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These Influential Africans Made the 2019 TIME 100 List

South Africa's own Caster Semenya, Egypt's Mohamed Salah and more join this year's notables making an impact in their communities and around the world.

The 2019 TIME 100 list is here—where Time magazine annually recognizes the 100 most influential people in the world.

Divvied up in the categories of pioneers, artists, leaders, icons and titans, notables in the arts, politics, sports, business, education, advocacy were acknowledged by their peers as to why they deserve such recognition—regardless of the consequences (or lack thereof) of their impact.

Six African influencers from the continent and the diaspora made the list this year—check them out below.


Rami Malek

Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek took this past year by storm playing the role of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. As Robery Downey Jr. reflects, "I contend that his mother Nelly, his father Said, his sister Yasmine and his brother Sami are the foundational pillars to his rise. Mighta just been destiny…more likely it's yet another testament to hardworking immigrants raising their kids right and pushing our culture toward the light."

Caster Semenya

We all know South Africa's Caster Semenya is a fighter in many ways than one. "Her success has brought controversy in elite sport, with many arguing that her biological traits give her an unfair advantage in women's competition," Olympian Edwin Moses says. "But Semenya is fighting that. Sport eligibility, she and others say, should not be based on hormone levels or other differences of sex development. If successful, Semenya's effort could open the door for all who identify as women to compete in track events without having to first medically lower their testosterone levels below a proposed limit."

Fred Swaniker

Ghanaian entrepreneur and leadership development expert Fred Swaniker has made an impact tapping into developing the continent's most valuable asset—the youth. "Fred understood that the key to success was not about leading the youth along a preordained path, but about allowing them to become authors of their own stories," Mo Ibrahim says. "That is what has inspired his educational initiatives: the African Leadership Academy, African Leadership Network and African Leadership University. Together, they hope to educate 3 million leaders of tomorrow."

Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah, Egypt's hero on and off the pitch, once again is getting due praise for his impact on the sport. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete in any sport less affected by their success or status than Mo, which is incredible because I can't imagine the kind of pressure that comes with the intensity of adoration he receives," HBO's John Oliver says. "As a footballer, he plays with an infectious joy. I've always wondered what it would feel like to be able to play as well as him, and watching his face light up after he does something incredible, you get the reassuring sense that it's exactly as fun as you'd want it to be."

Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also made this year's list for his impact on turning a new leaf in his country. Olympic silver-medalist Feyisa Lilesa, who was exiled in 2016 after protesting during the Rio Olympics, writes: "In Ethiopian history, we have never seen a leader like him. He's an educated person who talks about unity. He has released thousands of people from jail. He brought peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea after 20 years of war. And he made it possible for me to come home," he says. "Yes, people are still protesting. But now, when they protest, they aren't going to jail. To me, that is democracy. That is hope."

Cyril Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is being recognized for taking on the challenges facing his country and the potential that comes with it. "Ramaphosa, or Cyril, as he's known to South Africans, has the chance to end corruption and grow the stalled economy," Time correspondent Vivienne Walt says. "That could be his toughest battle yet. Blackouts, grinding poverty and massive unemployment have left millions desperate for quick results. Vicious infighting in his African National Congress party leaves him vulnerable to a coup, or perhaps an ouster in elections on May 8. For all that, Ramaphosa has kept his characteristic chuckle and his knack for focusing on the bigger picture. 'Unity,' he said recently, 'was never going to happen overnight.' After a lifetime fighting his enemies, he should know."

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Find the full TIME 100 list here.

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Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: NK Is The Future and Star of His Own Show

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ghanaian digital artist NK. The self-proclaimed Afrocentric visual artist's love for drawing and sketching at a young age pushed him to explore the many ways in which modern technology supports and advances creativity. Simply playing around with a popular photo editing app propelled the young artist into a world of self discovery, empowerment, and a keen understanding about how big the Universe we call home actually is. As the digital creative puts it, "I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art." Armed with a keen interest in all things Afrofuturist, NK's futuristic eye has gained the teen artist recognition from some of his industry faves, too.

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you have taken to get to where it is today.

I grew up with an interest in art and drawing. I loved to draw and sketch, usually with both pen and pencils, whatever was interesting around me. I would make compositions of items within my surroundings and paste them on the walls of my parent’s rooms. My interest in the digital world peaked around the ages of 14 and 15 -- I've always been intrigued by astronauts and futuristic technology. I started digital art in 2017 when I created 2D pieces on the PicsArt app on a phone at home. Eventually, I gained access to the Adobe Photoshop software.

