100 Greatest Africans of all time
by Baffour Ankomah
New African asked you, the readers, to nominate your greatest Africans of all time – both Continental and Diasporan (or people of African descent) – in all walks of life. The aim was to come up with your Top 100 Greatest Africans of all time. You have spoken and we publish here your choice.
Since last December when we first announced the poll, we have had a very exciting time. Your nominations flooded in. Analysing them has been an eye- opener. The total shows Nelson Mandela as your No.1 Greatest African of all time, followed closely by Kwame Nkrumah, and Robert Mugabe in third place. Mugabe’s high score is particularly interesting, given that in the last four years a high profile campaign in the media has painted him in bad light. The nominations in the other categories are equally fascinating.
Overall, the results point out certain characteristics about Africans. Why did politicians dominate the poll? Do people tend to vote for men as only a few women were nominated? Or is there a paucity of women to vote for? Over 95% of the nominations were of recent heroes (mostly from the post-independence era). Have people forgotten Africa’s history? Must this worry us, as a people?
1. Nelson Mandela A living legend. The symbol of Africa. Freedom fi ghter. The most recognisable face in the world.
2. Kwame Nkrumah Former president of Ghana. He envisaged the African Union long before it became a reality. His footprints
are still blueprint for us to follow.
3. Robert Mugabe President of Zimbabwe. Fearless pan-Africanist of recent times who is fi ghting for the land which
belonged to his ancestors.
4. Julius Nyerere Former president of Tanzania. A great leader who refused to allow the trappings of power to corrupt
him. He was respected by his country, Africa and the rest of the world.
5. Marcus Garvey A visionary pan-African leader and thinker. A practical man, he could have united all blacks if he had
not been jailed.
6. Patrice Lumumba A pan African hero and symbol of African nationalism. A martyr of the African cause.
7. Martin Luther King African-American religious and political leader who changed the course of life for all African-Americans.
His speech in 1968 “I have a dream” has become a classic.
8. Thabo Mbeki President of South Africa. The representative of the young generation of
new African statesmen. A Renaissance man.
9. Malcolm X African-American political leader. His resistance against racism helped African-Americans to realise their
10. Kofi Annan UN secretary general. Africa’s greatest diplomat of all time.
He is handling the reforms at the UN in a calm and effi cient way.
11. Muhammad Ali The greatest boxer of all . “If you can do it, it ain’t bragging,” he once said. Civil rights activist. The loudest mouth in the world.
Steve Biko South African activist tortured to death by the apartheid police. He famously said: “the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.
Muammar Gaddafi Libyan Guide and African leader. He has realised you cannot defy the whole world
A rallying point for African heads of state.
12. Winnie Mandela The most popular woman in Africa. South Africa political leader and former wife of Nelson Mandela.
13. Shaka Zulu A Zulu king and military genius. An empire builder who wanted to unite all Zulu chiefdoms into one
strong Zulu nation for the benefi t of all Zulus.
14. Chinua Achebe A great Nigerian writer and recorder of African history. His fi rst book,
Things Fall Apart, has sold 8 million copies worldwide and translated into 50 languages.
15. W. E. B. Du Bois African-American intellectual and political leader. The pioneer of African liberation
and conscience-father of pan-Africanism.
16. Haile Selassie The last emperor of Ethiopia. A liberator of his country and the continent. Former president of Burkina Faso. He changed the country’s name from the colonial Upper Volta.
17. Pele African-Brazilian footballer. The greatest. His feet and feats on the football pitch
brought huge pride and honour to all blacks.
18. Bob Marley Jamaican musician and creative genius. He touched the hearts and minds of millions worldwide.
19. Olusegun Obasanjo President of Nigeria. A former military offi cer who voluntarily gave up power
to civilians in 1979. He was returned to power in 1999 to save a worsening situation.
20. George Weah Liberian footballer and world best player in 2000. An icon of selfl essness who has provided fi nancial
help out of his own pocket to transport his country’s national team to a major tournaments.
21. Kenneth Kaunda Former president of Zambia and one of the few fi rst generation independence leaders still alive. He
played a vital role in the African liberation struggle.
