Africa has many influential women who have greatly aided in putting Africa on the globe in leadership, business, sports, arts, and other spheres and domains.
Discover more: 10 Richest Black Women in the World
We are going to look at those self-made women who rose to influential positions mainly through their own efforts rather than being heirs or beneficiaries of undue favors. Here we go!
10. Lupita Nyog’o - Kenya
Lupita Nyong’o is an Oscar-winning actress who came to fame due to her role in the “12 Years A Slave”. She is the first Kenyan actress to have won an Oscar Academy Award in Film and Theater. She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, in this film in 2013. She has also acted in several films, including East River, My Genes, Steve McQueen’s, Star Wars, The Jungle Book, and lately, Black Panthers. She has been an inspiration for African women interested in entering the entertainment industry. Apart from acting, she has been an inspiration to women who would like to keep their appearance as natural as possible. Unlike most African female stars in the entertainment industry, she has not had the urge to bleach her skin. This has led her to appear in several international magazines as an “authentic African woman." We know, sad but true.
9. Salwa Akhannouch – Morocco
Salwa Akhannouch is a leading Moroccan female entrepreneur. She is not only one of the most influential African women but also one of the most influential Arabic women. Her great influence emanates from her entrepreneurial prowess. She is the head of Akwa Group which specializes in fashion brands. She owns the exclusive franchise rights in Morocco for brands such as Zara, Gap, and Banana Republic. She is also into real estate with an impressive portfolio. Through her enterprises, she has a 50% holding stakes in Morocco Mall – a prestigious mall that is Africa’s largest. The mall attracts over 50 million visitors from across the globe with key clientele coming from Africa, Europe and Asia.
8. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu – Ethiopia
Founder of soulRebels, Bethlehem Alemu is a household name in Ethiopia. She cut out her niche in the soles of the African shoes – making shoes out of recycled materials. soulRebels is largely a social enterprise that not only generates profits but also helps to sustain a clean environment through recycling of materials that would have otherwise added to the increasing mountain of garbage in Addis Ababa and characteristic of most African cities. Further, than that, soulRebels has helped relieve the acute unemployment crisis is Ethiopia by providing income opportunities to those living in poor slums of Addis Ababa. Thus, through her enterprise, she has profitably participated in alleviating poverty. As Ethiopia’s un-announced cultural ambassador, Bethlehem Alemu, she has promoted Ethiopia’s traditional shoes, namely, “selate” and “barabasso” to international fame by adding to them a stylish dose of modern appeal. Her ingenious entrepreneurship has led her to establish international stores in many parts of the world, including Switzerland, Taiwan, and Singapore.
7. Caster Semenya – South Africa
Born in 1991, in South Africa, Caster Semenya is a world-renowned athlete. She has won several international medals in athletics, including the most prestigious one – 800m Olympic Gold Medal. Semenya began her international athletics career in 2008 by participating in 2008 World Junior Championship which she successfully won a gold medal in the 800m race. In 2009 African Junior Championships, she won a double – 800m gold medal, and 1500m gold medal.
She participated in several other international races, capping it up with 2012 Olympic Gold Medal. Her latest great win was in 2017 World Championships in London where she won gold in 800m race. Caster Semenya has survived all odds when it comes to controversies surrounding her rather successful and exemplary performance in athletics. Some have questioned her gender and even damaging rumors on her personal life which would have otherwise caused great mental, emotional and psychological anguish to many haven’t deterred her.
6. Divine Ndhlukula – Zimbabwe
Divine Ndhlukula was born in Gatu, Zimbabwe. She is one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated women entrepreneurs. She is the founder and CEO of Securico Security Services. She entered this male-dominated field by offering customized security services. Due to her exemplary corporate and social leadership, she stands as one of Zimbabwe’s the most decorated women leaders, if not the most. She has won over 18 Awards both local and international with regard to leadership, entrepreneurship, mentoring, and philanthropy.
5. Ama Ata Aidoo - Ghana
Ama Ata Aidoo has had an influence on Africa spanning over 50 years. She was born in 1942 in Ghana. As a playwright, author, and academician, Aidoo has inspired not only African women but also men in the world of literature, drama, and poetry. Apart from being an accomplished author, poet, playwright, and academician, Aidoo has also participated in public service as a Minister for Education under the fourth government of Jerry Rawlings. As an academician, Aidoo has served in many universities straddling Africa, America, and Europe. She has written many pieces of literary works that have continued to impart knowledge to millions across Africa. She has over a dozen pieces of such works in her name. The Dilemma of A Ghost being her debut piece and Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories, being her latest. At, 76 years of age, she still finds the energy to continue mentoring young African women through her Mbaasem Foundation.
4. Folorunsho Alakija - Nigeria
Billed as Nigeria’s richest woman, Folorunsho Alakija was born in 1951 in Nigeria. She worked in many companies before beginning her entrepreneurial journey. Her entrepreneurial debut was Supreme Stitches, a tailoring company. Later on, it became Roses of Sharon House of Fashion, which became a national brand. Later on, Folorunsho ventured into the lucrative oil industry by applying for prospecting license in 1993. She carried oil prospecting under the flagship company, Famfa Limited. Later on, after oil discoveries, she converted from prospecting into mining. Apart from entrepreneurship, she has also participated in the academic field having become the first Nigerian woman to be a Chancellor of a university. She achieved this by becoming the Chancellor of Osun State University. She is one of Nigeria’s leading women philanthropists as well as the Chief Matron of Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs.
3. Sahle-Work Zewde - Ethiopia
Sahle-Work Zewde has broken history to become Ethiopia’s first female president. This is a big fete considering that Ethiopia is a predominantly patriarchal society. She has thus broken the ceiling to inspire not only Ethiopian women, but African women at large. Sahle-Work was unanimously elected by Ethiopia’s Federal Parliamentary Assembly to take up this coveted position. She had previously worked in diplomatic circles as UN Special Representative to the African Union (AU). She has also served in various other ambassadorial positions including Djibouti, IGAD, UNESCO, and ECA (Economic Commission for Africa).
2. Fatou Bom Bensouda - Gambia
Born in 1961 in the Gambia, Fatou Bom Bensouda is the most influential woman from this tiny West African country. Bensouda has served in various public capacities both locally, regionally and internationally. Currently, she is the second Prosecutor General of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the first and only woman to have held that position. She also served as Gambia's first female Attorney General and Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Prior to her appointment at ICC, she worked as Legal Adviser and Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
1. Dr. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Nigeria
Dr. Adichie is a writer and novelist. She was born in Nigeria, in 1977. She is an acclaimed feminist renowned for her speech “We Should All Be Feminists”, delivered on TED program. She has won about a dozen prized Awards in by various literary organizations including Caine, Booker, PEN, Orange, among others. Some of her great literary works include Purple Hibiscus, Half of A Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Kneck, among others. She was inspired by Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and considers him her literary mentor. She hasn’t disappointed her mentor. She too has become a mentor not only to young and upcoming female talents but also to male talents.
When it comes to the most influential women, Africa shines on the global scene. It has powerful influential women across various professional, entrepreneurial, artistic, sports, political, and leadership domains. They compete effectively with women across the world. They have contributed to raising Africa’s profile, even in domains that their male counterparts have been dwarfed. They are the true spirit of Africa’s 21st Century renaissance.