Top ten African leaders of all time.
1) Ramesses II (alternative spellings: Ramses, Rameses and known to the Egyptians as Userma’atre’setepenre, which means ‘Keeper of Harmony and Balance, Strong in Right, Elect of Ra’, known also as Ozymandias and as Ramessesthe Great) was the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Ramesses lived to be 96 years old, had over 200 wives and concubines, 96 sons and 60 daughters, most of whom he outlived. So long was his reign that all of his subjects, when he died, had been born knowing Ramesses as pharaoh and there was widespread panic that the world would end with the death of their king. There is virtually no ancient site inEgypt which does not make mention of Ramesses the Great.
2) Thomas Sankara, born on Dec 21st 1949, killed on Oct 15th 1987, was a charismatic left-wing leader and president of Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso (“the land of upright people”) during his period of office between 1983 and 1987. As a professing Pan Africanist he fought for a united Africa. He is frequently referred to as the “Che of Black Africa” for his resemblance to Ernesto Guevara with regards to personality and political ideas. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, Sankara is widely considered as an example for the possibility of revolution in one of the poorest countries of the world.
During his military training Thomas Sankara befriended Capitaine Blaise Compaoré. In 1983 they organized a coup d’état, after Sankara had been held in custody for his political attitude which conflicted with the conservative rulers. During his presidency he carried out a number of partly very successful reforms for the socialist development of the country, which included nationalization, reforestation projects and numerous social programs and aimed at the struggle against corruption and poverty and at the improvement of education and health care. Among these measures one can mention vaccination programs, the radical abolition of the privileges of the public servants (cheap cars) and a land reform, whose resounding success made Burkina Faso independent of food imports within very few years. Furthermore, he committed himself to strengthening the role of women in the society of Burkina Faso by for example prohibiting female circumcision and speaking out against polygamy. His government has the highest percentage of women in the whole of Africa. Sankara’s popularity extended beyond the borders of his country and turned him into a globally known public figure.
Kwame Nkrumah’s father was a goldsmith and his mother a retail trader. Baptized a Roman Catholic, Nkrumah spent nine years at the Roman Catholic elementary school in nearby Half Assini. After graduation from Achimota College in 1930, he started his career as a teacher at Roman Catholic junior schools in Elmina and Axim and at a seminary.
Increasingly drawn to politics, Nkrumah decided to pursue further studies in the United States. He entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1935 and, after graduating in 1939, obtained master’s degrees from Lincoln and from the University of Pennsylvania. He studied the literature of socialism, notably Karl Marx and Vladimir I. Lenin, and of nationalism, especially Marcus Garvey, the black American leader of the 1920s. Eventually, Nkrumah came to describe himself as a “nondenominational Christian and a Marxist socialist.” He also immersed himself in political work, reorganizing and becoming president of the African Students’ Organization of the United States and Canada. He left the United States in May 1945 and went to England, where he organized the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester.
Meanwhile, in the Gold Coast, J.B. Danquah had formed the United Gold Coast Convention(UGCC) to work for self-government by constitutional means. Invited to serve as the UGCC’s general secretary, Nkrumah returned home in late 1947. As general secretary, he addressed meetings throughout the Gold Coast and began to create a mass base for the new movement. When extensive riots occurred in February 1948, the British briefly arrested Nkrumah and other leaders of the UGCC.
When a split developed between the middle-class leaders of the UGCC and the more radical supporters of Nkrumah, he formed in June 1949 the new Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP), a mass-based party that was committed to a program of immediate self-government. In January 1950, Nkrumah initiated a campaign of “positive action,” involving nonviolent protests, strikes, and noncooperation with the British colonial authorities.
4) Patrice Lumumba was the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling for national unity and overall African independence.
Born on July 2, 1925, in Onalua, Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Patrice Lumumba was a writer and civic organizer before co-founding the Congolese National Movement. He became the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the country’s independence; yet massive unrest followed with other leaders’ uprisings, along with U.S. and Belgian involvement. Lumumba was killed on January 17, 1961.
Background and Early Career
Future Prime Minister Patrice Hémery Lumumba was born on July 2, 1925, in the Kasai province of Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the village of Onalua. He was able to hone his love for literature and learning while attending missionary school and borrowing books to read.
After some travels within his country and acquiring different languages, Lumumba became a postal service clerk during the mid-1940s in what is now Kinshasa, later working as an accountant in another region. He also wrote poems and essays for publication, earning acclaim, and became increasingly involved in political movements, keeping in mind the oppression endured by Africans from the Belgian colonial system.
