News: The 100 most influential Africans (31-40)
The Africa Report’s inaugural ranking of the top Africans who control the levers of power across politics, business and the arts: from billionaire barons to unpredictable peacemakers and soft-power superstars.
31 – Tewolde GebreMariam
The winner of the Africa CEO Forum’s CEO of the Year award in 2012 is still Africa’s most successful aviation executive. He turned the national airline into a profitable tool of Ethiopian economic expansion, successfully battling Middle Eastern carriers for African routes. In February GebreMariam upped the stakes on transatlantic routes, announcing that Ethiopian Airlines would be flying three times a week to New York’s JFK.
32 – Maria Ramos
Having stepped down from managing one of Africa’s largest banks, the decorated Maria Ramos is no doubt looking for a fresh challenge. Many in South Africa speculate she will play a key role back in government, when President Cyril Ramaphosa puts together his post-May election cabinet.
33 – Tope Lawani
In 15 years Helios has grown to be Africa’s largest private-equity firm, with $3.6bn under management. After buying a 49% stake in Nigerian oil and gas company Oando in 2017, its push into South Africa, where it plans to build 1,000 telecom towers in the next three years, marks its transformation into a genuine pan-African platform. It also offers direct lending to African businesses. Lawani’s influence extends to the board of EMPEA industry association and MIT’s board of trustees.
34 – Nicky Oppenheimer
Still at the table
The scion of the De Beers diamond family retired from mining in 2012 saying he wanted to invest in African entrepreneurs. Insiders say he’s really interested in the health of South African politics. Often held up by radical activists on the left as embodying white monopoly capital (he still owns 1% of Anglo American), he set up the Brenthurst Foundation think tank, which numbers many African presidents on its advisory board. He donates $6m a year to education causes and stopped big game hunting on his reserve.
35 – Mitchell Elegbe
Interswitch could become Africa’s fourth unicorn (a tech company valued over $1bn) if its delayed IPO in London and Lagos goes through by the end of this year. Having started the integrated payment and transaction company in Nigeria in 2002, disruptor Elegbe is now partnering with one of its international rivals, Visa, to drive digital payments across Africa.
36 – David Adjaye
Raising the roof
Adjaye was selected to join a team of architects to design the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC in 2009… and he has been in demand ever since. After a decade of globetrotting, partaking in art collaborations and designing private homes for celebrities, other American museums, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo and a Russian business school, Adjaye has returned to his fatherland, Ghana to build its high-profile new national cathedral. He has also been tapped to design the new UK Holocaust Memorial in London close to the Houses of Parliament.
37 – Acha Leke
McKinsey can depend on the fresh-faced Cameroonian high-flyer to rescue its image after being tainted by association with the Gupta scandal in South Africa. He found a way for pharma companies in Uganda to slash the price of antiretrovirals; co-authored ‘Lions on the Move’ to bring more investment to African economies; helped open the continent for visa-free travel; and in his spare time partnered with entrepreneur Fred Swaniker to set up the African Leadership Academy, a pan-African uber high school with 85% of its students on full scholarships. The project has expanded to encompass a university and a Davos-style forum, and Leke has been intimating that he may devote himself full-time to enlarging it.
38 – Mohamed El Kettani
Over his 12 years in charge of Attijariwafa Bank he’s consolidated the Moroccan lender to make it a market leader – the top bank in the region and seventh-largest in Africa with a presence in 15 countries on the continent and 26 worldwide. A member of King Mohammed VI’s close circle of advisers, El Kettani is an intelligent strategist. Next on his list is a push beyond francophone Africa, for which he acknowledges a “cultural and mental revolution” is needed.
39 – Aziz Akhannouch
Fishing for business
One of Morocco’s richest men, Akhannouch inherited the family conglomerate with interests primarily in oil and gas. He straddles the worlds of business and politics through his position as agriculture minister and president of the Rassemblement National des Indépendants party. Akhannouch’s visits to Europe and, recently, Australia to seek cooperation for his agriculture and fisheries strategies make him a leader in soft diplomacy. He has, however, courted controversy in the pricing strategies of his petrol stations.
40 – Herbert Wigwe
Wigwe and his business partner bought Nigeria’s 65th-largest bank in 2002 and turned it into one of the top five. He’s not stopping there: Access is currently merging with Diamond Bank to form “the largest bank in Africa’s largest economy”. On 1 March Wigwe also launched Africa’s first corporate green bond, worth $41.4m. Recounting the story of his success takes him on public speaking engagements around the world, and he invites global leaders back every two years to the Access Conference, a forum on solving humanity’s major challenges. He sums up his strategy: “History will only favour the brave. If you don’t try something, you won’t get it.”
By Alison Culliford, Olivia Konotey-Ahulu, Nicholas Norbrook, Oheneba Ama Nti Osei and Marshall Van Valen