Africans who run systems

2024-01-02 08:08:49
Africans who run systems

Need to get something done? Give it to someone busy. Previously managing director of the World Bank and finance minister for Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala took on perhaps her greatest challenge in 2021: mending the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The multilateral forum for rule-making and dispute resolution was doing neither, due, notably, to disputes and the US blockade on hiring new judges. In June 2022, the director-general succeeded in getting ministers from 164 countries around the table for the first time since 2017, resulting in an agreement to relax intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines and a commitment to get the dispute-resolution system working again by 2024.

Shabir Madhi – South Africa

South African vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi champions vaccine equity: making essential vaccines accessible in low-income countries. His groundbreaking research on the RSV vaccine for pregnant women shows promise in preventing pneumonia-causing viral infections in early childhood. Madhi urges major pharma companies to show “moral responsibility” by licensing the vaccine affordably, ensuring countries where RSV-related fatalities are prevalent can reap the benefits of this breakthrough.

A Wits University professor, Madhi is renowned for spearheading Covid-19 vaccine trials in South Africa and emphasizing mass vaccination over dwelling on new variants. In an academic article, he contended that vaccinating half the population would significantly affect the pandemic’s trajectory.

Madhi challenges the West for its bias against African medical advancements. While South African scientists were lauded for identifying the Omicron variant, their findings on its milder nature were dismissed. He asserts that the West refused “to believe the science because it came from Africa”.

Patrice Motsepe – South Africa

President Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law? Tick. President of Africa football? Tick. Billionaire investor in mining and finance? Tick.

Motsepe has many influential hats, and has even been accused of trying to influence politics in Botswana – a charge he rejects.

Benedict Oramah – Nigeria

The President of Afreximbank lives for intra-African trade. He has initiated a biennial trade fair to connect African demand with African producers and created the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) to simplify cross-border transactions.

Afreximbank’s dynamism, seen in its Covid-19 response and $4bn credit facility to help African farmers access fertilizers, has been noted. Some call for it to use IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, but rivals like the African Development Bank are wary of its agility, preferring it to ‘stay in its lane’.

Khaled Fahmy – Egypt

A renowned historian and professor of modern Arabic studies at Tufts University, Fahmy challenges the simplified narratives of modern Egyptian history that are often manipulated by politicians to boost nationalism and popular support.

His influential works include All the Pasha’s Men, questioning the view of Mehmed Ali Pasha as the founder of modern Egypt, and the award-winning In Quest of Justice, examining how Sharia was administered and how scientific and medical advances were introduced at the dawn of the modern era.

By daring to challenge longstanding notions, Fahmy has invited Egyptians to look beyond the narratives of clear-cut protagonists and antagonists. Fahmy’s critical perspectives have unsettled the status quo, and he has lived in exile since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2014. Since then he has spoken out about the rise of surveillance in Egypt and elsewhere.

Makhtar Diop – Senegal

If there is someone who knows the arcane byways of the Bretton Woods institutions, it is Makhtar Diop. Having worked at both the IMF and World Bank in senior roles – including overseeing the delivery of a record-breaking $70bn to sub-Saharan Africa for development projects, Diop became the first African to head the International Finance Corporation – the World Bank’s private-sector wing.

Diop is using his institutional jiu jitsu to ratchet up infrastructure lending to Africa. He is also a vocal advocate for women’s economic empowerment, focused on closing the gender gap in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Segenet Kelemu – Ethiopia

Segenet Kelemu, a molecular plant pathologist, has spent decades researching solutions to agricultural problems in developing countries. As director of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi since 2013, she leads efforts to understand the impact of insects and arthropods on crops and ecosystems, which has earned her numerous accolades.

Petro Terblanche – South Africa

From a small lab in Cape Town, Petro Terblanche, the managing director of Afrigen Biologics, used publicly available information to develop Africa’s own mRNA vaccine against Covid-19. The mRNA hub based at Afrigen’s office, which enables technology to be shared, is a step towards Africa making its own vaccines for many diseases.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Ethiopia

Tedros first shot to prominence as Ethiopia’s health minister, after significant reform of the national healthcare system. His election to head of the WHO in 2017 – the first non-physician, and first African to take the role – placed him in the global spotlight when Covid-19 hit. As a Tigrayan, he has tried to stay neutral in Ethiopia’s civil war, but called for the protection of civilians and health workers in the conflict-affected areas.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela – South Africa

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a renowned South African psychologist, occupies the Research Chair in Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University. Her work has primarily focused on the psychological impact of trauma and violence, reconciliation, empathy and forgiveness. Gobodo-Madikizela served on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where she witnessed the power of forgiveness in the aftermath of historical trauma. In an increasingly polarized South Africa, her work carries weight.

(Source: Agencies)

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