Artists like David Alabo, Beeple, Basquiat, and Juan Carlos Ribas inspired me and also made me think of what I could achieve if I tried. I spent a lot of time watching tutorial videos and related content online to be able to develop my skill. Initially, I created my pieces by combining a number of stock images and online resources to create an entirely new fictional scene. Around early 2020 I had a creative block and was desperate to find new sources of inspiration. Over time I came to the realization that my inspiration surrounded me and that I shouldn’t have to force creativity. I did more research on Afrocentric art and stepped out of my comfort zone to create my first Afrocentric pieces, “Gateway to Paradise” and “Modernization”. These pieces attracted a lot of attention and also the smArt magazine which granted me my first interview and magazine feature opening the door to new relationships in the creative industry, various opportunities, and collaborations.

What are the central themes in your work?

My work is mainly centered around the expression of development in the Black experience and empowering African Culture. I try to factor in Afrofuturism and Afrocentrism in making my pieces whether it’s how my models are dressed, their accessories, or represented by items that surround them. My pieces are intended to put forward the message of creating brighter futures and realities where Africans thrive. This helps give my pieces in themselves an identity.

How did you decide on using a digital medium for your art?

Even though I do draw and sketch, I also feel very comfortable using digital software which to me offers endless possibilities. I believe that using digital media as an African artist helps bridge the gap between technology and cultural art, directly falling in line with my field of interest, Afrofuturism.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The start of the pandemic in 2020 was devastating. A lot happened during that period. It was during the lockdown that I made the decision to transition into creating Afrocentric art. We were made to take a break from school, which freed up a lot of my time. I had the time to research, watch tutorials and practice more. It might have been one of the most defining years for me as an artist. It also granted me a larger audience as everyone was made to work from home. I actually learned a lot and worked hard during that period and this led to my work improving massively.

Can you describe your artistic relationship with ‘Afro-futurism’?

Afrofuturism is a theme I can really relate to as a young African. It's our responsibility to contribute to our development as a people. I think my interest in space and what could exist outside the world we live in also had an impact on my desire to incorporate futuristic technology with cultural art. I like to think of what we can achieve, the seemingly impossible things, and then I pour out those thoughts and ideas into my art and that is why I immediately fell in love with Afrofuturism. We are the future, the stars of our own show.

Can you talk about your use of colors and accessories in your art?

The most dominant figure in my pieces is usually the black figure/model which usually stands out as the main subject. Regarding the backgrounds, I usually try to make a scene with colors to create a particular mood or in some of my pieces to complement the clothes of the model, usually African prints. They range from solid backgrounds to gradients and various sky textures. I use different cultural accessories both for beautification and also to provide that Afrocentric feel and message. I love to use various beads, bracelets, and traditional cloths with interesting textures to convey these messages of who we are as Africans and where we come from.


Artwork by NK

"Cultural Adornment"

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for YouTube Beauty

Nigerian-American Jackie Aina Catches Flames For Insensitive New Candle

The s-candle burns bright on Twitter as the Youtuber's 'Sòrò Sókè' candle sparks fury over the political meaning behind the name.

We didn't think this week we would see drama from a candle release. But here we are.

Nigerian-American Youtuber Jackie Aina has angered the Nigerian online community after the latest release from her lifestyle candle brand Forvr Mood. The candle, titled"Sòrò Sókè" which translates to "Speak Up", has the Nigerian community up in arms as the saying was originally used during the inhumane #ENDSARS saga that saw the Nigerian government willfully gun down peaceful protesters.

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Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

'Ile Owo' Director Dare Olaitan on Exploring the Human Condition Through Film

Director Dare Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Dare Olaitan was 26 when his first feature film, Ojukokoro: Greed,, was released in the cinemas. The crime thriller, which was released in 2016, received positive reviews and was nominated for the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Nigerian Film in 2018. Knock Out Blessing, his second film, also got an AMAA nomination the following year. Dwindle, his third, — which is coming to Netflix later this month — was co-directed with Kayode Kasum last year.

In his latest film, Ile Owo, Olaitan aims to capture the horrific by exploring social hierarchies, poverty, class politics, and religion in the Nigerian society. The psychological trailer stars Immaculata Oko, Tina Mba, Akin Lewis, Bisola Aiyeola, Efe Iwara and a host of others.

In this interview with OkayAfrica, Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Ile-Owo screenshot two women

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

Ile-Owo is your fourth film, but the first horror. What drew you to this genre and why did you decide horror was the most fitting form to tell the story?

I think horror movies are a great way to deal with social issues by motifs and metaphors to illustrate things that I am concerned about at the moment. I am also interested in the global interest in the horror genre and its ability to travel. I would say Ile Owo isn’t a true horror film. It’s closer to a psychological thriller.

