The Africa Yellow Wall: The Africans that should inspire you in 2019
In 2015, we embarked on a mission to identify Africans, who during the year made socio-economic impact in their communities and recorded personal achievements that could inspire other Africans in the following year. After an extensive research, more than 20 Africans were identified and were illustrated on a platform we called The Nerve Africa Yellow Wall.
Welcome to the second edition of The Nerve Africa Yellow Wall, which reflects the accomplishments of Africans on the Wall over the past year.
With Africa’s abundance of human and natural resources, the continent should be one of the world’s wealthiest regions, where citizens feel the impact of their natural wealth. However, its largest economy is also home to the highest number of poor people, while its second largest economy has the highest level of inequality in the world. These sad realities regardless, Africa has made big leaps in different aspects of life, buoyed by the doggedness of its people in the face of everyday challenges. With a high sense of purpose and commitment to making impact, Africans lay credence to the saying that Africans are Africa’s greatest resources.
A new year has come, so has the opportunity to make a fresh start or build on your past achievements. But if you ever need a nudge in the right direction, these Africans will inspire you.
Theresa Kachindamoto is a Malawian District Chief waging war against deep-rooted cultural practices of child marriage and institutional sexual abuse of young girls in Malawi.
The country in Southeast Africa is among the poorest on the continent, with a high level of rural poverty. To better their lots, families in rural Malawi give their girls — sometimes before their teenage years — to older men as wives and sometimes younger boys, to take off the responsibility of raising them. A 2012 United Nations report said almost one in two girls in Malawi get married before they turn 18. As a result, missing out on education and the best years of childhood.
Having assumed office as chief over almost one million Malawians in 545 villages in 2003, Kachindamoto abolished the institution that promotes the practice. She now maintains an intelligence gathering system made up of a large network of female informants, who report cases of child marriages which she then annuls. She sends the girls to school and in cases where there is a child, Theresa makes the grandparents or older relatives take care of them. So far, she has annulled over 2,000 child marriages.
Kachindamoto is also championing a fight to stop institutional sexual abuse backed by a culture where adolescent girls are taken to camps for sexual training. At these camps, the girls are made to have sex with boys and men who they do not know, exposing them to early pregnancies, and STDs. She is using her influence to lobby the “culture gatekeepers” to discontinue the long-entrenched practice which she was almost a victim of as a child.
In a world where disability is often used as an excuse, a black South African wheelchair tennis player became famous by defying odds. Montjane, 32, made history last year by becoming the first black South African woman to compete at Wimbledon. She also qualified for the US Open, becoming the first African wheelchair tennis player from Africa to qualify for all the four grand slams in a year.
Surprisingly, Montjane never held a tennis racket until the age of 19, but while growing up, she participated in every sport that allowed her compete in her wheelchair.
In 2005, when wheelchair tennis was introduced in South Africa, she decided to give it a shot. Today, she ranks in the top 10 of the ITF wheelchair tennis ranking.
Montjane has been named South Africa’s disabled sportswoman of the year three times — 2005, 2011 and 2015 — and holds 29 singles titles. She has won tournaments such as the wheelchair Belgian Open and Swiss Open. “It’s not people who make you who you are, you gonna make yourself who you want to be,” she says.
Abiy Ahmed, widely described as Ethiopia’s reformist leader, has presided over bold political and economic reforms in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa since his appointment in April 2018.
In the first few months of his administration, Ahmed freed thousands of political prisoners and journalists, whose arrests were widely perceived as a clampdown on opposition and free press. He also reshuffled his cabinet to allow equal representation for women, appointing the first female supreme court president, and then an opposition leader as the Ethiopian electoral body’s chairwoman ahead of the country’s 2020 general elections.
Alongside these political reforms, Ahmed, 42, is currently leading a robust economic reform that will allow private sector participation in Ethiopia’s largely state-controlled economy. He is also turning around the country’s disadvantageous landlocked position by acquiring stakes in the ports of neighbouring coastal countries, positioning Ethiopia to have a say on how these ports are run.
Abiy Ahmed has also taken bold steps to lead the normalization of diplomatic ties in the Horn of Africa countries. He initiated and signed a peace deal with Eritrea which involved honoring a United Nations-brokered peace agreement that required Ethiopia to give back a disputed territory to its Northern neighbor, ending a two-decade military stare-down. The deal had since opened up commercial and diplomatic ties between the two countries and set a precedence for peace agreements among other countries in the region.
