Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was perhaps the greatest President Africa has produced in her modern history. In reputation, he was the most popular and revered among African leaders of the last century. He served South Africa as the first elected black president from 1994 to 1999 and crushed apartheid in that nation. His story was emotional and full of lessons. An exemplary fighter and dogged African nationalist, he remained unshaken and true to his cause throughout his 27 years in prison.
Mandela acted as mediator in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, served as Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998-1999 and oversaw the military intervention in Lesotho. He was also active in the formation and development of the South African Development Community (SADC) and played a key role in conflict and peace intervention in Zaire, Libya, Burundi, Rwanda, Lesotho, Israel, India, Pakistan and several other countries all over the world.
For his tireless efforts, Mandela was given the Nobel Peace Prize, US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Lenin Peace Prize. He received more than 250 other awards from various countries and organisations all over the world. His death attracted to Africa more representatives of world leaders than any other African president of his time.
Haile Selassie’s influence and bravado on the world stage is no doubt one of the greatest examples of showmanship ever displayed by an African leader. Born in Harar, Ethiopia, in 1892, he grew up learning political intrigues and art while growing up at court in Addis Ababa. Like Kwame Nkrumah, he was one of the outstanding African leaders who worked tirelessly for independence of African states and a United States of Africa.
He defeated the Italian Fascists’ Invasion of Ethiopia from 1935-1941. His knowledge of the world was buoyed by his exposure to various countries and ability to speak several languages. Selassie constructed the building that accommodated African leaders in Addis Ababa; his faith in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was repaid when he became the first African leader to serve as Chairman of the OAU more than once. It was to his credit that Africa participated in peacekeeping missions all over the world. He sent Ethiopian troops under the United Nations to the Korean War and the Congo Crisis, just to mention a few.
Selassie fought bravely against Italian invasion and when his nation was conquered, he gave a powerful speech at the United Nations for the organisation to come to his country’s aid. He struggled and gave all as an Ethiopian nationalist, leader and as a committed Pan-Africanist. Till today, the details of his death are wrapped in mystery.
2.Gamel Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein was one of the most iconic African leaders of the 20th century. The second president of Egypt, he was very vocal about pan-Arab unity and social justice. Nasser led Egypt during the controversial wars with Israel and during the North Yemen Civil War. He was particularly active in the establishment of the Arab League Summit. His support for communism and pan-Arabism is likely part of the reason for his issues with the US and its allies during his campaign. In spite of opposition from governments of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, etc., his popularity and honour continue to soar in the Arab world.
Nasser’s heroism was not an accident; he began to read voraciously while still in secondary school, coming in contact with books that changed his thinking about the world including the biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Mahatma Gandhi, to mention a few. He did not believe in rhetoric; rather, he believed Egypt’s freedom would only be achieved through force. He joined the army and in 1951, he organized the attack against British forces in the Suez Canal region.
Nasser was feared and intimidating on the world stage, but he retains the support of his people such that his funeral drew over 5 million mourners and caused widespread grief.
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was a Nationalist Leader and Ghana’s first President and Prime Minister from 1957 -1966 before being overthrown. His passion and drive for a united Africa earned him the title of “Father of Pan-Africanism.” More than any other leader in Africa, he promoted African unity and freedom. After Ghana achieved independence in 1957, he convened the first Conference of Independent African States in 1958. He was a leading figure in the Casablanca Group of African leaders and one of the leaders who founded the Organisation of African Unity.
Nkrumah had a good relationship with several world leaders and was a major advocate and proponent of the United Nations. He vehemently opposed the entry of African states into the Common Market of the European Economic Community. In spite of the coup that ended his presidency, he had good followership in Ghana and all over the world. He died in Bucharest in 1972
Julius Kambarage Nyerere was one of founding fathers of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) who ruled for 25 years before retiring. He attended elite schools in Kampala and Edinburgh. Although he achieved great strides in health and educational development in Tanzania, the country was poor and aid-dependent by the time he left.
On the world stage, Nyerere was an untiring advocate of Pan-Africanism and was one of the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). He was reputed to have intervened in militant causes all over Africa and was instrumental in causing uprising in some African countries as well as supporting human right causes. During the Cold War, he enjoyed amicable relations with both the West and the Soviet Bloc although his personality was highly controversial. He died of leukemia in London in 1999.
One of the most dreadful African leaders ever to lead Libya in her checkered history was the late Muammar al-Qaddafi. Also known as the “King of Kings of Africa,” he ruled Libya for over 40 years with fist, sword and at times with “strange” love. He became a leader so early – at the age of 27 – and immediately proclaimed his intention on the world stage by shutting down the American military bases in Libya. He was a thorn in the flesh of leaders all over the world. Apart from the fearless President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, no one ever among African leaders has dared the “powers that be” in the international arena like he did.
Muammar al-Qaddafi wined and dined with the world, and was a friend to powerful leaders all over the world, including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He supported Ugandan president Idi Amin during his reign of terror. He aided Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Empire, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Ange-Felix Patasse of Central African Republic and so many other leaders who reigned like himself. He supported guerrilla groups all over the world to threaten his perceived enemies in the international system. His troubles all over the world earned his country sanctions from United Kingdom, Australia, etc. His grandiose plan for a United States of Africa was not realized before his death.
His poor human rights abuse, unrivalled corruption and personal aggrandizement made the whole world turn against him. He was killed in 2011 by the people of Libya with international support.