African heroes who stood by their beliefs no matter what, worked
to liberate African countries from colonizing forces or to better black
interests throughout the world. Some paid the ultimate price with their
1. Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, still is fighting to regain the land
once owned by his ancestors. He was part of the revolution against the white
government in Rhodesia and was briefly imprisoned by the Rhodesians. When he was
released, he defied orders to leave Zimbabwe and escaped with
the help of a nun to Mozambique, where he returned to the revolutionary forces.
2. Julius Nyerere
Nyerere was the first president of Tanzania and was known for battling
corruption within the country’s political system. Upon learning that the ruling
elite enjoyed certain privileges and unbalanced authoritarian power over
those beneath them, he worked to have those privileges abolished.
3. Marcus Garvey
Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey did several things to advance black interests in
the world, from founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association to
launching a huge black economic development campaign encouraging thousands of
people to buy from black businesses and employ blacks. He published “The
Negro World” newspaper, one of the first to have a page specifically for women.
Garveyism was a term
named for Garvey that referred to people of
African ancestry in the diaspora who believed in “redeeming” the
nations of Africa and who wanted European colonial powers to
leave the continent.
4. Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba was the first elected prime minister of the Congo Republic.
He helped win his country’s independence from Belgium in June
1960. His pan-Africanist vision to unite the Congo resulted in
some international enemies. Lumumba’s first speech after the country’s
independence was not even scheduled. He just stood up, took the stage and
made an invigorating speech reminding the people of the Congo about their
history and why they had to unite. Within three
months, Lumumba was deposed in a coup. He was
allegedly murdered in a CIA plot that involved Belgium and the U.K.
5. Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe is a beloved African writer who, in a lecture at the
University of Massachusetts, called out Joseph Conrad’s book “Heart of
Darkness” as dehumanizing towards blacks. His essay on the subject became an
influential post-colonial African work.
6. Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa was the queen of the Edweso tribe in what is today Ghana. She
raised an army of thousands against British colonial forces looking to
subjugate her tribe. After the colonial forces won, she lived in exile
until her death in 1921.
7. Gamal Abdel Nasser
Nasser was the second president of Egypt and the pioneer of Arab nationalism
in the country. He organized the overthrow of the monarchy and
was attacked by members of the Muslim community during his work to
establish the United Arab Republic with Syria. He was also responsible for much
of Egypt’s modernization.
8. Queen Nanny
Queen Nanny was kidnapped from Ghana as a child and sold into slavery
in Jamaica. After escaping a plantation with her brothers, she led revolts,
helped free hundreds of slaves, and established a settlement known
as Nanny Town in Jamaica where slaves found refuge during British attacks.
A Jamaican folk hero, Nanny is known as
one of the earliest leaders of slave resistance in the Americas, and one of
very few women. She is celebrated in Jamaica and abroad.
9. Carlota Lukumi
Carlota Lukumi was kidnapped from her Nigerian tribe and sold into
Cuban slavery as a child. She was locked up after trying to lead a rebellion
but used secret communication through drums to form a substantial uprising that
targeted the most abusive slave plantation owners in her area. Lukumi was
eventually captured, tortured and killed.
10. Haile Selassie
Haile Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. He was the heir to
a dynasty that traced its origins to
King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Exiled after leading a
revolt against Italian forces during World War II, he was reinstated as emperor
in 1941. He condemned Italy’s use of chemical weapons against his
people. Though he worked to
modernize the country, some criticized him for not doing enough. Groups such
as Human Rights Watch alleged that
he ruled in a repressive and undemocratic manner.
11. Kwame Nkrumah
Nkrumah was the first President of Ghana from 1951 to 1966 and a founding
member of the Organization of African Unity, an organization that advanced
Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah helped gain Ghana its independence from British
Colonialism. On his rise to Presidency, Nkrumah was thrown into prison because
British authorities believed he was behind a protest against the rising cost of
living. After Nkrumah was released from prison, he traveled the country
rallying Ghanaians to rise up against British colonialism, even inviting women
to participate in the rallies at a time when women were barely gaining
suffrage. Nkruman was thrown into prison again for three years because of the
boycotts and strikes he had initiated against British colonialists, but
eventually his efforts caused the British to flee Ghana.
12. Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan is a Ghanaian diplomat who served as a Secretary General to the
United Nations. Annan had the courage to point out the flaws within the systems
of the UN, and wrote proposals for reform within the UN, calling for a
cabinet-style body in the hopes of getting the UN back on track to working on
its core missions—namely focusing on human rights. Annan was awarded a Nobel
Peace Prize for helping to reform the UN, giving it more of an emphasis on
13. Steve Biko
Steve Biko was a South African who fought racial segregation during the 60’s
and 70’s. Biko was the president of the South African Students’ Organization,
which advocated political self-reliance. Biko was expelled from the University
of Natal because of his political activism as well as banned by the government,
meaning he could not speak in public, or even to more than one person at a
time. After his ban, Biko returned to his hometown where he founded more groups
advocating political self-reliance and initiated protests against the
government. Biko was eventually arrested, tortured, interrogated and died in
14. Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara was a pan-Africanist and the President of Burkina Faso from
1983 to 1987. Sankara was very focused on anti-imperialism and self-reliance.
He had many policies in place to help the impoverished, aiding agrarian
self-sufficiency, promoting more accessible education nation-wide and advancing
public health initiatives. He also fought for women’s rights, outlawing female
genital mutilation and forced marriages. However, the middle class didn’t like
his societal reforms like stripping tribal leaders of the right to forced labor
and tribute payments. Sankara was eventually overthrown and assassinated by the
eventual new president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore.
15. George Weah
George Weah is a Liberian ex-football player and humanitarian, known for his
anti-war stance. Weah launched a program called Lively Up Africa, which helps
promote education for Liberia. Weah was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador but
he temporarily gave up his role as a Goodwill Ambassador so he could run for
President of Liberia. Weah did not win the presidency as many took issue with
the fact he wasn’t college educated. Instead of giving up on politics, Weah
furthered his education to make him a better political candidate and he remains
active in politics, becoming a vice presidential candidate for the Congress for
Democratic Change in Liberia.
16. Kenneth Kaunda
Kenneth Kaunda was the first President of Zambia and helped Zambia gain its
independence from European rule. After Kuanda experienced international
pressure to implicate more democratic practices he voluntarily allowed for
multiparty elections. Kuanda lost the following elections to Frederick
Chiluba—the leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. Chiluba tried to
have Kuanda deported because of his Malawian parentage and passed a law that
prevented those with foreign parents from running for presidency, making it so
Kaunda could not run in the next election. Kaunda was forced to retire from
politics but he is still active in several charitable organizations,
particularly those that fight the spread if HIV/AIDS.
17. Seretse Khama
Seretse Khama was named king of the Bamangwato people (one of the main
tribes in Botswana) at the age of four. Khama founded the Botswana Democratic
Party in 1962, helped gain the country’s independence and shortly thereafter
became the first president of the country but his rise to this position did not
come easily. Khama’s marriage to the British Ruth Williams angered his tribe,
who temporarily took away his status as king as punishment. Khama managed to
win back his title as king, but the neighboring country of South Africa (where
interracial marriage was illegal) pressured Khama’s colony to have him dethroned
again, saying they would stop providing the colony with essential supplies if
they did not obey. Khama and his wife were exiled in 1951 but several
protesting groups helped bring the couple back to Botswana. By 1961 Khama was
back in the political game, earning title of Prime Minister and helping
Botswana win its independence from the recently established capital of