Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seven Africans in Time Magazine's World's Most Influential People for 2010

Time Magazine has recently released their list of the world's most influential people for 2010. Among the laureates are seven Africans who stand alongside the likes of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs as global change-makers. From activists to sports stars, from inventors to big-business leaders, African born heroes and heroines are leaving their mark on the world.

Didier Drogba

In the run up to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa much of the world's attention is focused on football, and particularly African football. Therefore it's not surprising that Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, 32, not only made the Time 100 list, but also the cover of the magazine.

Drogba, who grew up in the Ivory Coast and France, is featured in the "Heroes" category and is the only footballer mentioned on the list.

The magazine states that, as striker for England's Chelsea Football Club and captain of the Côte d'Ivoire team, Drogba "has shown the world what's possible when power and grace fuse on the soccer pitch". Drogba is the all-time top scorer of the Ivory Coast national team.

Eben Harrell writes for Time that, when the World Cup kicks off in South Africa in June, Drogba will carry the hopes of a continent as Africa's best-known soccer star. In fact, according to the magazine, West Africans will be toasting him with a beer glass called the Drogba - a glass nearly twice the size of a normal mug.

But Drogba is also known as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), focusing on Africa. He is currently working with the UNDP on a worldwide advocacy campaign to support free and fair elections, and to encourage citizens to vote. He also supports UNDP's work in conflict prevention and recovery.

According to Time, after 22 Ivorians were killed in a crush to see their national team play in 2009, Drogba resolved to donate all his endorsement earnings to a charity he set up to build new hospitals in his home country.

Elon Musk

Internet wizard, rocket scientist and green pioneer Elon Musk was born and raised in South Africa with a South African father and a Canadian mother. Musk moved to Canada aged 17 after matriculating from Pretoria Boys High School in South Africa. He is now based in the United States and his influence is felt across different spheres of business and industry.

Musk first rose to prominence as co-founder of PayPal, a safe and simple method of online payment. PayPal was eventually bought by eBay for US$1.5 billion. One of his current companies, SpaceX, develops and manufactures space launch vehicles. According to Time Magazine Musk designed the Falcon 9 booster that may serve as NASA's next vehicle to transport cargo and humans into space. He also helped to create Solar City, the largest provider of solar-power systems in the United States and he designed the Tesla, one of the first electric cars of the modern era.

John Favreau, director of the Iron Man movies, writes for Time magazine that Musk was also the inspiration for Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of genius billionaire Tony Stark in the blockbuster movies.

Valentin Abe
If we give a man a fish, we feed him for a day. If we teach him to fish, we feed him for a lifetime. But Dr. Valentine Abe has gone a step beyond; he teaches people to feed the fish, so that many generations can be fed and prosper.

Hailing from Côte d'Ivoire, Abe is a Fulbright scholar and received his Masters and PhD degrees from Auburn University in the US. After Abe married a Haitian national he moved to the country, and became devoted to restoring Haiti to its rightful place as a commercial fish producer in the Caribbean.

When Abe arrived in Haiti, he was startled that fishing that wasn't a large part of the island nation's economy. Abe had a simple vision: fish farming could be the solution for poor Haitian communities, providing jobs and lean proteins for malnourished people. He powers his entire operation with solar energy, and he involves fish farmers, whose incomes he's multiplied two or three times or more.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd U.S. President and the founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, spoke highly of Abe in the Time magazine article. "I met one man with eight children who said that because of his partnership with Valentin, he had been able to send his children to school for the first time. There are people like this all over the world. They don't get noticed very much, but they have a profound influence on the people whose lives they touch."

Neill Blomkamp

South African born director Neill Blomkamp makes the list on account of the unexpected and widespread success of his first feature film, District 9. Well known director Ridley Scott writes that "from time to time, there are people in the film industry who appear on the horizon with a unique vision. South African director Neill Blomkamp is one of those rare people."

The alien-apartheid allegory received, among others, a Golden Globe nomination, two BAFTA Award nominations and an Academy Award nomination. According to Scott, this is more acclaim than most directors will ever achieve.

