We all have some idea of leaders when we think of Africa as a whole and through its separate nations alone. With some really well-known, prolific names like Nelson Mandela at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of African leaders, it’s easy to let other important names fall by the wayside, but with so many nations and so many historical aspects to consider when thinking of great leaders, there are many who have come out of the continent. Here we look at the top ten greats, what they have done (or are doing), and a little about each.
Being Africa’s first elected female head of state is a big deal, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is serious about tackling this important and prestigious position, having been in office since January of 2006. Perhaps one of the things she is best known for is restoring stability to the country following years of civil war, which earned this African leader the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Kenyatta was the first President of Kenya when it gained independence in 1963, first being Prime Minister, and then President from 1964 until 1978, when he passed away. This African leader was best known for restoring stability and economic growth in Kenya and also fought for a pro-Western, anti-communist economic philosophy and foreign policy, and also oversaw Kenya’s admission into the UN.
Samora was the first president of Mozambique from when it gained independence in 1975 until his mysterious plane crash death in 1986. This African leader was perhaps best known as a revolutionary socialist and military commander, with actions and ideologies that are helping the citizens of Mozambique still today. He was a well-respected leader amongst the people of Mozambique.
Between 1983 and 1987, Thomas Sankara was the president of Burkina Faso at the age of 33 in an effort to rid the country of the crippling corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial powers. He was considered by many to be the African answer to Che Guevara. He was a Marxist revolutionary, feminist, Pan-African theorist, and military captain and eventually an iconic person for many young Africans in the early eighties and even today, praised for his selfless attitude towards his country and also his integrity. Unfortunately the African leader was assassinated by armed gunmen in October of 1987.
Nyerere is perhaps one of modern Africa’s most respected figures, serving as President of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985, after which time he voluntarily stepped down. This African leader had served as premier of Tanganyika was given internal self-government, and in 1964 he successfully negotiated the union of Zanzibar and Tanzania, paving the way for the Tanzania we know today.
Having founded the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) political party, Lumumba eventually became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo, and played a large role in the successful campaign for independence from Belguim, and additionally called for national unity and overall African independence. Unfortunately when the country came under the control of military leader Joseph Mobutu, the African leader was taken to Katanga where he was killed in 1961.
Selassie was a key member of Ethopian politics, having descended from the Solomonic Dynasty and served as Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 – 1930 and then as its Emporer from 1930 to 1974. During his time as the leader of Ethiopia, he both condemned Italy’s use of chemical weapons during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and additionally fended off an Italian invasion. This African leader was a key member and played a significant role in starting the Organisation of African Unity and eventually his views led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the current United Nations.
Kwame Nkrumah was the leader of both Ghana and its former state of the Gold Coast from 1951 through to 1966 and was also Ghana’s first Prime Minister. This African leader was one of the original founding members of the Organisation of African Unity which later became the African Union. Additionally he was an avid outspoken advocate of Pan-Africanism.
Konare served as president of Mali for two terms between 1992 and 2002, during which he not just boosted the economy, but also fostered democracy and after his terms, served as the African Union Chairperson between 2003 and 2008. This African leader has been an avid promoter of peace and integration and cooperation in the West Africa region and served as the president of both ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States in 1999 and UEMOA (Union Economique et Monetaire du Ouest Africaine/West African Economic and Monetary Union).
One of the world’s most prolific and well-known leaders, Nelson Mandela is best known for his vocal involvement in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. Drawing inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela directed peaceful campaigns full of non-violent defiance against the government and its policies of racial aggression. Later, Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, during which time he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The African leader passed away in 2013, but is still considered today to be an international symbol of global peace.