Ahmed should write a book and title it ‘How to make a long-lasting impact in one year’. It would be for African leaders who ask to stay in office for several terms to make desired impact because, in their words, “change takes time”.
From breaking into one of the most difficult industries in Nigeria to becoming the owner of the country’s first ever gold refinery, Nere Teriba has shown she is not your average business person. She started with trading in minerals, specifically Lead, and has continued to move up in the $2 trillion mining value chain. Although she says none of her achievements have come without challenges, she always knew there is no cloud without a silver lining… maybe Gold.
Teriba’s gold refinery, scheduled to begin operations by the end of the first half of 2019 is expected to produce 3 tonnes of gold and 1 tonne of silver per month, both at 99.99 percent purity.
Through her company Kian Smith Trade &Co., Nere Teriba intends to help develop Africa’s mining industry, starting from Nigeria and West Africa. She has taken it upon herself to help Nigeria solve its challenge of not getting royalties from artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs), who produce most of the minerals in circulation in the West African country. She is also helping the miners get more from mining, formalize their operations and adopt sustainable mining practices. When she succeeds, she would have successfully created hundreds of thousands of jobs and made millions of revenue for the government. Nere Teriba is 36.
Bogolo Joy Kenewendo
Kenewendo, 32, Botswana’s youngest Member of Parliament and Minister, began her journey to Botswana’s Investment, Trade and Industry Ministry through an unusual route; the dump site. Kenewendo’s journey began in her Junior Secondary School days, where she got the golden idea that collecting trash among other voluntary services would get her a seat at the table of success.
Not only does she have a seat at the table, she also owns the table that has empowered other young women to achieve success. Kenewendo, through her Molaya Kgosi women leadership and mentorship programme, provides women with the platform to be empowered to overcome patriarchal prejudices.
Kenewendo who is also a skilled writer and a certified Project Manager has more than economy and politics up her sleeves. In her bag of honours and accolades is the 2012 ‘Ten Outstanding Young Persons’ award, the 2016 ‘Botswana Change Makers Award’ in Business and Leadership, as well as the 2016 ‘Formidable Woman’ award.
A Kenyan marathoner who has won nine straight marathons and is a current Olympic champion, 34-year-old Kipchoge won his first individual world championship title in 2003 after winning the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. He also set a junior world record in the 5000m race at the 2003 Bislett Games after running for 12 hours 52 minutes and 61 seconds. He later switched to road running in 2012 and made the second-fastest ever half marathon debut within 59:25 minutes.
Kipchoge has won both the London Marathon (2016,2018) and Berlin Marathon (2015), and has also won 11 of the 12 marathons he has entered. Kipchoge also won the Olympic marathon in 2016.
He is currently the marathon world record holder with a record time of 2 hours 1 minute 39 seconds after winning at the Berlin Marathon, where he has won thrice in the last four years. Kipchoge has also been ranked second on ESPN’s “The Dominant 20”. According to Kipchoge in one of his tweets after winning at the Berlin Marathon, “No human is limited.” We think he is right. He also had this to say at Eldoret, “The key to running a marathon well is all in the mind. Hard work and determination are key.”
Segun Awosanya (Segalink)
He is a Nigerian human rights activist who has been a leading force behind the popular demand for the Nigerian government to either scrap or reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (a unit of the Nigeria Police Force) over human rights abuses, brutality and unprofessional conduct.
In December 2017, Nigerians took to Social Media to share horrific accounts of police brutality, and human rights abuses using the hashtag #EndSARS. The hashtag trended on Twitter for about a week with a continuous stream of stories and discussions. It was also taken offline through a protest in the capital and other cities in the country.
Awosanya organized and led the protest in Abuja alongside other activists. He also led a petition documenting the accounts and complaints of Nigerians against the unit and the police force, which he presented to the country’s National Assembly. All through 2018, Awosanya served as a distress hotline for victims of police brutality and human rights abuses. He would go to police stations, occasionally late in the night, to solicit for the release of young people who were held unlawfully by the police. These online and offline activities led to a directive by the Nigerian government to the police head, to overhaul the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and create a strictly intelligence-based unit out of the reform. If you need inspiration on how to be a force of change, Segun is your man.
