May marks Africa Month, a time to celebrate the continent’s arts, culture, fashion, cuisine, wealth of beauty and natural resources. It is also a period to reflect on the outstanding accomplishments of its people through initiatives such as the African Genius Awards (AGA).
The AGA recognise exceptional Africans working to advance Africa’s global competitiveness, problem-solving skills, self-love and patriotism and who are committed to the continent’s development. Established in 2021, the AGA are run by Priority Performance Projects, which is part of Plus 94 Research, the largest independent, South African and black-owned research company in the country.
Twenty one exceptional African achievers, who’ve excelled in a variety of different fields, have been nominated for this year’s awards.
AGA Executive, Noloyiso Seheri, says the awards honour Africans who have made an outstanding contribution towards the realisation of African self-determination, dignity and exceptionalism. “The AGA are a platform that aim to celebrate excellence and advance development and economic change on the African continent,” she adds. “Another of our objectives is for African geniuses to inspire hope and promote self-confidence, self-love and the attainment of self-actualisation.”
The AGA acknowledge that a genius need not be in one specific area of excellent achievement and skill and recognise the following categories as providing a potential source of its geniuses, namely academics and literature, technology and innovation, science and mathematics, business and commerce, sport, music, arts and drama, social entrepreneurship and activism as well as earth and environment.
The 21 African achievers nominated for the AGA in 2023 have risen to the top of their chosen careers in politics, literature, social justice activism, innovation, academia, science, medicine and more. They are from nations across the continent, including Kenya, Cameroon and South Africa, right through to Nigeria, Namibia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Mauritius and Ghana.
Eric Yirenkyi Danquah is a prominent plant breeder, agricultural scientist, and the Founding Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), which is based at the University of Ghana. Danquah is known for his work in plant breeding and genetics and has focused much of his career on improving the productivity and sustainability of crops in Africa. He has worked extensively on crops such as cowpea, cassava, and maize, among others.
Dr Sifiso Falala, Plus 94 Research and Priority Performance Projects CEO, defines a genius as an individual with an exceptional ability and intelligence. This rare ability is manifested in its application in creativity and innovation in their particular field or area of expertise. A genius would normally possess a natural aptitude for a variety of things, often showing advanced abilities in numerous areas beyond the average person’s capabilities. However, being a genius also includes having a strong work ethic, curiosity and dedication to their work.
“An African genius is any individual who possesses unique characteristics and skills and has used them to address challenges or exploit opportunities to impact African societies. This is in ways that are uplifting, transformative and build the esteem of Africans and inspire them to make significant contributions to the continent and its countries’ development in different ways
Danquah’s hard work and commitment have earned him an AGA nomination.
Nominations for the 2023 AGA were open to the public on the Priority Performance Projects website at www.priorityperformance.co.za from August 2022 to January 2023.
A total of 121 nominations were made and then an adjudication committee shortlisted 21 nominees for judging awarding them as Outstanding Achievers. The committee will then select three AGA winners from the 21 nominees on 25 May, Africa Day, who will be conferred with genius status. In choosing nominees and winners, the committee assesses various criteria including demonstrable contribution to problem solving, leadership/inspirational qualities, exceptional skills, impact of and outstanding contributions relevant to the community or society and official recognition, awards, honours and prestigious appointments.
The AGA adjudication committee is made up of Professor Steven Friedman, Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg, Dr Pulane Molokwane, a Nuclear Physicist and Environmental Specialist, Fulufhelo Ntsandeni, the CEO of MIH Advisory, Simon Gathua, who holds a senior position at Chartall Business College and has over 15 years business and academia experience and Dr Rosaire Ifedi, an Associate Professor in the United States of America in the Department of Educational Foundations and Instruction.
The AGA winners will be announced in a report released on 25 May 2023. To access the report, visit the AGA website at: https://priorityperformance.co.za/africangenius/
In addition to Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, other 2023 AGA Nominees are:
Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, an organization aimed at empowering rural women in Kenya through environmental conservation and community development. The organization has since planted over 50 million trees in Kenya and trained thousands of women in sustainable agriculture and forestry practices. Throughout her life, Maathai was a vocal critic of the Kenyan government’s policies, particularly regarding environmental protection and human rights. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Maathai was recognized with numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Right Livelihood Award, the National Geographic Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away in 2011 at the age of 71.
2. Arthur Zang
Arthur Zang is a Cameroonian engineer and entrepreneur who is best known for inventing the Cardiopad, a touch screen medical tablet that enables remote heart examinations. He was inspired to invent the Cardiopad after witnessing the difficulties faced by people in rural areas of Cameroon who needed heart examinations but did not have access to the necessary medical equipment or specialists. The Cardiopad enables a patient’s heart examination data to be captured and transmitted to a specialist in another location, who can then provide a diagnosis and treatment recommendations. The device has the potential to greatly improve access to healthcare for people living in remote areas. Zang’s invention has received numerous accolades, including the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2014 and the African Innovation Prize in 2013.
