20 Africans to watch in 2020
Africa's young gamechangers
These innovators, creatives, founders and entrepreneurs are Africa’s most promising future stars. Sounding a fanfare without apology, meet 20 young Africans worth your attention.
1. Feleg Tsegaye
Founder, Deliver Addis (Ethiopia)
A leading tech innovator with a couple of consumer-oriented ventures on his résumé, Tsegaye is the founder of Ethiopia’s first and leading online restaurant delivery service. He successfully raised seed capital for his business from both local firms and international investors. This computer information systems graduate’s work with Deliver Addis has been featured across international media outlets.
2. Ayodeji Osowobi
Gender advocate and founder, Stand to End Rape (Nigeria)
An Obama Foundation leader and one of Time magazine’s Next 100, Osowobi has been using her personal story as a catalyst to fight sexual and gender-based violence through her non-profit, Stand to End Rape. She recently helped to set up the first sex offenders register in her home country, Nigeria. She says, “My Africa is a continent that must value, protect and uphold the rights of woman and girls.”
3. Michaella Rugwizangoga CEO, Volkswagen Mobility Solutions (Rwanda)
A polyglot, fluent in English, German, Spanish, French and Kinyarwanda, Rugwizangoga’s passion for investing in African business led to work at the Rwandan Development Board. She was then headhunted to lead Volkswagen Mobility Solutions in Rwanda. As the company’s CEO, she is responsible for strategic planning, implementation and product development.
4. Phoebe Boswell
Born in Nairobi, Boswell’s work merges drawing, film, performance, literature and technology to create mesmerising immersive installations. Boswell has been showered with residencies and awards, most recently from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Along with commissioned work, she is preparing for her solo exhibition at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham, UK this year. She says, “My Africa is rhizomatic.”
5. Tewodros Dechase Founder, Dechase (Ethiopia/Netherlands)
For Tewodros Dechase, a 2015 trip to Addis Ababa led to a barbershop encounter with a man wearing “the most incredible and comfortable leather boots”. It was then he discovered the wealth of materials and skills to be found in Ethiopia for creating quality, sustainable leatherwear. Based in Amsterdam, his footwear company marries quality and tradition to environmental and social responsibility. “My Africa is culture, smile, inspiration, to do more, step by step. It’s home, identity and connected with my soul.”
6. Yousra Elbagir
A recipient of the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Young Journalist Award for her coverage of the effects of US sanctions on Sudan, Elbagir has an extensive résumé that includes her role as foreign news reporter for the UK’s Channel 4. Shuttling between London and Khartoum, this fearless journalist presents counter-narratives to those of the international media and tells the world’s untold stories.
7. Hannah Giorgis
Culture writer, The Atlantic (Ethiopia/US)
An Ethiopian American writer living in New York, Giorgis’s work on culture, immigration and race has graced publications such as The New Yorker and Time magazine, and Buzzfeed. Currently a culture writer at The Atlantic, her in-depth and nuanced coverage has put artists and culture from the African continent – from stories on Senegalese film Atlantics to Nigerian Afro-pop – into the global conversation. “My Africa is boundless and ever-evolving, my guiding star even across borders and seas.
8. David Moinina Sengeh
Minister of Basic and Secondary Education (Sierra Leone)
Trailblazing and innovation is nothing new for Sengeh. At MIT, he led a research initiative that focused on using 3D printing technology to develop better prosthetic limbs. He was later appointed chief innovation officer of Sierra Leone. Now minister of Basic and Secondary Education, he is taking his expertise as an innovator into the world of schools.
9. Selly Raby Kane
Fashion designer (Senegal)
Senegalese designer Selly Kane combines the urban, African and pop to create designs for the rebellious, free-spirited and assertive new generation of fashion enthusiasts on the continent and beyond. She is regarded as one of Dakar’s new wave of creative practitioners with projects that cross over into sci-fi and Afro-futurist elements, and can hang on a human canvas or be installed in gallery spaces. Beyoncé has been spotted in her designs and she was selected as one of five designers commissioned by IKEA to create homeware products. For Kane, her work is about telling stories. She was recently named by Time magazine as one of its Next Generation Leaders.
