Africa’s influential icons are growing in influence globally as the world is taking notice of the continent’s originality and cool factor.
The movers and shakers from the continent are not only influential icons through philanthropic ventures, but also through a multitude of breakthroughs in business and lifestyle by flying the flag high for the continent.
Here are just a few of Africa’s influential icons.
Bozoma Saint John
Ghanaian-American, Bozoma Saint John, has made significant strides in the marketing industry, particularly in music and entertainment, having led PepsiCo’s music festival-based marketing as Head of the Music and Entertainment Marketing and turned Apple Music into a brand that people love and identify with.
Her work in music marketing and global consumer marketing has earned her being named as one of the top women in music by Billboard, 100 Most Creative People by Fast Company, and Adweek’s Most Exciting Personalities in Advertising. She is now Uber’s Chief Brand Officer and one of the most Africa’s influential icons.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has not only been an influential icon author, having written critically acclaimed books such as Purple Hibiscus and Americanah, but has also been a strong advocate for women’s rights and for cultural diversity. She gave a TED Talk in 2009 titled “The Danger of a Single Story,” in which she expressed her concern for under-representation of various cultures.
She gave the popular TedXEuston talk in December 2012 titled, “We should all be feminists,” which initiated a worldwide conversation on feminism and women’s rights. This talk caught the attention of American singer, Beyonce, who included a sample of the talk in her popular song “Flawless.” In October 2016, she released yet another influential body of work titled, “Dear Ijeawele,” or “A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” in which she gives suggestions on raising a daughter as a strong woman in a patriarchal world. Chimamanda is definitely one of the best Africa’s influential icons.
The work of Kenyan-born Somali poet, Warsan Shire, received global attention when her poetry was featured in American singer Beyonce’s 2016 album “Lemonade.” Her featured poetry explored love and femininity, giving a voice and hope to black female experiences.
She is passionate about character-driven poetry that captures the human experience of people, especially immigrants and refugees who are often portrayed in a negative light. Her work includes the popular 2011 release titled “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.”
Ethiopian supermodel, Liya Kebede, has made great strides not only on international catwalks as one of Africa’s top supermodels, but also in the bid to advance safe motherhood in Africa through her foundation, Lemlem Foundation, formerly known as the LK Foundation. The foundation was founded in 2005 in an effort to help combat maternal mortality, after years of Kebede working as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador.
The foundation works in tandem with Lemlem Clothing Company, which is Kebede’s clothing brand that works with artisans and designers particularly from her native country of Ethiopia and from across Africa to design and distribute eco-friendly and locally-designed clothes. This is in effort of community development and job creation for locals.
French-Senegalese model, Khoudia Diop, gained widespread social media attention after sharing words of encouragement and her story of overcoming bullying due to her dark skin. Growing up, Diop faced bullying due to her dark skin complexion, and has since been an advocate against bullying and societal pressures such as skin lightening. “I faced it by confronting the bullies. As I grew, I learned to love myself more every day, and not pay attention to the negative people, which helped a lot,” Diop said in an interview with The Daily Mail.
She chose the name “Melanin Goddess” for her Instagram profile, where she posted selfies and accompanying self-love captions, catching the attention of The Colored Girl, a creative agency.
She further entrenched herself a force to be reckoned with in the beauty industry with her photo series titled “Nyenyo,” which celebrated her Wolof heritage. Khoudia is among the top Africa’s influential icons to watch out for in future.
Senegalese-American rapper, Akon, has been continuing on his quest to light up Africa with his Akon Lighting Africa initiative, which was launched in February 2014. His company, Solektra, has 200,000 small solar projects that are active in countries including Mali, Niger; Senegal; Guinea; Burkina Faso; Sierra Leone; Benin; Guinea Equatorial; Gabon; Republic of Congo; Namibia; Madagascar; Kenya and Nigeria.
Apart from providing solar power to communities that are off the grid, Solektra provides training for workers in solar technology at a school that Akon created at the company’s headquarters in Bamako, Mali. Akon is indeed an Africa’s influential icons.
South African TV and radio presenter, Bonang Matheba, has not only inspired fans with her work, red carpet looks and her inaugural reality TV show “Being Bonang,” but has also inspired many through her efforts to see young women receiving an education.
She helps young women with their tertiary education through the Bonang Matheba Bursary Fund, where earlier this year, she awarded 10 female high school graduates with bursaries to complete their studies at any Boston College branch in South Africa. Bonang is definitely among the top Africa’s influential icons admired by many.
DJ Black Coffee
DJ Black Coffee has been one of the prominent musicians to fly the South African flag high in the international music industry. He has become a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, having driven a social media trend with his smash hit single “Dance Again,” where fans recorded themselves dancing to the song and posting the videos on social media and receiving a nod from American hip hop musician and mogul, P. Diddy.
He made history in 2016 as the first South African recipient of the BET Best International Act: Africa award, and he recently won the Best Deep House DJ Trophy at the 2017 DJ Awards in Ibiza.
Flaviana Matata is not only one of the most influential models to come out of Tanzania, but is also instrumental at improving the livelihoods of women and assisting in reducing poverty at grassroots level through her nonprofit organization, the Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF).
The foundation empowers the lives of young girls and women through education, training, and through micro-financing various community projects. Some of the projects that the foundation has done include Binti Boxes Donation, which donated personal care packages to over 100 girls in Bagamoyo, and the Education Sponsorship For Young Girls Project, which provides life skills and educational training for young girls, as well as providing micro-financing to women for their various projects.
Matata is an avid advocate on the education of women, believing that it is a sustainable way out of poverty.
“I always encourage girls to take education seriously because no one will take it away from you. It’s the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Know what you want, focus, work hard and stay grounded. And most of all support one another”.
Here’s a post Matata made about the importance of education for African children, especially girls: https://www.instagram.com/p/BVZvXPgFJEd/
Ivorian fashion designer, Loza Maléombho, was one of many contemporary fashion designers to influence the international fashion scene with modern African designs. Her work was featured by American singer, Beyonce, on her latest visual album “Lemonade.”
She also uses her creative platform in design and on social media to address social issues such as racism and understanding African history and tradition. An interesting selfie series she had back in 2015 was #AlienEdits, in which she raised awareness about African culture in a way that drifted from everyday (and mostly negative) stereotypes.
Describing her works of art and what people can expect from her, Maléombho intends on pushing the boundaries in creativity and innovation. “I know one thing: I have no intention of being typical,” she says in an interview with True Africa.