In 2013, a survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Egypt the worst country in the Arab World for women. It was so bad that any visible reform made in the country would have been carried out by a man. But Sahar Nasr is braving the odds and contributing her quota from her position as the head of Egypt’s Investment and International Cooperation ministry; a victory for Egyptian and Arabian women.
Nasr climbed the corporate ladder of success, from being the lead financial economist at the World Bank to taking charge of a ministry in the Egyptian government. At 54, Nasr’s career has actively involved designing and supervising numerous reforms and finance programs in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe. Her wealth of experience has impacted on Egypt’s ability to attract investors, spurring economic growth beyond expectations.
Her ministry now organizes an annual investor meeting that is putting the spotlight back on Egypt. At the 2018 edition of the meeting, 30 agreements worth $3.5 billion were signed. Egypt’s GDP grew by 5.3 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June 2018, the highest rate in 10 years.
Only a few Malian women have reached the highest level in government and Kamissa Camara represents a glimmer of hope for women in the West African country. Having a female minister is new to Mali; one of the reasons Camara’s appointment as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (the first female Minister of Mali) was cheered throughout Africa.
At 35, Camara has worked in foreign affairs and policies roles for about a decade. She is an expert in African politics, especially in the Sahel/West Africa region. Camara is the founder and co-chair of the Sahel Strategy Forum, an initiative to shed light on the governance complexities of the Sahel. She was one of the leading lights for African women in 2018.
Driven by the passion to serve the most vulnerable women in society and restoring their dignity and pride. Denis Mukwege, fondly called Doctor Miracle, has become the world’s leading specialist in the treatment of wartime sexual violence and a global campaigner against the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Having treated a lot of women whose organs were destroyed by gang rapes, Denis has become a leading human rights and gender equality activist. Through his activism, he has brought the attention of the United Nations and other international organizations to the atrocities of armed conflict in Eastern Congo over the past two decades. Mukwege, who wants those responsible for sexual violence brought to justice, is also fighting for the increased protection of women.
Doctor Miracle, 63, is being celebrated globally for his humanitarian works which won him the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
Nnedi Okorafor, 44, tries every time to outdo herself. Like several years before it, 2018 was filled with several exciting projects and awards nominations for the Nigerian writer. One of the most significant ones was the comic book series centered around Black Panther’s younger sister, Shuri, which Marvel is set to adapt to the big screens. Shuri: The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor is expected to be released on May 7, 2019. She had earlier written other Black Panther issues for Marvel, as well as a three-part series “Wakanda Forever” that follows the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces team that protects Wakanda.
In 2018, readers of UK’s The Guardian voted her book Akata Warrior as one of their favourite books of the year. A reader commented: “I got so bored of the same old fantasy and sci-fi tropes (to the point that I went off reading for a while), and along came Nnedi Okorafor and Afrofuturism and blew me away.”
The international award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction has won a lot but she has not had enough. If there is any motivation you need to keep working hard, it’s Nnedi.
Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99 percent of these deaths happening in developing countries. Women die as a result of complications during and following pregnancy and childbirth. One such is severe bleeding. To nurse women who suffer such back to health, there may be need for a quick blood transfusion. While blood transfusion saves lives, the transfusion of unsafe blood puts lives at risk. The search for safe blood thus sometimes makes it difficult to get blood to cater to patients’ needs. Temie Giwa-Tubosun has considered all these and is working round the clock to ensure safe blood is available and affordable.
Giwa-Tubosun started Life Bank after the Boko Haram attack on the United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city in 2011. With over 70 wounded persons after the incident, the Nigerian hospitals attending to victims of the blast ran out of blood supply. To avoid this sort of issue repeating itself, Giwa-Tubosun launched the One Percent Project, a non-governmental organisation committed to educating people on blood donation and reducing incidences of blood shortages at hospitals.
Four years later, the One Percent Project transformed 100 percent into LifeBank Nigeria, the medical startup using technology to improve blood supply to hospitals. With life savers on wheels ready to deliver blood to any part of the cities where LifeBank operates, the number of people dying because of lack of safe blood is reducing.
Giwa-Tubosun wouldn’t let anyone die on her watch. What if a patient needs oxygen to keep her alive and not blood? She launched Airbank in 2018, following the same model as LifeBank, to ensure hospitals have someone to call when they are running out of oxygen needed to keep their patients alive.
