African Icons That Shaped History

5 People Africa Should Never Forget!

African history is a massive and intricate subject, world-shaking events have shaped the continent's history, from the early men and women who left their footsteps in volcanic ash to the liberation of Nelson Mandela, and a whole lot of wars, conquests, civilisations and revolutions in between.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) was a South African political activist who fought to end the apartheid regime and in 1994 was elected the first leader of a democratic South Africa.  Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign against the government. In 1962, he was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial. Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. 

 

Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and organised the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President.

 He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with F.W. de Klerk) in 1993 for his work in helping to end racial segregation in South Africa. He is considered the father of a democratic South Africa and widely admired for his ability to bring together a nation, previously divided by apartheid. Nelson Mandela is one of the most admired political leaders of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century for his vision to forgive and forge a new ‘rainbow’ nation.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 29 October 1938) is a Liberian politician who serves as the 24th and current President of Liberia since 2006. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa.

Sirleaf was born in Monrovia to a Gola father and Kru-German mother. She was educated at the College of West Africa before moving to the United States, where she studied at Madison Business College and Harvard University. She returned to Liberia to work in William Tolbert's government as Assistant Minister of Finance from 1973–74 and Minister of Finance from 1979–80. After returning to Liberia, Sirleaf ran for office, placing second in the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor.

She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. She was re-elected in 2011. In June 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first woman to occupy that position since it was formed.

In 2011, Sirleaf was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.

Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972) Led the Gold Coast to independence from colonial rule and became President of the new country – Ghana. A leading advocate of Pan-Africanism and African independence. Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. His administration was both socialist and nationalist. Thus it funded national industrial and energy projects, developed a strong national education system, and promoted a national (and pan-African) culture. Under Nkrumah, Ghana played a leading role in African international relations during the decolonization period. Nkrumah stood before tens of thousands of supporters and proclaimed, "Ghana will be free forever." 

He spoke at the first session of the Ghana Parliament that Independence Day, telling his new country's citizens that "we have a duty to prove to the world that Africans can conduct their own affairs with efficiency and tolerance and through the exercise of democracy. We must set an example to all Africa."

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011) was a Kenyan environmental activist. She founded the Green Belt Movement in the 1970s seeking to promote environmental conservation in Kenya and Africa. She became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

 After campaigning for the restoration of democracy in Kenya during the 1990s, she served as a member of Parliament and Assistant Minister for the environment and natural resources between 2003 and 2005. Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. 

Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression—nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.

 — The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in a statement announcing her as the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Haile Selassie

Haile Selassie (23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975), born Tafari Makonnen, was Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Haile Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia between 1930 and 1974. He was known to his people through many titles from ‘Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah’ to ‘Emperor of the Nation’.

His most testing moment came, when the much better equipped army of Mussolini’s Italy invaded in 1935. Given the overwhelming might of the Italian army, the Ethiopians put up stern resistance and held back the Italians for longer than expected.

Nevertheless, he was deposed and forced to leave the country. However, he triumphantly returned in 1941 (with help from Great Britain) and went onto become a prominent symbol of African independence.

“Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment.”

 

 

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