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5 African Politicians Who Changed the Political Landscape Across the Continent

Dec 10, 2021 02:00PM ● By Anand Subramanian

What qualities are required to be remembered as a great African leader? Perhaps endurance and perseverance are necessary? With great power comes enormous responsibility, and these African men and women have a strong sense of duty as well as generosity. These leaders were heroes and heroines of their periods, prepared to risk all to confront the unknown and express change in Africa. Join us on a trip down memory lane as we look at the five greatest African leaders who transformed the face of the African continent.

Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah is a highly regarded Ghanaian politician who led the country to independence from the country's colonial overlords in 1957 (Britain). Nkrumah was Ghana's first president and prime minister. He was a Pan-Africanist who helped establish the Africa Union (A.U.) (formerly the Organization of African Union). His ten-year stint in the United States had the greatest influence on him. It was in the United States that Nkrumah saw how detrimental the absence of civil rights for the Black race might be for Africans. Harlem in New York City, for example, left an unforgettable impression on Nkrumah. Back then, the streets were teeming with articulate and impassioned speakers and civil rights campaigners. The majority of individuals who spoke were either Marcus Garvey's friends or disciples. It didn't take long for Kwame Nkrumah to get deeply involved in student activities. Despite his struggles to make a livelihood, Nkrumah actively participated in talks across the city. He was an important participant at the Pan-African Conference in New York in 1944. Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast after a 12-year study abroad. He became a revolutionary and was imprisoned for inciting political unrest. During his presidency, he oversaw vast development projects that stretched the length and width of Ghana. Nkrumah's legacy in Ghana and abroad is unrivaled.

Figure 1 - Portrait of Kwame Nkrumah. Source - Google

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the UN's 7th Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. Then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali ran unopposed in the 1996 elections for Secretary-General of the United Nations; nevertheless, he was unable to obtain the support of the United States, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Throughout his first tenure, the Egyptian diplomat's initiatives strained relations between the United Nations and several member nations, most notably the United States. As a result, the US blocked Ghali's bid for a second term as UN Secretary-General. As a result, Annan emerged as the top contender for the role. In the first round, the Ghanaian-born candidate defeated Ivorian diplomat Amara Essy by one vote. On December 13, 1996, the 15-member United Nations Security Council approved Annan's nomination. The UN General Assembly then ratified Annan's nomination on December 17. On January 1, 1997, Kofi Annan took over as Secretary-General of the United Nations, succeeding Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali. When he was in the head of the United Nations, Annan addressed Africa's HIV/AIDS crisis. He sought to bring several international wars to a close. In 2001, he and the United Nations were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His post-UN Secretary-General years were likewise quite fruitful. In nations such as Syria and Myanmar, he worked as a special envoy and led various organizations. The Kofi Annan Foundation, a philanthropic and global policy think tank, is only one of Annan's several legacy efforts. Annan's death was announced in the early hours of August 18, 2018. The illustrious diplomat died at the age of 80. Annan will be remembered as a great leader who relentlessly battled for world peace and the abolition of hunger.

Figure 2 - Portrait of Kofi Annan. Source - Google

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is widely regarded as the most popular Liberian lady in recent times. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf returned to Liberia to take up a position in President William Tolbert's (20th President of Liberia) government after spending several years studying in the United States at schools such as the Madison Business College and the University of Colorado Boulder. Between 1971 through 1974, the Harvard-educated public administration graduate worked as Deputy Minister of Finance. She rose to national prominence after she criticized Liberian firms for shifting profits out of the country. Liberians were able to hold a general election in 2005 after the country's relative peace and security had been restored. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ran for president on the Unity Party ticket. Following the failure of the first round of voting to yield an absolute majority winner, the second round of voting was performed, with Sirleaf emerging victorious, defeating famed footballer George Weah by 59 percent to 40 percent of the votes cast. She accomplished this milestone while serving as President of Liberia from 2006 until 2018. During that time, she launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to assist the country in healing after the country's harsh and deadly civil conflict of the 1990s. President Sirleaf was also awarded the renowned Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her achievements in women's social and economic emancipation not just in Liberia but across the world. Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf has consistently been voted among the top five most influential women on the African continent, in addition to being well regarded by her contemporaries and several international organizations.

Figure 3 - Portrait of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Source - Google

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was the Republic of Kenya's first president. Kenyatta, often regarded as the "Father of Modern Kenya," was important in winning Kenya's (previously British East Africa's) independence from Great Britain. He was an active member in the Kikuyu tribe's affairs, having joined the Kikuyu Central Association in the mid-1920s. He campaigned to protect the Kikuyu people's interests. Kenyatta, like Harry Thuku, a key member of the East Africa Association (EAA), resisted white minority rule and the forceful acquisition of Kikuyu territories. After Kenya was brought into the British Empire in 1920, certain territories were stolen from the Kikuyu. After the government cracked down on Kenyatta and Thuku's campaigning, the EAA morphed into the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA). Kenyatta and KCA members continued to advocate for equitable land rights for the Kikuyu people and Kenya as a whole. Kenyatta was named general secretary of the KCA due to his command of the English language.

Figure 4 - Portrait of Jomo Kenyatta. Source - Google

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a great African statesman and citizen. Before becoming South Africa's president (1994-1999), he spent a significant portion of his life battling against the country's apartheid political system. As South Africa's first Black president, his administration addressed critical racial structures that separated and divided the country's varied races. Mandela was a revolutionary who was imprisoned several times for his efforts. His African National Congress (ANC) party won the 1994 general election (South Africa's first free, multi-racial, and democratic election) after he was released after 27 years in prison. Mandela, affectionately known as "Madiba" (his traditional Xhosa clan name), forgave all his adversaries and established a reconciliation commission, directed by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to investigate previous human rights atrocities during the apartheid era. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace-loving life and numerous programs and activities to end South Africa's terrible decades of apartheid.

Figure 5 - Portrait of Nelson Mandela. Source - Google

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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