After having established himself as a leader in organizing unions, Lumumba co-established the Congolese National Movement in 1958. He called for countrywide unity, bringing together different ethnic backgrounds, and freedom from colonial atrocities, with major links to Pan-Africanist movements as well.
5) Tanzanian statesman and president Julius Kambarage was premier when Tanganyika was granted internal self-government, and was made president on independence.
Tanzanian statesman and president (1962–85), born in Butiama, N Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika). He became a teacher at Makerere, then studied at Edinburgh. He reorganized the nationalists into the Tanganyika African National Union (1954), of which he became president, and in 1960 became chief minister. He was premier when Tanganyika was granted internal self-government (1961), and was made president on independence (1962). In 1964 he negotiated the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar as Tanzania. He led his country on a path of Socialism and self-reliance, and he retired in 1985.
6) Steve Biko spearheaded the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. He died in 1977, from injuries sustained while in police custody.
Bantu Stephen Biko was born on December 18, 1946, in King William’s Town, South Africa, in what is now the Eastern Cape province. Politically active at a young age, Biko was expelled from high school for his activism, and subsequently enrolled at St. Francis College in the Mariannhill area of KwaZulu-Natal. After graduating from St. Francis in 1966, Biko began attending the University of Natal Medical School, where he became active with the National Union of South African Students, a multiracial organization advocating for the improvement of black citizens’ rights.
Co-Founding SASO and the Black People’s Convention
In 1968, Biko co-founded the South African Students’ Organization, an all-black student organization focusing on the resistance of apartheid, and subsequently spearheaded the newly started Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa.
Biko became SASO’s president in 1969. Three years later, in 1972, he was expelled from the University of Natal due to his political activism. That same year, Biko co-founded another black activist group, the Black People’s Convention, and became the group’s leader. This group would become the central organization for the BCM, which continued to gain traction throughout the nation during the 1970s.
In 1973, Biko was banned by the apartheid regime; he was forbidden to write or speak publicly, to talk with media representatives or to speak to more than one person at a time, among other restrictions. As a result, the associations, movements and public statements of SASA members were halted. Working undercover thereafter, Biko created the Zimele Trust Fund to aid political prisoners and their families in the mid-’70s.
Arrests, Murder and Legacy
During the late ’70s, Biko was arrested four times and detained for several months at a time. In August 1977, he was arrested and held in Port Elizabeth, located at the southern tip of South Africa. The following month, on September 11, Biko was found naked and shackled several miles away, in Pretoria, South Africa. He died the following day, on September 12, 1977, from a brain hemorrhage—later determined to be the result of injuries he had sustained while in police custody. The news of Biko’s death caused national outrage and protests, and he became regarded as an international anti-apartheid icon in South Africa.
The police officers who had held Biko were questioned thereafter, but none were charged with any official crimes. However, two decades after Biko’s death, in 1997, five former officers confessed killing Biko. The officers reportedly filed applications for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after investigations implicated them in Biko’s death, but amnesty was denied in 1999.
7) Sekou Toure, longtime ruler of the African nation of Guinea, was born Ahmad Sekou Toure in Faranah, Guinea (which, at the time, was a colony called French Guinea) on Jan. 9, 1922. A member of the Mandinka tribe, Toure came from a line of warriors, and in fact his great-grandfather Samory Toure was a national hero who had led resistance against the French until he was finally captured.
In order to pay for his education, Toure took a job with the national postal service, and soon became involved in the labor-union movement. He helped to found the Postal Workers Union in 1945, and became deeply involved in Guinean nationalist politics. He became the leader of the Guinean Democratic Party, which advocated the independence of Guinea and the departure of all colonial powers from Africa. In 1956 he was elected as Guinea’s representative to the French National Assembly and became mayor of Conakry, Guinea’s capital. He used both positions to work against French occupation of the country.
In 1958 Franch held a referendum in its African colonies to determine if they wanted to stay in the French Union. Toure’s influence in Guinean politics resulted in the colony voting to leave the French Union, the only one to do so. The French government, which was caught off guard by Guinea’s voting to leave, had no choice but to grant the country its independence and grudgingly did so in 1958. Toure was made President, and set about consolidating his power. In 1960 he declared his political party, the PDG, the only legal one in the country.