Of course, horror is not new in Nigerian films, and quite a number of millennials, including you, who grew up in the country can attest to watching them. Was there something you wanted to do differently?

I feel like horror exploded in the Nigerian film industry as a reaction to the dictatorship of [Sani] Abacha in the early '90s. This made our films metaphors for the social problems with evangelical and pentecostal churches and movements growing in that time. Ile Owo is a retread of those thoughts and feelings. Just updated for 2022.

It's interesting you mentioned religious movements. Ile Owo confronts social hierarchies, hardship, and the ways religion serves as succor for many. How much can relate to that?

I think it’s impossible to grow up in a third world country and not witness the impact economics has on many people. Religion creates some sense of structure and safety in a chaotic environment. The worse the economic situation of a region the higher the religious fervor.

Can you talk a bit about your technique, particularly on evoking fear on the big screen?

I knew my limitations and the limitations of the crew, so I tried to evoke fear in the mind of the viewer. By creating situations where the audience’s imagination completes the scare thus making it all the more personal.

And did you achieve that? Do you think the audience had enough material to work with?

I think to an extent. There is always room to grow. I learned lessons, I can say that much.

What lessons?

What Nigerians like to watch and how to structure things better. In terms of production, I’ve never done anything of this magnitude. I learned more about VFX.

You've spoken in the past about your interest in making seven films based on the seven deadly sins, which will be titled after each sin. You've made Ojukokoro (Greed). Where does Ile Owo come in? And why is exploring these themes important to you?

The seven deadly sins are an important thematic element for me. They represent some commonality in the human experience. Things people in every culture can relate to and have experienced in their daily lives. Ile Owo is not part of the seven. Igberaga (Pride) is the next one on the slate.

Ile-Owo screenshot man in car

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

What exactly did you want to say in Ile Owo?

Ile Owo is really a film about the subjection of Nigerian women in the traditional marriage structures, how they are exploited by the expectations of culture and lose their lives and youth to support men who use them for personal gain. That was the nugget that informed the writing and creation of the story. I just had to obfuscate through metaphors and motifs.

Past conversations on social media have shown that some key players in Nollywood don't take criticism very well. How do you navigate unpleasant remarks about your work?

I can only speak for myself but I know I have no problem with well-intentioned criticism. I make art so it’s nice to get the thoughts of the people it was created for. I think the problem comes in with poorly-intentioned criticism. I have gotten reviews that called me stupid or foolish. I don’t think reviews like that help anyone and make it harder for creatives to express themselves.

How does your background in Economics and Business Management influence your work as a filmmaker?

It experiences the way I view life as it was the first viewpoint I used to parse reality. It’s evident in all my work as my subject matter almost always covers inequality and the rising gap between the rich and the poor. I think capitalism has become unchecked and I am doing my little part to re-educate the audience.

I recall a character hallucinating in Ojukokoro. There's a similar element in Ile Owo, portrayed by the protagonist's father. You seem keen on exploring the intersection of mental illness and the supernatural.

What is mental illness and what is supernatural? Are they not two shirts cut from the same fabric? I am not sure to be honest. I just like to mess with themes that are interesting to me. I think there is a thing among indigenous creatures where people who have mental illnesses are seen to be closer to the supernatural. Perhaps this is an extension of that.

Director Dare Olaitan

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

As the writer and director, you must have had the most influence on the outcome of this film. What other factors impacted the production? If you could change anything in the process, from ideation to premiere, what would that be?

Nigeria. Making films in Nigeria is very hard. Filmmaking is akin to war. We must conquer the reality and bend it to our will in order to for 90-120 minutes, capture the audience in disbelief and play them to our wishes. Nigeria makes this hard as life here is already war. Budgetary concerns, technical inability to accomplish some of our goals are things that will always impact production. I wish I had more time and money.

What are the three things filmmakers just starting out should bear in mind?

Your message. Your reasons for doing it. Your tone. These things will guide you and stop you from missteps. I wish I had that knowledge when I started.

It's fascinating how you're able to move across different genres: crime, comedy, and psychological thriller. You're a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, and that's evident in your work. Who are some of the filmmakers that have had the most influence on your work and why?

Robert Rodriguez. Martin Scorsese. [Francis Ford] Coppola. These are the people whose films I look up too. We might have the same content in terms of premise but I like to see what they do to navigate problems because as a director all you are doing is really solving problems and translating ideas into images. I watched a lot of their film commentaries when I started out, so their voices sort of guide me.


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