Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, May 7

Africans featured in Time 100

Time Magazine’s 2007 list of the world’s 100 most influential individuals features six Africans—included for noteworthy beneficence, outrageous infamy, and much in between. The African influence is seen in business, music, religion, politics (and war), and science. Of course, that only six out of 100 people on the list come from Africa is a testament to the faint attention paid to African affairs, good and bad, by the media, but also the marginalized role Africans still play on the global scene in the first place.

Peter Akinola
The Anglican Communion, the global fellowship of churches with 78 million members, has found itself amidst a maelstrom of controversy and at a fracturing point, and Peter Akinola is at the center of it all. The 63-year-old Archbishop of Nigeria has been among the harshest and most vocal critics of the American Episcopal Church for its election of a gay bishop four years ago, an act that now threatens to divide the world’s third-largest Christian movement. Akinola represents the conservative extreme in the Anglican debate, and, David Van Biema writes, “Even if he never becomes the Canterbury of the global south, he will have sparked a shift in Christianity’s world order.”

Omar Hassan al-Bashir
Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, is much more influential than most would like—Don Cheadle and John Prendergast point out that, in the post-WWII world, Bashir, for his ruthlessness in southern Sudan and now in Darfur, ranks among the top five in bringing about the most war-related deaths (2.5 million), displacing the most people through scorched-earth campaigns (seven million), and burning the most villages to the ground (at least 1,500). The sexagenarian dictator’s machinations have sparked the most visible humanitarian cause of the day, and he is regarded by many to be one of the world’s worst living war criminals.

Monty Jones
“When Africa breaks free from the grip of poverty and famine—as it now looks posed to do—Monty Jones, 56, will have played a pivotal role,” writes Jeffrey Sachs. Jones, a native of Sierra Leone, is credited with inventing the New Rices for Africa, or NERICA, a set of modified rice varieties that crossbreed high-yielding Asian species with tough African ones; they have increased farmers’ yield by up to 50% in West Africa. In large part due to NERICA, African rice production has grown for six years in a row, bolstering food security and bettering livelihoods.

Amr Khaled
Amr Khaled, 39, described by The New York Times Magazine as “the world’s most famous and influential Muslim televangelist,” is a uniquely moderate voice in the Arab world and a bridge across Islam’s secular-extremist divide. Khaled, an Egyptian, promotes “faith-based development” on his popular television shows and website, and, in 2006, he hosted an interfaith conference in Copenhagen to address the outrage and controversy over a Danish newspaper cartoon depicting Muhammad. “An accountant by training who favors Hugo Boss shirts and designer suits, he maintains some traditional views—he believes women should wear headscarves, for example—but Khaled is a needed voice for moderation from within the Muslim world,” writes Asra Nomani.

Youssou N’Dour
Before Akon was even born, Senegal had Youssou N’Dour. The percussionist and singer with “a voice of liquid gold” developed a hybrid musical style, blending traditional griot rhythms and vocals with Afro-Cuban pop and flavors of American 60s rock, jazz, and soul—truly worldly and original—known as mbalax. Today, N’Dour, as popular as ever, is an activist too, promoting the spread of technology, combating malaria, and working with UNICEF. Peter Gabriel writes, “every time he went out on the stage, it was like the sun breaking through the clouds. ... He is a source of inspiration to me not just as a musician but as a person.”

Cyril Ramaphosa

In 1987, Cyril Ramaphosa, now 54, led the 300,000 members of South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers on strike against the apartheid regime, and, three years later, he was there waiting at the gate when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison. Today, Ramaphosa has moved from politics to business, again leading South Africans, now in the continent’s dominant economy. “You can see in Cyril Ramaphosa’s quiet, forceful demeanor both the past and the future of his country ... Speaking personally,” his close friend and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke writes, “I believe that, whatever he does, he will remain a beacon of hope for Africans—and the rest of us.”