Toure governed Guinea from a decidedly Marxist point of view, a philosophy he had come to believe in while involved in the labor-union movement. He nationalized businesses and industries controlled by foreign governments and/or companies and developed an economic strategy for the country based on a strong central-planning authority. He also jailed or exiled any and all opponents. While personally popular among Guineans, his economic and governing policies were beginning to disappoint large numbers of them, who saw little if any improvement in their economic and political situations. By the late 1960s there was growing resentment of and opposition to his rule, and his government became more repressive, with more opponents being jailed or fleeing into exile. Toure’s relations with France soured, and in 1965 he severed all ties with the country, moving closer to the Soviet Union. However, by 1978 his relationship with that country had deteriorated, and when France’s Valéry Giscard d’Estaing approached Toure with a plan for a state visit by the French president to his country to repair relations, Toure accepted. Realistically, he had little choice: his main ally among Africa’s leaders, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in 1966 in a military coup, and other than the president of Mali and a few others, most African leaders were decidedly cold to him. Toure not only offered Nkrumah asylum but made him co-president of the country. Both he and Nkrumah helped form the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party to help free the remaining African colonies from their European owners. The group funded and gave support to a rebel group fighting Portuguese forces in the neighboring colony of Portuguese Guinea. The Portuguese did not take that lying down, so to speak, and in 1970 the Portuguese military mounted an attack on Conakry, ostensibly to rescue Portuguese POWs who had been turned over to Toure by the guerrillas, but in reality the main objective was to overthrow Toure’s regime and capture or kill him. They did manage to rescue their POWs, but their other objective remained unaccomplished.
Toure’s relations with the US were rocky, but when US President John F. Kennedy came to power in 1960, Toure was impressed with his outlook on Africa, what he considered a refreshing change from the policies of his predecessor, and his policies on civil rights in the US, and relations warmed considerably. A spate of labor troubles in Guinea in 1962 gave Toure the opportunity he was looking for: he blamed the troubles on Soviet meddling, broke relations with them and began to adopt a more pro-American policy.
However, after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, relations with the US took a turn for the worse. He came to the belief that the American CIA was plotting his overthrow and execution, and when a Guinean delegation to the new government in Ghana was thrown in prison, Toure took that to mean that the CIA’s “plot” against him had begun. His regime retreated into a state of paranoia, with mass arrests and imprisonment of opponents, both real and imagined, in detention camps, where many were tortured and killed (estimates are as high as 50,000). Tens of thousands of Guineans fled to neighboring countries. Eventually he came to his senses, and in 1978 he formally renounced Marxism as the official state policy and forged closer ties to the West.
8) Muammar al-Qaddafi was born on June 7, 1942, in Sirte, Libya. Raised in a Bedouin tent in the Libyan desert, he came from a tribal family called the al-Qadhafah. At the time of his birth, Libya was an Italian colony. In 1951, Libya gained independence under the Western-allied King Idris. As a young man Qaddafi was influenced by the Arab nationalist movement, and admired Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1961 Qaddafi entered the military college in the city of Benghazi. He also spent four months receiving military training in the United Kingdom.
After graduating, Qaddafi steadily rose through the ranks of the military. As disaffection with Idris grew, Qaddafi became involved with a movement of young officers to overthrow the king. A talented and charismatic man, Qaddafi rose to power in the group. On September 1, 1969, King Idris was overthrown while he was abroad in Turkey for medical treatment. Qaddafi was named commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Libya’s new ruling body. At age 27, he had become the ruler of Libya.
The family of Gamal Abdel Nasser were well-to-do Moslem peasants who lived in Beni Morr near Asyût (Upper Egypt). His father was a post-office employee. Gamal was born on Jan. 15, 1918, in Alexandria. As early as his grammar school years, he participated in demonstrations against the English occupation of Egypt. In 1937 he entered the military academy at Cairo; he left the following year with the rank of second lieutenant.
In 1943, after several years of service in Upper Egypt and the Sudan, he became an instructor at the military academy and then at the army staff college. During 1948-1949 he took part in the unsuccessful campaign against the new state of Israel. In this conflict he commanded a position from the “pocket of Faludja,” south-west of Jerusalem, where three Egyptian battalions were surrounded for more than 2 months by Israeli forces. Nasser resisted gallantly with his troops until the cease-fire was declared. This was the only comparatively successful Arab exploit of the war.
Overthrow of King Farouk
For many years Nasser had been in contact with some of the army officers who were indignant over the corruption in the royal Egyptian government. These young radicals were strongly nationalistic, but they could not agree on an ideology or on an alliance with other forces. However, under the impact of the defeat by Israel in Palestine, the secret “movement of free officers” was organized (1949), with Nasser as one of the principal founders. This group overthrew King Farouk on July 23, 1952.