"Neill's extraordinary talent is a force to be reckoned with, and I know that we all look forward to seeing what lies ahead for this game-changing filmmaker," says Ridley Scott.

Matt Berg

32-year-old Matthew Berg was born in a small village in Cameroon and grew up in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa. After graduating from Thunderbird School of Global Management, in the US, Berg became the ICT Coordinator for the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) based out of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He was responsible for overseeing the design and implementation of ICT activities across the fourteen Millennium Villages sites in Africa. Prior to joining MVP, Berg was the Director of the Geekcorps' Mali Program, a USAID funded project aimed at improving access to information to rural areas of Mali.

In Partnership with the MVP, Berg is currently leading the push to track disease in Africa with SMS. As technology director for ChildCount+, he helps oversee a network of community-health workers who regularly examine local children, whom they treat and then text back the status of the child. This allows for improved health monitoring, faster interventions and better immunisation and treatment campaigns.

ChildCount+ has been in existence for only nine months and has already reported more than 20,000 nutrition screenings, 500 cases of malnutrition and 2,000 of malaria. Berg and his colleagues are now scaling up to monitor more than 100,000 children under 5.

"Remarkable as Berg's work is, its greatest achievement will come when he's no longer the one doing it," wrote Katrin Verclas, co-founder of

Graca Machel

Graca Machel is perhaps most famous for being the wife of South African icon Nelson Mandela and the widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel. But according to Time magazine she is one of the world's most effective – and joyful – advocates for the rights of children, women and refugees, and a potent voice for justice that is always listened to.

Machel started her political career as a member of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) while working as a schoolteacher. When Mozambique gained independence in 1975 she was appointed Minister for Education and Culture, and married Samora Machel, who would become Mozambique's first President, in the same year. He died in a plane crash 11 years later and she became Nelson Mandela's third wife in 1998.

Time calls her a "sturdy shoulder that the South African leans on" for her campaigns against pediatric AIDS and the abuse of children and refugees. She was re-elected as chancellor of the University of Cape Town this week, and has won many humanitarian awards, including the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations in recognition of her longstanding humanitarian work for refugees and children, and the 2009 World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child from the Swedish Children's World Association.

Tidjane Thiam

The FTSE 100 is a share index of the 100 most highly capitalised UK companies listed on the London Stock Exchange

Tidjane Thiam, who had previously been the Ivory Coast's Minister of Planning and Development, joined Prudential, the largest UK insurer by market value, in 2007 as the finance director at the firm. In October of 2009, Thiam took on the role of chief executive. After the announcement of Thiam's appointment, Prudential shares were trading up 5.6% on the news.

Aside from his running of Prudential, Thiam has also been involved in the Commission for Africa and currently sits on the Africa Progress Panel.

Michael Eboda, the founder of Powerful Media, who puts together the most influential black Briton list, in an interview with the BBC said, "It is very significant because it sets a wider precedent... he has an incredibly impressive curriculum vitae." In 2008 Thaim was named the second most influential black Briton, behind the Sudanese-born founder of mobile operator Celtel, Dr Mo Ibrahim.

Ethnic minorities have little representation in Britain's boardrooms, and Thiam's appointment was described as a "watershed" moment by Sandra Kerr, director of Race for Opportunity which campaigns for equality in the workplace.

Bob Geldof, musician and a activist, wrote "He is a brilliant, elegant, media-adept family man... His insight and analysis are always impressive, his opinions invaluable."

African inspiration
African change-makers are no stranger to the Time 100 list, with five African laureates included in the 2009 list. For a continent that is forging into a new era of development and growth, it is important for Africa to know her heroes and heroines; for children to grow up with effective role models, people who show them that anything is possible. As Richard Stengel, the Editor of Time Magazine, wrote: "The TIME 100 is not about the influence of power but the power of influence."

For the full Time 100 list for 2010, please visit Time Magazine's website.

By Linda Krige and Matthew Choate

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