10. Salaheddine Bakor
CEO of Monjardin.ma (Morocco)
From nurturing a passion for entrepreneurship and business from a very young age, Bakor chose to study for a master’s degree in international business to develop the family company. The 25-year-old is the founder and CEO of Monjardin.ma, the first e-commerce website in Morocco to specialise in garden products, with harm-smart pest control and bee keeping. He wants to encourage more people to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.
11. Thando Mgqolozana
Founder, Abantu Book Festival (South Africa)
As a response to the publishing industry’s marginalisation of Blackness and Black reading audiences, writer and author Mgqolozana founded Abantu, a book festival centred on Black writers, intellectuals and readers as part of its movement to decolonise literature. Held in the township of Soweto over the last three years, Mgqolozana’s guest list has included literary powerhouse Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
12. Ncuti Gatwa
Born in Rwanda but raised in Scotland, Gatwa is the breakout star of the Netflix series Sex Education, stealing audiences’ hearts as the flamboyant and quirky Eric Effiong, and bringing life to every scene in the series. He has been hailed by critics for breaking away from the cliché of black best friend. Gatwa has a BA in acting from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Fans are excitedly anticipating his return in the show’s second season.
13. Mahlet Afework
Founder, Mafi (Ethiopia)
Having started out as a model and musician, Afework decided to launch her own clothing line using Google and YouTube to market her work to the world. She runs Mafi, which uses traditional Ethiopian designs and techniques to create its garments. The brand not only prides itself on preserving the country’s textile history through its designs but creates jobs for female weavers, positioning her brand between culture and economic sustainability.
14. Betelhem Dessie
Project manager, iCog Labs (Ethiopia)
Dessie has four computer software programmes copyrighted to her name, including an app used to map rivers for irrigation for the Ethiopian government. At just 20, she is the founder and CEO of Anyone Can Code, in association with iCog, the Addis AI developer. She trains young girls to code and coordinates a number of nationwide programmes in robotics and other technologies.
15. Titilope Sonuga
Sonuga has gone from being an engineer, scribbling haikus in her truck, to life as a full-time poet and performer. The award-winning poet and Intel brand ambassador has created a concert series and undertaken a six-city tour across five countries. In 2019 she released her poetry collection, This Is How We Disappear, the album Swim and a musical, Ada the Country, which debuts on the Lagos stage in 2020. She says, “My Africa is rewriting her own stories and transforming potential into reality. My Africa is for the artists and the storytellers, the innovators and creators.”
16. Rediet Abebe
Computer scientist (Ethiopia)
Specialising in algorithms and AI, Abebe is a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. Her work focuses on equity and social good, and she co-organises the Mechanism Design for Social Good initiative, which trains over 100 institutions in 20 countries. Abebe is the co-founder of Black in AI, a non-profit working to improve the diversity and visibility of Black people in AI.
17. Elizabeth Muringi Hartig
Founder, Emali Winery (Kenya/Austria)
Born and raised in Kenya, Hartig fell in love with wine after trying her first Malbec when she moved to Austria 14 years ago. She founded Wines2Africa, which exported wine to Uganda and Nigeria, before finally becoming a winemaker with Emali Wines. “My Africa is rich, beautiful and diverse. The time is coming when we will experience its full potential.”
18. Omar Degan
Founder, DO Architecture (Somalia)
Degan runs DO Architecture, based in Mogadishu, which specialises in post-conflict reconstruction. His firm uses local crafts and materials to revive and celebrate the city’s identity, culture and heritage within a sustainable framework. The Italian-born Somali believes that reviving public spaces is an integral part of peace building and a means to heal the country’s turbulent past.
19. Shalom Abate
Software engineer, Google (Ethiopia)
Abate, who works at Google’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has a list of exceptional achievements to his name. He won a full scholarship to MIT where he graduated with a degree in computer science. He went on to intern at Facebook and finished a master’s thesis in quantum communication before scoring his dream job at Google. He also serves as a teaching assistant for AddisCoder.
20. Gregory Rockson
Co-founder, mPharma (Ghana)
MPharma CEO Rockson is a public policy fellow at Princeton University and a Rotary Scholar at the University of Copenhagen. Rockson built mPharma, a digital health tech platform to work with drug manufacturers and service providers, to develop access to affordable, high-quality drugs for patients across the continent. “My Africa is one where all its citizens are in good health.”