22. Cheikh Anta Diop Senegalese writer and one of Africa’s greatest historians. His work on Ancient Egypt has become a classic.
Roger Milla Cameroonian footballer and one of the best in Africa. A huge role model for the African youth.
23. Gamal Abdel Nasser Former Egyptian president. The pioneer of Arab nationalism and unity.
24. Sir Seretse Khama Botswana’s fi rst president. He inherited an impoverished and little known obscure state and left an
increasingly democratic and prosperous country.
25. Maheru Imhotep Historic fi gure. Imhotep was chief architect to the Third Dynasty King Djoser (2687-2668 BC). He was
in charge of building and designing the step pyramid at Saqqara.
26. Ahmed Sekou ToureFormer president of Guinea who said No to General de Gaulle on the eve of independence. Great nationalist. He declared Nkrumah co-President of Guinea. Former president of Senegal, great writer and intellectual. His philosophy on “Negritude” has become a classic. Africa’s greatest poet and scholar-statesman.
27. Wole Soyinka Nigerian intellectual and writer. The fi rst African Nobel laureate in literature,
excelling as a playwright, poet and novelist – a vocal critic of Nigerian politics.
28. Maria Mutola Mozambican athlete, Olympic gold medallist, World 800m champion.
She is a cheerful, modest, woman dedicated to her sport and country.
29. Sam Nujoma President of Namibia and great pan-Africanist leader.
Though he is standing down in March 2005, his land reform programme is causing jitters.
30. Yaa Asantewaa Queen of Ejisu, Ghana, who led the Asantes in war against the British in 1900.
A brave anti-colonial freedom fi ghter.
31. Amilcar Cabral Architect of the national liberation movement in Guinea Bissau. One of the greatest
theoreticians of the African Revolution. Brutally assassinated in 1973 for his political beliefs.
32. Dedan Kimathi Kenyan political leader who led the fi ght for independence from Britain. His ability to
organise his people in the face of British colonialists was exemplary. He died a hero.
33. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Great Nigerian musician whose words have come to pass in African contemporary politics.
34. Ken Saro Wiwa Nigerian writer and environmentalist who was executed for his beliefs. He aroused
world attention to the plight of the oil-rich but poor Ogoni people.
35. Phillip Emeagwali Nigerian scientist domiciled in the USA. A supercomputer genius, he played
a major role in making the internet a reality. His work has hugely benefi ted the oil industry.
36. The African Woman Africa’s biggest asset. Cradle and pivot of African society. She holds it all together.
She is beyond comparison, strong, resilient, full of grace and beautiful.
37. Rosa Parks African-American and “mother of the civil rights movement”.
38. Samora Machel Liberation fi ghter who became fi rst president of Mozambique.
A true son of Africa whose fi ght for freedom transcended his country.
39. Jesse Owens African-American sprinter who won four gold medals at the
1936 Olympics in Berlin and shamed Adolf Hilter to eat his own words about blacks.
40. Jomo Kenyatta Kenya’s fi rst president. He was a beacon and rallying point for the country’s
fi ght for independence. The father of modern Kenya.
41. Michael Jackson The richest, successful, controversial and most famous African-American music superstar. The king of pop.
42. Abdoulaye Wade
President of Senegal. He led the opposition for decades, running and losing four
times before winning in 2000.
President of Uganda. He inherited a rundown country and resuscitating the economy.
43. Miriam Makeba South African diva known as Mama Africa. The Empress of African Song.
44. Queen Nzinga Queen of the Mbundu people of Angola. A fi erce anti-colonial female leader, she fought the Portuguese
to stop the slave trade in the 17th century. At one meeting with the Portuguese governor, De Souza,
there was only one chair in the room. This politically astute woman ordered one of her courtiers to
become a human chair. Queen Nzinga then sat on the back of this courtier. It is reported that she
never allowed the governor to gain the upper hand throughout their discussions.
45. Toussaint L’Ouverture Haitian leader who beat the French army under Napoleon and freed the African slaves in Haiti.
He was later tricked by the French, captured and taken to France where he died in prison.
