History is made by men and women. Many of those who experience power bend to its hidden rules and get blinded by the privileges that come with it. But for some others, power is more thirst for justice and the quest for empowering other human beings. These are the ones who had to become victims before becoming leaders, who managed to keep their strength during the worst treatments, and finally became a ray of light for oppressed people and the whole of humankind.
Nelson Mandela: ‘Madiba’, as he’s often referred to -his traditional Xhosa clan name – was the first black man to become president of South Africa, but before that he had to spend 27 long years in prison. Mandela devoted most of his life fighting against the apartheid political system. He was considered a revolutionary, but he left humankind a powerful message of peace, not only because he supported human rights and contributed to shaping human rights movements and thinking, but also for the forgiveness he granted his enemies when he became president. He created reconciliation commissions and numerous projects to end the brutalities of Apartheid.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: known as ‘The African Iron Lady’, she was the first woman to become a head of state in Africa. A Harvard graduate in economics, she was imprisoned twice during Samuel K. Doe’s military dictatorship in Liberia. She ran for president in the 1997 elections, but finished second after Charles Taylor and was forced into exile. Even during these hard times, she continued to fight to end Liberia’s corrupted political system and became an influential economist for the World Bank. In 2005, she ran again for president, vowing to establish unity in a country that had been devastated by civil war and rebuild its infrastructure. She became president from 2006 to 2018 and was a source of inspiration for many women and men who hope to see things improving in their countries.
Haile Selassie was the Ethiopian ruler and emperor from 1916 to 1974. He was chosen by the previous emperor – his father-in-law- for his brightness and intellectual capacity. Even if it might sound as if Haile started from a privileged position, he was not immune to tragedy: when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Haile Selassie was forced into exile in Sudan, and from there he had to recreate an Ethiopian army through which he later regained power, aided by British forces. Selassie worked hard to lower social injustice, boost education by creating new schools and shape political and social reforms that could benefit the country.
Patrice Lumumba was a young Congolese politician who helped Congo in its struggle for independence from Belgium. Lumumba’s high moral values and excellent communication skills gathered consent around him and he became the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo in 1960. Unfortunately, his office didn’t last long as he was assassinated after Colonel Mobutu removed him from power. He was only 35 when he was killed, but his heritage lasted beyond his short life, as he powerfully used Pan-African ideologies to support his country’s independence and share a message of freedom.
Kofi Annan will always be remembered as a man who dedicated his activity to global peace. Born in Ghana, although he was not a mainstream politician, he was the UN Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. During these years, he endeavored to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS and solve many conflicts in the world. He was an African leader who spoke for Africa and the whole of humankind from the authority of the largest international organization.