We won’t be surprised to one day see Giwa-Tubosun launch Organ Match, a service where she would link relatives of dying people with patients who may need their organs to stay alive. It won’t be a bank, because a heart or lung can be kept viable for transplantation for only six hours, while a pancreas or liver can only be kept for 12 hours and a kidney for less than 30 hours.
In September 2018, LifeBank won the MIT Solve Global Challenge competition in the “Frontlines of health” category.
Richard Appiah Akoto
Akoto’s was a classic story of making lemonades out of lemons life throws at you. Betenase M/A Junior High School hasn’t had a computer since 2011 and Akoto’s students had to pass a national exam that includes questions on information and communication technology (ICT). The 33-year-old decided to turn the challenge into an opportunity.
Using his talent for drawing, Akoto started to teach his students how a computer works by drawing computer applications on a blackboard in detail. Richard recreated a computer in the minds of his students by illustrating how a computer works on the blackboard. During one of his classes, he took a picture after drawing the Microsoft Word application on the blackboard and posted it on Facebook. With over 500 pictures posted on his timeline, he had no idea that particular picture would make a huge difference. The post went viral after generating over nine thousand likes and Microsoft’s attention was drawn to it.
As a result, Richard was flown out of Ghana to attend Microsoft’s Education Exchange in Singapore after which Microsoft offered to provide computers and software support for the school. The school also got computers from several other donors.
Dogboe, also known as Royal Storm has fought 21 times and he has only lost once, knocking out 14 opponents in the process. His only loss came just weeks ago when he faced Mexican boxer Emanuel Navarrete in New York.
The 24-year-old Ghanaian born boxer, who made his professional boxing debut in 2013 shortly after an outing at the London Olympics, has gone on to make a name for himself in world boxing. Although, he seems to knock out everything on his way, he has not been able to do that without taking a few punches himself, including a period of homelessness in the United States with his father and coach, who started training him to be a boxer at 14.
Some of the victims of Dogboe’s fist of fury include America’s undefeated title holder, Jessie Magdaleno, whom he knocked out in the 11th round to win the WBO Super Bantamweight title in April 2018. Four months later, it was Japanese boxer, Hidenori Otake who was knocked out by the Royal Storm in the first round. With that, he retained the WBO Super Bantamweight title.
Navarrete messed Dogboe’s face up at their fight on 8 December, just as he messed up the Ghanaian’s record. But Dogboe’s determination got him 20 fights without defeat and post Navarrete, he will rise and knock out more blokes.
Held down by religious and cultural practice passed down from generation to generation, Sudan has for long undermined its women, despite making up 49.6 percent of the country’s population. In 2012, the country’s religious authority the Islamic Fiqh Council banned the formation of a national women’s football team in the country, describing it as an immoral act. However, there are a few female teams that keep training while waiting for a day the government lifts the ban that stops them from playing for their country. While they wait, Salma al-Majidi’s love for football and her country has taken her through an unusual route; the 28-year-old is now a football coach for a men’s team, becoming the first Arab and Sudanese woman to do so.
The coach told AFP in an interview that she started having dreams of pursuing a footballing career at the age of 16, when she asked a coach in charge of a boys’ team to allow her work with him. She was later given a shot at the under-13 and under-16 teams. Today, she has coached four Sudanese men’s clubs and also has the CAF “B” badge, which means she can coach any first league team across the continent. But al-Majidi’s dreams don’t end there; she’d like to coach an international team.
Nigeria’s 2018 winter Olympics team
Never has an African team participated at the winter Olympics for Bobsled and Skeleton category. But in February, four Nigerians decided to make history by representing their country at the 2018 PyeongChang South Korea winter Olympics, becoming the first ever African bobsled and skeleton team.
The Bobsled team formed since 2016 was led by Seun Adigun as the driver, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga as the brake women. Inspired by the story about a Nigerian bobsled team planning to represent the country in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Simi Adeagbo’s zeal to represent her country at the Skeleton sport was awakened in 2016.
Since there was no fund available to participate in the Olympics, the team started a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe and raised the sum of $75,000. The campaign created a lot of buzz online and gained a lot of attention locally and internationally. Having succeeded in getting to participate in the event, the Nigerian government established a bobsleigh and skeleton federation to accompany them to the Olympics.”
Although they finished 20th out of 20 teams, the story of their heroics will be told for generations to come.
