Top 10 great African leaders of all time and their achievements

Top 10 great African leaders of all time and their achievements

These men and women were willing to put everything on the line to face the unknown and activate change in Africa. Explore a list of the great African leaders who are well known to this very day and who helped shape the history of the land many of us call home. These men were pioneers in their own rights, and here you will learn more about them.

Top 10 great African leaders of all time

Haile Selassie, Nelson Mandela, and Julius Nyerere. Photo: Terry Fincher, Gideon Mendel, William F. Campbell (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

While we can share many pages of South African heroes, here is the list of top 10 African leaders in no particular order. All of these people created a powerful impact on the whole world.

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What sets apart these great African leaders in history was their pursuit of progress and peace on the continent. No matter the challenges that the great minds in our list of African leaders faced daily, they always placed themselves at the front of developmental matters and equity in Africa.

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10. Nelson Mandela

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Madiba, the greatest African leader. Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson, Chris Jackson/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Nelson Mandela sacrificed a great deal of his life fighting against apartheid in the country before becoming the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. But who is the greatest African leader of all time and who is the greatest freedom fighter in Africa? Most would say Nelson Mandela, without a doubt. He was one of the most famous African activists referred to as Madiba (his traditional Xhosa name) and was arrested for his activism more than once.

He was released from prison after 27 years, and he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work to end apartheid in SA. He is regarded as a symbol of global peace and considered by many to be at the top of all the great South African leaders in the history of Africa.

9. Haile Selassie

Top 10 great African leaders of all time

Many refer to Haile Selassie as the reincarcerated messiah. Photo: Keystone-France, Terry Fincher/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Haile Selassie, or Ras Tafari Makonnen, was a member of the Solomonic Dynasty. He was an Ethiopian ruler from 1916 to 1974 and the emperor from 1930 to 1974.

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During his time in power, he fought for social fairness, and he focused on the education of the people by constructing many schools. Ethiopia became a charter member of the UN as a result of his views and visions.

8. Kwame Nkrumah

The greatest African leaders of all time

Kwame Nkrumah and John F Kennedy. Photo: Bettmann, Abbie Rowe/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Dr Kwame Nkrumah is a praised politician from Ghana who led the country from 1951 to 1966 with the main mission to gain independence from their colonial masters, Britain.

He held the position of the first president of Ghana, and many say that he was the founder of this country. Kwame was a Pan-Africanist who assisted in finding the Africa Union, formerly the Organization of African Union.

7. Julius Nyerere

Top 10 great African leaders of all time

Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania. Photo: William F. Campbell, Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

The first president of Tanzania was Julius Nyerere, and he ruled from 1961 to 1985. Nyerere played a major role in finding the Tanganyika African National Union and as president of this party, he pressured Britain for independence.

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Tanzania gained self-governance in 1961. Nyerere successfully negotiated the union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika in 1964, resulting in what we know today, Tanzania.

6. Patrice Lumumba

The greatest African leaders of all time

Patrice Lumumba, a hero of Africa. Photo: Terrence Spencer/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Lumumba was a Congolese politician who fought for the country’s independence from Belgium. He was the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo in 1960.

The Congolese National Movement was founded by Patrice, and he made use of Pan-African ideologies to gain independence. Congo gained its freedom from Belgium in 1961, largely due to Lumumba’s struggles.

5. Kofi Annan

The greatest African leaders of all time

Former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Photo: Inga Kjer, Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Kofi was a highly revered Ghanaian diplomat. From 1997 to 2006 he successfully led the United Nations as the 7th secretary-general. Annan fought the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and he actively worked to erase social issues in the world. In 2006, Kofi and the UN were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their hard work.

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4. Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara

The greatest African leaders of all time

The revolutionary icon, Thomas Sankara. Photo: Michel Baret, Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Thomas Sankara is viewed as an icon of the revolution. Many refer to him as the ‘Che Guevara of Africa’. He became the president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987.

Thomas was a headstrong Pan-Africanist who seized power in 1983 and worked to eliminate corruption and eradicate the former French colonial power's dominance.

3. Jomo Kenyatta

The greatest African leaders of all time

Jomo Kenyatta at the front line. Photo: AFP, Keystone/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Jomo Kenyatta was an activist who was opposed to the colonial rule of the country. He became the first president of Kenya. Jomo played a major role in ensuring that Kenya gained independence in 1963.

He was on the front line in the Kenya National African Union, and he brought economic growth to the country. Jomo promoted peace, and he oversaw the registration of Kenya with the African Union.

2. Kenneth Kaunda

The greatest African leaders of all time

Kenneth Kaunda and Madiba. Photo: Alexander Joe, Ted West/Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Kenneth Kaunda is a retired politician who became the first president of Zambia and held office from 1964 to 1991. He gained political experiences in 1949 when he served as a foreign affairs interpreter. Kenneth used peaceful protests and negotiations as a leader of the United National Independence Party to successfully gain independence for Zambia in 1964.

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1. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

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Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or 'Africa's iron lady.' Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba and Chip Somodevilla (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first great African female leaders and head of state. She was the 24th president of Liberia who held office from 2006 to 2018. She has been praised for bringing steadiness back to Liberia after many years of civil war. Ellen is also referred to as ‘Africa’s Iron Lady’ who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

The numerous strides in terms of equity and social justice that Africa had to make can strongly be credited to these great African dictators we have named here. But who is the leader in Africa? And who is the most powerful man in Africa? We still believe it to be, Madiba.

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