester and Magnus Jepson saw the need for slick, professionally designed WordPress themes with advanced functionality after WordPress launched in 2008 and offered limited themes. By 2013, their hard work had paid off and the company they founded, WooThemes turned over more than $2 million that financial year. Apparently, they made very nice themes, as according to the Entrepreneur magazine 20 percent of the web was powered by their software. WordPress also noticed. Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, this year, acquired WooThemes in a deal estimated to be worth $30 million. WordPress’s decision to snap up Pienaar’s WooThemes was made easily. Apart from being one of the most popular makers of WordPress themes, WooThemes is also the maker of WooCommerce, a very popular e-Commerce platform used on nearly 25 percent of all e-Commerce websites.

With WooThemes sold, Pienaar moved on. He has a new startup called Receiptful which raised $500,000 from angel investors earlier in the year.


Clarisse Iribagiza

Iribaziga is the ceo of HeHe Limited, a leading mobile technologies Company she co-founded in 2010. The tech world is often seen as a place for men. Not to Clarisse. At 27, the computer engineer is driving Rwanda’s tech industry. Over the last five years, Iribaziga has been working with other young and enthusiastic people to build mobile information systems and invest in research in appropriate mobile technologies for Africa.

The Rwandan was this year nominated among Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs under 30 by Forbes Magazine.

She’s seen these days helping young Rwandans to build their capacity in information technology and entrepreneurship as she grows her company. She speaks at different events targeted at helping young entrepreneurs, across East Africa. Apart from the knowledge she shares, her story inspires other aspiring entrepreneurs.


National Dialogue Quartet

For its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, the Quartet made up of the Human Rights League; General Labour Union; the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; and the Order of Lawyers was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tunisia was on the brink of war when the different organisations came together as one and helped the country’s transition to democracy, using dialogue, at a sensitive moment in 2013 when widespread social unrest threatened the process.

Kaci Kullman Five who chairs the Nobel peace committee said the Quartet’s role in the democratisation of Tunisia was directly comparable to the peace conferences mentioned by Alfred Nobel in his will.

Njeri Rionge

Njeri Rionge

Kenyan serial entrepreneur Rionge is the ceo and founder of Ignite Consulting & Investment Limited, as well as the director and co-founder of Wananchi Online Limited, an  affordable accessible Internet Service Provider. This has expanded into something bigger; Wananchi Group, the leading provider of broadband internet, cable television and internet-based mobile services in East Africa.

She is another woman who holds her own in the tech world. Rionge was a member of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board  for five years. She also set up the leading startup incubator in Kenya, Business Lounge and founded one of Kenya’s most popular digital marketing firms, Insite. The entrepreneur also turned her name Njeri Rionge, into a brand that helps budding entrepreneurs grow through coaching and motivational talks.

Rionge wants to see Africa develop into the next big economic miracle and she is committed to doing her part.

It is true that the year 2015 was a difficult one, fraught with challenges that ranged from slowing growth to terror attacks, displacement by war and violence and serious political challenges. But despite the disappointing turn, these 20 Africans continued their exploits, breaking barriers and bringing innovation into play in several ways, solving problems peculiar to Africa with homemade solutions. Their success in 2015 shows how great 2016 can be, regardless of not so encouraging forecasts for the new year.