SEATTLE — This past year, the hit Marvel movie Black Panther astounded Western audiences with its images of a bright, peaceful, and technologically advanced African nation called Wakanda. Africa is consistently derided in the world press as backwards and its advances are often overshadowed by its post-colonial challenges. Seeing a positive image of a part of the world CNN described as “often lazily portrayed in the West” awoke moviegoers to the potential that Africa has always had. While Wakanda may be fictional, these are eight real-life leaders who prove there is hope for Africa.
Leaders Proving There Is Hope for Africa
- Abiy Ahmed (Ethiopia)
Abiy Ahmed has been prime minister of Ethiopia for only four months, but has taken huge steps to improve the lives of Ethiopian citizens. He has toured the country to calm ethnic disputes, spoken out against state-sponsored killings and released activists imprisoned by the former administration. In general, Ahmed is working to strengthen democratic institutions in Ethiopia, like the constitution and freedom of the press. Internationally, he has brokered peace in Ethiopia’s decades-long conflict with coastal neighbor Eritrea. Finally, in the economic realm, the prime minister is instituting privatization reforms that could jumpstart foreign investment. Ahmed’s energy and passion show that with excellent leaders, there is hope for Africa.
- George Weah (Liberia)
While George Weah is internationally known as 1995’s FIFA World Player of the Year, the former soccer star is better known in his home country of Liberia for being president. Prior to Weah’s 2018 inauguration, Liberia faced several developmental challenges. Corruption is rampant in the country, which still has not recovered from a 14-year war as well as a recent Ebola outbreak. In response, Weah took personal action; within a week of his inauguration, he pledged a quarter of his salary towards a development fund for the country. He has also promised to end discrimination in areas of citizenship and property rights, which will likely lead to economic reform. Weah’s effort shows he is a skilled statesman as well as a sports legend.
- Obiageli Ezekwesili (Nigeria)
Obiageli Ezekwesili is unafraid to speak truth to power. In addition to serving as Nigeria’s Education Minister, she founded Transparency International in response to the sort of corruption rampant in her country’s institutions. Most notably, she is a co-founder of Bring Back Our Girls, an initiative devoted to ensuring the safe return of the Chibok students kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. While most of the girls have since been returned, at the time the issue was overlooked by the Nigerian and international press. Ezekwesili told The Guardian, “Since the beginning, they have tried to make us shut up.” However, her coordination of a massive social media movement in support of the captives shows the world’s hope for Africa and the Chibok girls.
- Kumi Naidoo (South Africa)
Kumi Naidoo is no stranger to activism. Born under apartheid in South Africa, as a teenager he was expelled from school for protesting the system. After numerous run-ins with the regime, he was forced to flee to the U.K. After his return in 1990, he worked to promote education, especially for formerly disenfranchised groups. As an activist, he has consistently been on the cutting edge of African issues. He has served for several years on the committee of Africans Rising, an NGO working to assist development on the continent. Most recently, he became the Secretary General for Amnesty International, the largest human rights organization in the world. Naidoo’s regional and international activism shows true hope for Africa.
- Ory Okolloh (Kenya)
Ory Okolloh knows all about the power of social media. After founding several companies harnessing the power of crowdsourcing to communicate critical information, she was Google’s policy manager for Africa. However, she still believes in the importance of in-person activism, commenting to Forbes, “At the end of the day you still need to go offline unto the streets.” Her work focuses not only on developing Africa’s tech scene but also its ability to hold its leaders accountable. Her first website, Mzalendo, allowed Kenyans to easily track their MPs’ votes. She describes her mission as “focusing on untapped potential of the continent.”
- Ian Khama (Botswana)
Ian Khama knows that sometimes the most important thing for a good statesman to do is to walk away from office. Khama has long been an advocate for African democracy, speaking out against strongmen like Robert Mugabe and Joseph Kabila who attempt to stay in office for life. In the past year, the politician took his own advice; he peacefully stepped down from office in order to safeguard Botswana’s democracy. This is especially poignant considering Khama’s father was Botswana’s first president after colonial rule. Combined with his support for international law and conservation, Khama’s commitment to human rights proves there is hope for Africa.
- Hans Cosmas Ngoteya (Tanzania)
As a conservationist, Hans Cosmas Ngoteya has worked to protect some of the world’s most endangered wildlife. However, he has also undertaken a unique initiative to understand the plight of those who poach and log in areas designated as reservations. As he explained to National Geographic, villagers around Katavi National Park told him, “Nature is the thing that always provided for us, so when you put limits on us to access nature, it’s like you’re putting limits for our life.” Now, Ngoteya works to educate and empower locals to see wildlife as a resource to protect and harness instead of aggressively exploit. His work represents a compromise necessary for development in ecologically rich areas of Africa.
- Edna Adan Ismail (Somalia)
Edna Adan Ismail believes that healthcare is a fundamental human right. After a childhood spent assisting her father with his medical duties in a Somali relief camp, she was inspired to start her own hospital. Since then, the Edna Adan University Hospital has treated more than 140,000 patients. The hospital especially focuses on providing mothers with expert obstetric services. To provide this skilled care, Ismail has trained 300 midwives and retrains others regularly to keep their medical knowledge up to date. Her personal story and work for others in her native Somalia are an inspiration to those looking for hope for Africa.
The African continent faces unique development challenges, but the stereotypical images Westerners are familiar with do not tell the full story. There are positive elements along with the negative ones, hope along with pain. There is hope for Africa with the support of those who believe in its future.
– Lydia Cardwell