Behind the new government, nominally headed by Gen. Mohamed Neguib, Nasser was chairman of the Revolution Command Council (which held the actual power), headed the new “Liberation Rally,” and then was deputy premier and minister of the interior. Meanwhile, Neguib had begun to alienate most of the officers by his involvement in efforts to reestablish parliamentary rule. Early in 1954 Nasser displaced Neguib, taking the title of prime minister in April (and in 1956 he was elected first president of the Egyptian republic).
The regime was at first pro-Western and respected the free-enterprise system. It obtained an agreement for the English to surrender control of the Suez Canal in July 1954. However, the Nasser government reacted strongly to the West’s attempting to organize Egypt into an anti-Soviet bloc and yet refusing to support Egypt against Israel (Israeli troops raided into Gaza in February 1955). Then, in the face of the West’s refusal to supply arms unless Egypt entered into a coalition under the direction of Turkey and Iraq (Baghdad Pact, February-April 1955), Nasser moved toward neutralism.
Nasser became friends with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India and President Tito of Yugoslavia, participated in the “Third World” Conference at Bandoeng in Java (April 1955), and purchased arms from Czechoslovakia. America’s unwillingness to finance the High Dam of Aswan, a project essential for the development of Egypt, led Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal in July 1956. A combined Anglo-Franco-Israeli expedition (October-November 1956) tried to reestablish control over the canal, but it failed, thanks largely to American and Soviet pressures to withdraw.
Tom Mboya was born on April 15, 1930 in Kilimanbogo on a Sisal Estate near Thika town in what was called the ‘White Highlands’ of Kenya . His father Leonardus Ndiege was a sisal cutter. His mother, Marcella Awour, named him Odhiambo, a Luo name signifying birth in the evening. He was baptised Thomas and was later called Joseph at his confirmation as a catholic. He was later to be better known as Tom Mboya.
Tom Mboya, started school in 1939 at the Kabaa Catholic Mission School in what was then the Ukamba District of Kenya. In 1942 he joined a Catholic Secondary School in Yala, in Nyanza province. In 1946 he went to the Holy Ghost College, Mangu, where he passed well enough to proceed to do his Cambridge School Certificate. In 1948, Mboya joined the Royal Sanitary Institute’s Medical Training School for Sanitary Inspectors at Nairobi , qualifying as an inspector in 1950.
Tom Mboya’s trade union activities started when he joined the Nairobi City Council in 1951. By 1952, he had been elected President of the African Staff Association, where he developed the association into a trade union. In 1953, Mboya ran into trouble with his employers, who were concerned about his trade union activities and was given notice of dismissal, which subsequently led him to give the City Council his notice of resignation. However, before his notice had expired, the authorities sacked him.
By this time he had helped found and register the Kenya Local Government Worker’s Union , serving as its Treasurer. Later the Union became affiliated with the Kenya Federation of Labour, and in October 1953, he was elected General Secretary of the Federation, which was a full time trade union post (Mboya, 1959). While working as a trade union official, Tom Mboya enrolled for a Matriculation Exemption Certificate with the Efficiency Correspondence College of South Africa, majoring in Economics, which was aimed at improving his education (ibid, 1959). In 1955 he went to Ruskin College , Oxford to pursue further studies, returning to Kenya in 1956.
Tom Mboya joined active politics in 1957, when he successfully contested and won a seat in the then colonial Legislative Council and later in 1958, founded the Nairobi People’s Congress Party, which became one of the strongest parties in Kenya in the late 1950’s. He was able to use his trade union links across the country to rally supporters to join the party.
In 1958, during the All-Africa Peoples Conference, convened by Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana , Mboya was elected the Conference Chairman at the early age of 28. While in Ghana he gained greater insights into nationalist and anti colonial organisational struggles that was to prove a vital asset in his struggle for his own country’s independence. He was later instrumental in forming the Kenya African National Union (KANU), becoming its first Secretary General when it was founded in 1960.
When Kenya attained self-government rule on June 1st 1963, Tom Mboya became the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, a position he was able to utilise in shaping a future independent Kenya. In December 1964, Kenya became a Republic, with Mboya being appointed the Minister of Economic Planning and Development. He was later instrumental in putting together the famous Sessional Paper No.10: “African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya “, which continued to be the ‘guiding philosophy of the KANU government decades after Mboya’ (Gimode, 1996).
Tom Mboya was gunned down outside a pharmacy on a Nairobi street on 5th July 1969, which to many observers was seen to be the result of ethnic tensions (between the predominant Gikuyu and Luo tribes) that had gripped the nation and become a common phenomenon in post independent Kenya. He was a rising star in the Kenyan political landscape and his contribution to the independence struggle and post independent era was remarkable for a man who truly had a passion for nationalism and development.