If anyone was going to challenge Yoweri Museveni, the 74-year-old wouldn’t have expected it to be a reggae star who wasn’t even born when he married Janet in 1973. But Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu has constantly being a thorn in Museveni’s flesh and for once, many consider him as the beginning of the end of Museveni’s 32-year rule.
Born in Mpigi district, central Uganda, Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, grew up in Kamwookya, one of the poorest suburbs of Kampala where he launched his music career in the early 2000s after graduating from Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest, with a degree in Music, Dance and Drama. He became famously known as the “Ghetto President” for persistently speaking out about the struggles of the Ugandan lower classes and the urban poor.
Releasing songs that hit directly at government failures and excesses made Kyagulanyi popular among Ugandan youth.
Some of his spectacular lines include “Why would you wash white clothes only to hang them on a dirty log to dry?” “Why don’t you look up to Mandela as an example? He ran for one term and released the flag”. “We know you fought a Bush war, but imagine a child who was unborn when you came has long become a parent… They request that you don’t touch their constitution because it’s their only remaining hope.”
In 2017, Kyagulanyi won a parliamentary seat for Kyaddondo East in Uganda, taking the ghetto to the parliament as he didn’t stop being Bobi Wine.
All by himself, Bobi Wine has galvanized support for a new line of thinking that is beyond Museveni. He has helped unseat three incumbent ruling party MPs. He was an outsider and nobody invited him but he brought his own chair and sat at the table. The rural votes Museveni once relied on to win elections is now being split with Bobi Wine, whose cult-like following is growing in rural Uganda and among the lower and middle classes, especially young Ugandans.
As things stand, if there is anyone who can end Museveni’s reign through a free and fair election, it is Bobi Wine. He is only 36.
Betelhem Dessie is a 19-year-old software engineering student in Addis Ababa University, and a pioneer in Ethiopia’s technology space. She started coding when she was 9 years old, and now works at iCog Labs — Ethiopia’s research and technological company focused on Artificial Intelligence and robotics — as program lead for a couple of projects.
Anyone Can Code (ACC) is one of the programs Betelhem Dessie leads at iCog. She and her team teach young people, especially women, the basics of AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies. She also leads Solve IT, an arm of iCog Labs that works with young people around Ethiopia to develop technological solutions for problems in their local communities.
At 12, she was employed by the Ethiopian government as a developer for the Information Network Security Agency. One of her programs — a software application that maps irrigation in Ethiopia was developed for use by the Government.
Dessie currently has seven software programs copyrights, four of which she solely holds.
Rugwizangoga is the Chief Executive of Volkswagen mobility solutions Rwanda — a first in Africa car sharing and ride hailing initiative which allows customers to order a Volkswagen vehicle assembled in Rwanda for short use through a software application. The vehicle may come with a driver or the customer may choose to drive.
As CEO, Rugwizangoga is responsible for implementing and refining the strategy from vehicle assembly to customer use. She has successfully overseen the setup of an assembly plant in Rwanda’s Special Economic Zone, training of factory workers for the plant, and the development of the app. The next challenge in 2019 is to implement the strategy at the customer level starting out with 150 vehicles.
As the small East African country’s younger population grows along with a growing tourism sector, an innovative solution that enhances mobility for both citizens and tourists is critical for sustainable economic growth.
In this years’ list, we are introducing a posthumous mention for the first time.
Hugh Masekela, Winnie Mandela, Kofi Annan
Some great Africans passed away in 2018. They inspired a generation while alive but even in death, their stories continue to encourage Africans to become better versions of themselves and help the continent attain its full potential.
We can talk about Winnie Mandela’s anti-apartheid contribution, Kofi Annan’s commitment to the plight of the underprivileged and world peace. Hugh Masekela’s musical genius and his influence in South Africa is also worthy of note. But whatever they achieved in life is now history. They were not infallible and had several moral deficiencies that tainted their legacies, but there lives remain a source of inspiration to many. And their death should remind everyone that no matter how great your life is, death comes eventually. So, be inspired by the expectation of death to make the most of the life you now have.
*Please note that the list is in no particular order.
Illustration: Uji Terkuma, Creative Direction: Perez Tigidam, Editorial Supervisor: Niyi Aderibigbe, Research Lead: Eze Wodu, Research Assistants: Olaide Olamide, Samuel Bukola, Editorial: Fumnanya Ezeana, Chiamaka Ihekwoaba. Graphics: Mishael Michaels. Project Manager: Catherine Ishokare
Originally published at The Nerve Africa.