The US-based TIME Magazine’s most recent publication, The 100 Most Influential People, which profiles global shakers, draws a collection of iconic names. From controversial entertainer Miley Cyrus, who has received a rave of criticism for her recent over-expression of sexuality, to political juggernauts like North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, whose every breath is keenly watched by global leaders, the names on the list draw from all facets.
But what does the list – which reserved 8 slots for 10 Africans – mean for the African continent?
Africa is rapidly emerging a major force in the global economy. From economic activities, through politics, down to entertainment, the Africa rising narrative resonates across the globe. The continent is considered the second fastest growing region in the world, only surpassed by Asia, with an average growth rate of 6 percent, and is seeing unprecedented inflow of foreign investment as the world begins to take note of enormous potentials vastly available on the continent. Entertainment is also flourishing, with Nigeria boasting the third largest film industry in the world, Nollywood. The recent award handed to Kenya’s new star, Lupita Nyong’ O, by the Oscars – leading movie awards – for her role in the movie “Twelve Years A Slave”, further compliments the growing role Africa is playing, and its influence on global affairs.
Corruption is less of a synonym
Words and phrases such as next frontier, rich opportunities, hardworking people, unwavering potentials, talented individuals, are gradually replacing terms that previously portrayed the continent solely in a negative light.
Just over a decade ago, Africa was seen as a reservoir of bad leaders, extreme poverty levels, mismanagement of funds, the home of injustice and ethnic violence. Within a couple of years, the global perception is being reshaped. People like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank vice-president, is pushing the envelope in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, leading a team of economic managers in her capacity as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, to attract a record breaking inflow of foreign investment into the country. Nigeria’s FDI stock has exceeded $80 billion, making it the largest FDI gainer on the continent. Her effort, similar to that of several other Africans in different spheres of life, resonates across the globe and is swiftly reworking the world’s mindset of Africa.
Wealth is not all
Much is said about the phrase “riches bring fame, power and influence.” According to the African names on the TIME’s 100 world influencers, the above phrase holds little water. Excluding Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, the remaining Africans are represented solely for their efforts in driving social, political and economic causes, with clergymen and women, activists and business influencers coming on top. From the 10 represented, only Dangote is a billionaire, and even the Nigerian wasn’t featured for his filled pockets, but for his efforts in allieviating the scourge of polio in Nigeria.
Exemplary causes are noticed, even in remote areas
Asides war and crisis, the Central African Republic (CAR) remains relatively unknown to the world. But when causes are worth mentioning, the moves faster than imagined. The evidence of this is reflected in the work of three CAR citizens with mission to restore peace to the crisis-ridden country. “Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the Central African Islamic Community; Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui; and Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, president of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic, are religious leaders who actually do what their faith tells them to do,” said Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Christian magazine, Sojourners. “Because of their efforts the world is taking notice of the conflict.”
Also, Ugandan reverend sister Rosemary Nyirumbe is healing the wounds of several local young girls by providing shelter for victims of rape, violence and sexual exploitation. These striking stories might have been carried out in remote areas, but their impacts have gained global recognition.
Dangote is more than a businessman
When I saw Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, as the man who wrote the commentary on billionaire industrialist Aliko Dangote, I immediately thought the latter’s business savvy will dominate discussions. It was far from the case.
Bill Gates, a renowned philanthropist and a vocal advocate for poverty alleviation, leaned towards the exemplary role Dangote is playing toward social upliftment in Nigeria.
“Aliko is Africa’s richest man, and his business activities drive economic growth across the continent. That’s impressive, but I know him best as a leader constantly in search of ways to bridge the gap between private business and public health,” reckons Bill Gates. “It’s for that reason he helped create the Nigeria Private Sector Health Alliance. And it’s for that reason he is an advocate for agricultural research and malaria control.”
Barriers are not obstacles
In the East African country of Kenya, Binyavanga Wainaina could tell no one about his sexuality as he discovered he was gay when he was 10. But after watching a fellow gay die in pretense, Binyavanga came out and declared he was gay, damning the consequences in a country where homosexuality is a taboo.
Binyavanga however grew above the perceived sexual barrier and is today, the best-known Kenyan writer of his generation, serving as a motivational icon for those in similarly marginalized positions.
Being gay is a crime in many African societies, but his bravery has earned him a reputable position in society and Time apparently recognizes that.