The most influential Africans in history are admired for courage, achievements, and honorable standards and talents. The list of most influential Africans is long, however, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Wangari Maathai, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, and Jomo Kenyatta are six of the most influential Africans from Africa's history who have changed the course of Africa forever.
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Most Influential African People in History
Moving to London after World War II, Nkrumah helped organize Pan-African congresses, linking the emergent educated groups of the African colonies with activists, writers, artists, and well-wishers from the industrial countries. It was a time of great intellectual ferment, excitement, and optimism. "If we get self-government," Nkrumah proclaimed, "we'll transform the Gold Coast into a paradise in 10 years."
Ghana's route to independence became the model for the rest of the continent. By the mid-1960s, over 30 African countries were independent and many had charismatic leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, and Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia.
In Africa, Ghana was the first to achieve independence in 1957. The new nation's most influential figure was its prime minister, later president, Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana's route to independence became the model for the rest of the continent.
Nkrumah ended up taking up exile in Guinea, where another experiment in "African socialism" was in progress. Guinea's president, Sekou Toure, his own rule increasingly repressive and arbitrary, endowed Nkrumah with the title of "co-president." Nkrumah made regular shortwave broadcasts to Ghana, published ideological treatises, and plotted a triumphal return to power until he grew ill and died in 1972, still in exile.
"We face neither East nor West: we face forward." -Kwame Nkrumah
Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected leader of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) calling for national unity and overall African independence. Lumumba sent Congolese troops to Southern Kasai province in an attempt to restore the situation but the ill-trained soldiers mutilated, gang rape and killed thousands of Congolese civilians.
South Kasai was an unrecognized secessionist state within the Republic of the Congo, the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today at least 5,000 people have been killed in the Kasai region over the past two years and more than 1.4 million displaced.
From the military camp, Lumumba was transferred to Elisabethville, Katanga on January 18, 1961, despite the presence of United Nations troops, he was picked up by a small group led by Katanga's interior minister, Godefroid Munongo.
Lumumba was taken to a nearby house where he was assassinated. Lumumba's assassination made him a symbol of the struggle for champions of African nations' attempts to bond and set themselves free from the influence of the European Colonizers.
“Third World is a state of the mind and until we change our attitude as Africans, if there is a fourth, fifth and even sixth world, we will be in it.” -Patrice Lumumba
Dr. Wangari Maathai
|Dr. Wangari Maathai|
Dr. Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmental activist who founded the Green Belt Movement. She became the first African women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
According to the Nobel Prize, “Maathai's mobilization of African women was not limited in its vision to work for sustainable development; she saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women's rights, and international solidarity. In the words of the Nobel Committee: "She thinks globally and acts locally." Dr. Maathai died on September 25, 2011, at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer.
"I kept stumbling and falling and stumbling and falling as I searched for the good. ’Why?' I asked myself. Now I believe that I was on the right path all along, particularly with the Green Belt Movement, but then others told me that I should not have a career, that I should not raise my voice, that women are supposed to have a master. That I needed to be someone else. Finally, I was able to see that if I had a contribution I wanted to make, I must do it, despite what others said. That I was OK the way I was. That it was all right to be strong." -Dr. Wangari Maathai
|Stephen (Steve) Bantu Biko|
Steve Biko was one of South Africa's most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement. His death in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed as a martyr of the anti-Apartheid struggle.
The brutal circumstances of Biko's death caused a worldwide outcry and he became a martyr and symbol of black resistance to the oppressive Apartheid regime. As a result, the South African government banned a number of individuals (including Donald Woods) and organizations, especially those Black Consciousness groups closely associated with Biko.
The United Nations Security Council responded by finally imposing an arms embargo against South Africa. Biko's family sued the state for damages in 1979 and settled out of court for R65,000 (then equivalent to $25,000).
"The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity." -Steve Biko
Global icon Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa died December 5, 2013, Houghton Estate, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African political activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and in 1994, he became the first President of South Africa to be elected in fully representative democratic elections.
In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18 as Nelson Mandela Day to honor Nelson Mandela’s lifelong dedication to helping the human race throughout South Africa and by extension the world.
"I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days." -Nelson Mandela
In May 1928 Kenyatta launched a monthly Kikuyu-language newspaper called Mwigithania, He Who Brings Together, aimed at gaining support from all sections of the Kikuyu. During the 1930s Kenyatta briefly joined the Communist Party, met other black nationalists and writers, and organized protests against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
Kenyatta returned to Kenya in September 1946 to take up leadership of the newly formed Kenya African Union, of which he was elected president in June 1947. In 1952, an extremist Kikuyu group called Mau-Mau began a guerrilla war against the settlers and colonial government, leading to bloodshed, political turmoil.
Kenyatta was criticized by the British and put on trial in 1952 with five others for helping to inflame and oversee the Mau-Mau group. Jomo Kenyatta was released by British colonial authorities after nearly nine years of imprisonment and detention. Once portrayed as a menacing symbol of African nationalism, he brought stability to the country and defended Western interests during his 15 years as Kenyan leader.
"God said this is our land, land in which we flourish as people... we want our cattle to get fat on our land so that our children grow up in prosperity; and we do not want the fat removed to feed others." -Jomo Kenyatta
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