3. Dr Angela Nyambura Gichaga
Dr Angela Nyambura Gichaga is the CEO of the Financing Alliance for Health. The Financing Alliance for Health is a partnership of over 40 organizations, including governments, multilateral institutions, foundations, and private sector organizations, that work together to improve health outcomes and achieve universal health coverage. Dr Gichaga has extensive experience in global health and healthcare financing, having worked in various leadership positions at organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Development Programme. She holds a medical degree from the University of Nairobi, a Master of Science in Health Economics from the University of York, and a PhD in Health Economics from the University of Cape Town.
4. Zakes Mda
Zakes Mda is a South African novelist, playwright, and poet. Mda is known for his powerful and thought-provoking works that explore issues of race, identity, and politics in South Africa. He has written several novels, including “Ways of Dying,” “The Heart of Redness,” “The Madonna of Excelsior,” and “Black Diamond.” His works have been translated into numerous languages and have won many awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Sunday Times Literary Award. Mda’s works have been praised for their insight into South African society and their ability to capture the complexity of the country’s history and culture. He remains a prominent figure in the South African literary community and beyond.
5. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is a former politician and the first female President of Mauritius, serving from 2015 to 2018. Before entering politics, Gurib-Fakim was a biodiversity scientist, specializing in the study of plants and their medicinal properties. She obtained her PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and went on to become a professor at the University of Mauritius, where she taught chemistry and headed the Centre for Phytotherapy Research.
6. Morris Mbetsa
Morris Mbetsa is a Kenyan inventor and entrepreneur. Mbetsa’s interest in technology began at a young age, and he started experimenting with electronics and programming as a teenager. He went on to study computer science and engineering at the University of Nairobi, and later founded his own company, Mbetsa Innovations, to pursue his passion for innovation. In addition to his inventions, Mbetsa is also a public speaker and mentor, and he is involved in initiatives that aim to promote science and technology education in Kenya. He has received several awards and recognitions for his work, including being named one of Africa’s top 30 most promising young entrepreneurs by Forbes magazine in 2016.
7. Dr Helena Ndume
Dr Helena Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist who has dedicated her career to providing eye care services to people in need, particularly those living in remote and underserved communities in Namibia and other parts of Africa. She is the Head of Ophthalmology at Windhoek Central Hospital in Namibia. Dr. Ndume is also a member of several international organizations and committees focused on eye health, including the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, the World Health Organization’s African Regional Committee for the Prevention of Blindness, and the Africa Vision 2020 steering committee. She is widely regarded as a leading figure in the field of ophthalmology in Africa and a champion for the rights of people with disabilities.
Aisha Yesufu is a Nigerian activist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. She is known for her advocacy work on social justice issues, particularly in the areas of human rights, gender equality, and good governance. Yesufu gained prominence for her involvement in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which was launched in response to the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014. She was a leading voice in the campaign, which drew international attention to the issue of girls’ education and the ongoing conflict in north-eastern Nigeria. In addition to her advocacy work, Yesufu is a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman.
9. Dr Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Dr Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a soil biogeochemist and political ecologist, who is the Director of the Office of Science for the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr Berhe is currently on leave from the University of California, Merced where she holds the Ted and Jan Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences and Geology; is a Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry; and previously served as Associate Dean for Graduate Education.
Her research focuses on the role of soil in global carbon and nutrient cycles, particularly in response to climate change and land use change. She has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals on topics related to soil science, biogeochemistry, global change science, and equity and inclusive excellence in science. Professor Berhe has received numerous awards and honors for her work. She is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America.
10. Professor Tshilidzi Marwala
Professor Tshilidzi Marwala is a South African engineer, computer scientist, and academic. Marwala obtained his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in the United States in 1991. He then obtained a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1996, and a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 2000. Marwala is currently the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. He was previously the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at the University of Johannesburg. Marwala is a fellow of the South African Academy of Engineering, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Academy of Science of South Africa.
11. Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah
Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah is a Tanzanian-British novelist, academic, and literary critic. He has published several critically acclaimed novels, including “Paradise,” “Desertion,” “By the Sea,” and “Afterlives,” which was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. In addition to his literary work, Professor Gurnah has had a distinguished academic career. He has held teaching positions at universities in Tanzania, England, and the United States, and has published widely on African and postcolonial literature. He was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2006 for his services to literature, and in 2020 he was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.
12. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is a retired professional footballer considered to be one of the greatest African footballers of all time who played as a striker.
Drogba began his professional career in France with Le Mans and later moved to Guingamp, where he scored 17 goals in his first season. In 2004, he joined Chelsea for a fee of £24 million, which was then a record for an African player. Drogba also represented Côte d’Ivoire national team, where he is the all-time top scorer with 65 goals in 104 appearances. He played in three World Cups and two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments for his country. Drogba had a highly successful career at Chelsea, winning four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and the UEFA Champions League in 2012, where he scored the winning goal in the final against Bayern Munich. After leaving Chelsea in 2012, Drogba played for Shanghai Shenhua, Galatasaray, and the Montreal Impact before retiring in 2018. He has since been involved in various charitable and philanthropic efforts, including the Didier Drogba Foundation, which aims to provide healthcare and education to underprivileged children in Africa.
13. Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane is a professional football player from Senegal who currently plays as a forward for Liverpool FC and the Senegal national team. In 2016, he signed with Liverpool for a transfer fee of around £34 million, making him the most expensive African player in history at the time. Since joining Liverpool, Mane has been a key player for the team, helping them to win the UEFA Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League in 2020. He is known for his speed, skill, and goal-scoring ability, and has been recognized with numerous individual awards, including the African Footballer of the Year award in 2019. Mane is known for his philanthropic work, particularly in his home country of Senegal, where he has funded the construction of schools, mosques, and hospitals, as well as providing financial support to families in need.
14. Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge is a Kenyan long-distance runner who is considered one of the greatest marathon runners of all time. Kipchoge began his running career in the early 2000s, and he quickly made a name for himself as a talented long-distance runner. He won the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2003 and went on to win several other international races. He became a household name in 2015 when he won the Berlin Marathon with a time of 2:04:00. He followed that up with a win at the London Marathon in 2016, setting a course record with a time of 2:03:05. Kipchoge has also won several major marathons, including the Chicago Marathon, the Rotterdam Marathon, and the Berlin Marathon (four times). He has also won multiple gold medals at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
15. Agnes Matilda Kalibata
Agnes Matilda Kalibata is a Rwandan agricultural scientist and policymaker. She served as Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources from 2008 to 2014, and later became the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a non-profit organization aimed at increasing food security and agricultural productivity across the African continent. As President of AGRA, Kalibata has continued to promote policies and programs aimed at improving agricultural productivity and food security in Africa. She has been a vocal advocate for the use of science and technology to address agricultural challenges, and has worked to strengthen partnerships between governments, private sector actors, and civil society organizations in support of these goals.
16. Danai Jekesai Gurira
Danai Jekesai Gurira is a Zimbabwean-American actress, playwright, and activist. Gurira is best known for her roles as Michonne in the hit television series “The Walking Dead” and as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Avengers: Endgame.” She has also appeared in other films, including “Mother of George,” “All Eyez on Me,” and “The Visitor”. In addition to her acting career, Gurira is also an accomplished playwright. Her plays include “In the Continuum,” “Eclipsed,” and “The Convert,” all of which have received critical acclaim. “Eclipsed,”, was nominated for several awards, including a Tony Award for Best Play in 2016.
17. Lupita Amondi Nyong’o
Lupita Amondi Nyong’o is a Kenyan-Mexican actress, author, and producer. She grew up in Kenya and later studied film and theatre studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, USA. Nyong’o made her acting debut in the short film “East River” in 2008, and she later starred in the Kenyan television series “Shuga” in 2009. Her breakout role came in 2013 when she played the character of Patsey in the historical drama film “12 Years a Slave.” For her performance, Nyong’o won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Kenyan and Mexican actress to win an Oscar. Since then, Nyong’o has appeared in several films, including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), “Black Panther” (2018), “Us” (2019), and “Little Monsters” (2019).
18. Dr Denis Mukwege
Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist and human rights activist who has dedicated his life to helping survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr Mukwege is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which has become known worldwide for its treatment of survivors of sexual violence. He and his team have treated thousands of women who have been raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence during the long-running conflict in the eastern part of the country.
19. Leymah Gbowee
Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist who is best known for her role in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Gbowee’s activism began in the 1990s, when she became involved in protests against the regime of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. She was later forced to flee to Ghana, where she continued her activism and became a leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which organized protests and sit-ins to demand an end to the war. In 2003, Gbowee led a women’s peace movement that helped to bring an end to the civil war in Liberia, which had ravaged the country for over a decade. Her efforts were recognized with several awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, which she shared with two other women for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Since receiving the Nobel Prize, Gbowee has continued to work as an advocate for peace, human rights, and women’s empowerment, both in Liberia and around the world. She has founded several organizations, including the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa and the Women, Peace, and Security Network Africa, and has served as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She is widely regarded as a leading voice for peace and justice in Africa and a symbol of hope for women’s rights and empowerment globally.
20. Ouided Bouchamaoui
Ouided Bouchamaoui is a Tunisian businesswoman and the former leader of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts (UTICA). Bouchamaoui’s career in business began in 1982 when she joined the family company, the Hedi Bouchamaoui Group, which specializes in food processing, distribution, and logistics. She served as the Managing Director of the Group from 1996 to 2011. Bouchamaoui’s leadership and contributions to Tunisia’s economic and political development have been widely recognized both in Tunisia and internationally. In 2013, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with three other civil society leaders, for her role in the National Dialogue Quartet, which helped to establish a peaceful and democratic transition in Tunisia after the 2011 revolution. Bouchamaoui continues to be involved in business and social initiatives in Tunisia and is a member of several national and international organizations, including the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society.