46. Milton Obote Former Ugandan president, now exiled in Zambia, considered the father of the nation.
Jay Jay Okocha Top Nigerian footballer whose skills have mesmerised many who have seen him play.
47. Nnamdi Azikiwe Statesman, Intellectual and Titan of African politics. First president of independent Nigeria.
Popularly called ‘Zik of Africa’ for his pan-africanist zeal.
48. Walter Rodney Guyanese writer and great pan-African historian. His book, How Europe Undeveloped Africa,
has become a must read. His life was cut short by a parcel bomb.
49. Franz Fanon A revolutionary writer. A great pan-African activist. He touched the hearts
and minds of millions across Africa and the world with his powerful books.
50. F.W. de Klerk
Former president of South Africa. He yielded power to black majority rule.
Shared Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela.
Tanzanian intellectual and writer. He presents a positive image of Africa and its people.
51. Joaquim Chissano President of Mozambique. He led his country into peace, national reconciliation and economic rise.
52. Joshua Nkomo Zimbabwean nationalist leader, and a key fi gure in the struggle against colonialism.
One of the stalwarts of African nationalism.
53. Felix Konotey-Ahulu Ghanaian doctor practising in the UK. The greatest authority on sickle cell disease. A great champion
of African causes in the medical world.
54. Oliver Tambo South African political leader and freedom fi ghter. He emphasised the
need to liberate the oppressor from his fears that lead to his oppressive ways.
55. Louis Farrakhan
Victor Anomah Ngu
Fearless African-American religious leader. A promoter of black self-improvement.
Cameroonian doctor and discoverer of an Aids vaccine.
Scientist who has now won the confi dence of his government and people.
56. Abedi Pele
Marc Vivian Foe
One of Ghana’s foremost footballers, named by Pele as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers.
Cameroonian footballer. Died on the football pitch fi ghting like an African warrior.
57. Walter Sisulu Hero among heroes of the black struggle in South Africa. He was jailed
on the same day as Nelson Mandela and spent the same 27 years in prison.
58. Youssou N’Dour Senegalese musician with a prodigious talent. One of the greatest singing voices in Africa.
59. Akhenaten A black pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. He introduced the concept and worship
of one god adopted centuries later by Christianity and Islam. His wife was Queen Nerfi titi.
60. George Padmore Trinidadian champion of decolonisation who came to personify the hopes and aspirations for black
freedom throughout the Caribbean and Africa.
61. Abdelaziz Boutefl ika
Alpha Oumar Konare
Algerian president and veteran of the country’s war for independence from France.
Former Malian president, credited with boosting his country’s economy
and fostering its democratic processes. He now chairs the African Union Commission.
62. Anwar Sadat Former Egyptian president who helped to end a longstanding confl ict
between his country and Israel. He was assassinated by extremists in 1981.
63. John Hendrik Clarke African-American historian and writer.
His work on black history is a masterpiece.
64. Maya Angelou Internationally respected African-American poet, writer and educator.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of her best-selling titles.
65. Hannibal Perhaps the greatest military strategist of all time. A great African general who gave Europe a run for its
money. His victory over Rome after scaling the Alps with his huge army brought him enormous respect
and admiration. His strategies and tactics are taught in military schools to this day.
66. Bill Cosby African-American entertainment icon. One of the most infl uential stars in America today.
67. Chief Hosea Kutako Namibian chief who inspired the Hereros and other Namibians to fi ght for justice
and national liberation. He alerted the world to the plight of Namibia’s suffering natives.
68. Obafemi Awolowo Nigerian statesman and one of the founders of the Nigerian Trades Union Congress.
He believed that the state should channel Nigeria’s resources into education and development.
69. Oliver Mthukuzi Zimbabwean musician who through his music successfully portrays
the hardships that Africans endure, particularly in his home country.
70. Tafewa Balewa The fi rst prime minister of Nigeria assassinated in the 1966 coup,
that ushered in a prolonged period of political turbulence and eventually led to civil war.
71. Ahmed Baba
The greatest scholar, intellectual and prolifi c writer of the16th century. For 30 years, he headed the
famous Sankore University in Timbuktu which became the centre of the world’s scientifi c knowledge.
