These 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 lives.

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 human rights.

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 police custody.

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 Gaborone.

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