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 –
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
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.
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”.
Motsepe – South Africa
Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law? Tick. President of Africa football? Tick.
Billionaire investor in mining and finance? Tick.
many influential hats, and has even been accused of trying to influence
politics in Botswana – a charge he rejects.
Oramah – Nigeria
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
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 –
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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
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.