72. Tom Mboya A popular Kenyan politician whose assassination in 1969 has still not been satisfactorily explained.
73. Williams Sisters
(Venus & Serena)
African-American tennis superstars who have radically changed the face of the game.
They have become huge role models for black youth across the world.
74. Hendrik Witbooi A renowned Namibian chief and a great military strategist who helped start
Namibia’s proud anti-colonial resistance.
75. Hamilton Naki The unsung South African surgical pioneer. He made an immeasurable contribution
to the fi rst human heart transplant performed by Dr Christian Barnard.
76. Khoisan and Pygmies Their knowledge of nature is world class. We can learn a lot from them on how to take care of the
environment. Their knowledge of African herbs, plants and trees to treat ailments is incommensurable.
77. Hugh Masekela South African trumpeter and jazz musician. Through his music,
he informed the international community about the injustices of the apartheid system.
78. Luambo Makiadi
A Congolese and one of Africa’s most illustrious musicians.
His Rhumba music put him in a class of his own, and earned him a huge and devoted following.
79. Zumbi (of Palmares) African-Brazilian slave and freedom fi ghter. A legend, warrior and symbol of freedom.
He was beheaded for helping other slaves to freedom
80. Manu Dibango Famed saxophonist nicknamed The lion of Cameroon. He has made an enormous
contribution to African music and is the continent’s best-known jazz saxophonist.
81. Queen Nefertiti Egyptian Queen famed throughout the ancient world for her outstanding beauty, The wife of
Akhenaten, she is one of the most well-known queens of Ancient Egypt.
82. Zinedine Zidane The world’s most decorated soccer star.His ability to turn a game in his favour, and the way
he bends the ball around defenders, makes him one of the most admired footballers.
83. Peter Abrahams Prolifi c South African novelist, essayist and pan-Africanist whose early novel
Mine Boy (1946) was the fi rst to depict the dehumanising effect of apartheid and racism.
84. Salif Keita A great musician from Mali. One of the world’s infl uential artistes.
85. The African Child Resilient in the face of adversity and yet exude bright smiles that warms our
hearts and lightens our society. Great survivor.
86. William Tubman Former president of Liberia. He played an important role in the formation of the
OAU and peacekeeping during the Nigerian civil war.
87. Queen of Sheba A powerful Ethiopian monarch who swept King Solomon of the
Bible off his feet with her beauty. One of the best known queens in history.
88. Moshood Abiola The president Nigeria never had. He won the 1993 presidential election but was denied his crown.
A successful businessman, publisher and philanthropist.
89. Eddy Murphy African-American top entertainer and actor who has inspired many young
ones to follow in his footsteps. A great fun.
90. Houphouet Boigny Former president of Cote d’Ivoire who won independence for his country and led it to
economic success. After his death, the country has never been the same.
91. Brenda Fassie The African Madonna whose musical talents and exuberance
overshadowed her turbulent lifestyle. She was a hit with the younger generation.
92. Archbishop Luwum Uganda religious leader assassinated by Idi Amin’s regime for his outspokenness
against governmental excesses.
93. John Chilembwe Great but unsung Malawian hero who fought the British colonial government and died for it.
In Malawi all the denominations of the currency bear his portrait in his honour.
94. Cardinal Arinze A Nigerian religious leader widely respected inside and outside the Vatican.
A hotshot in the race for the next pope.
95. Mansa Musa The great king of the old Mali Empire who dazzled the world with his wealth
on his pilgrimage to Mecca laden with gold.
96. Thierry Henri Black footballer, born in France. Currently considered the best striker in the world.
97. Neville Livingstone
(aka Bunny Wailer)
Godfather of reggae music. The most underrated member of the Wailers.
98. Eduardo Mondlane Mozambican freedom fi ghter. As president of FRELIMO, he successfully promoted a
coalition with the different independence movements in the country.
99. Desmond Tutu “The voice of the voiceless”. South African religious leader and political activist.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
100. Helen Suzman South African politician, world-famous as a white opponent of apartheid