Les Héros Africains

Heroes of Africa

Africa has many heroes. We recognize heroes by their actions, their sacrifices, their leadership, their visions. All these heroes fall in very distinctive and admirable category, one that moved Africa forward.   

These African heroes have fought for the freedom and the rights of their people and some have been imprisoned for it. They sacrifice their own liberty; they took risks in the name of freedom. Some were subjected to sufferance beyond imagination and moral comprehensibility. They are the heroes of our time. They have led and are leading the way towards a more united Africa. They are role models and what future African leaders should aspire to be.

Some of these heroes spent years in prison. Refusing to violate their principles, sometimes paying the price with their own lives. They rose to the challenges of time, the challenges of humanity to preserve human dignity and preserve African values

We have many heroes. We must learn about them, cherish their history and inspire the future generation to think and act as bravely as they have. And to follow in their footsteps for that one day, Africa will be the continent that it was always meant to be; leading the world into the future of hope, prosperity, equality and power.

Cheikh Anta Diop

Cheikh Anta Diop was born in Senegal in 1923 and is considered the greatest African scholar of the 20th century. He was a thought leader, a philosopher, an Egyptologist, a physicist, a thinker, an anthropologist, a scholar across many academic disciplines. His work showed the strength and importance of Africa’s global influence over the centuries. He demonstrated the African roots of global civilizations. Cheikh Anta Diop’s research forged new theoretical paths which brought forward evidence uncovering ancient origins and unifying principles of classical African civilization. His work outlined clear suggestions for political and economic unification of Africa and he advocated for the preservation of African languages.  Diop was criticized by European writers because his research contradicted their work on Africa. But as brave as he was, he countered all historic tales of African history as written by the oppressors.  As an Egyptologist, he challenged Eurocentric views through research using science to demonstrate the melanin content of mummified remains.

His work on the unification of Africa became a manifesto for his political party. The Senegalese president at the time, Leopoldo Senghor saw him as a threat then arrested and tortured him in 1962. His party was almost lost but its supporters mobilized and President Senghor released Diop then offered him a position in the government. Diop refused the offer when President Senghor refused to release other political prisoners.

 Cheikh Anta Diop is a symbol of African intellectualism, African unity and African historical preservation.

“The ancestors of the Blacks, who today live mainly in Black Africa, were the first to invent mathematics, astronomy, the calendar, sciences in general, arts, religion, agriculture, social organisation, medicine, writing, technique, architecture” Cheikh Anta Diop

Steve Biko

Steve Biko was a leader of the South African anti-apartheid movement. Known as the father of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa, he empowered and mobilized urban black population to stand up against oppression and to love each other.  Through the Black Consciousness movement, Biko encouraged that black people reject all value systems that sought to make them foreigners in their country of birth and reduce their human dignity.  As a writer, scholar and political activist, Steve Biko was banned by the apartheid regime to write, or speak publicly, to speak with news media among other restrictions. Through his famous slogan, “Black is Beautiful”, Biko’s worked to liberate the minds of black people who had been assigned to an inferior status by white power structure.

He was arrested many times, and on September 12, 1977, he died from injuries he sustained in police custody. He is known as one of the bravest men in South African history. His philosophy continues to inspire the Pan-Africanist movement today though his writings, speeches and the legacy of his bold leadership.

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
– Steve Biko

Kwamé Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah was the first Prime Minister and first President of Ghana. He was arrested for leading a disturbing 'positive action' campaign in Ghana against British rule in the 1950s. Positive action were the strategies used to protest and strike against the colonial administration in a non-violent way. He was released to lead the newly formed government a year later on 12 February 1951, after his party, the Convention People's Party (CPP), won the 1951 elections. As a prominent Pan-Africanist, Nkrumah led vision and leadership led Ghana to independence in 1957. Kwame Nkrumah, inspired many other leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr who also attended Ghana’s independence ceremony.

“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.”  Kwame Nkrumah

Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Lumumba was the first prime minister of an independent Congo. He encouraged national unity bringing together Congolese of different ethnic background and freedom from the brutality of colonial rule.

After Congolese independence in 1960, a mutiny broke out in the army, soldiers of the army of newly independent Congo opened a rebellion against the white officers whose repressive policies and racial segregation prohibited Congolese from ever advancing past the rank of sergeant. This marked the beginning of the Congo Crisis.  Patrice Lumumba appealed to the United States and the United Nations for help to suppress the Belgian-supported Katangan secessionists led by Moise Tshombe. Both the US and the UN refused, so Lumumba went to the Soviet Union for support. This led to increased confrontation with the leading Congolese authorities as well as with the United States and Belgium, who opposed the Soviet Union in the Cold War. On January 17, 1961, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot where three firing squads had been assembled.  Lumumba, and his two comrades Mpolo, and Okito were lined up against a tree and executed by a firing squad by Belgian-assisted Congolese authorities.

Patrice Lumumba represents those who stood up against colonial rule, calling for African unity and dignity.

“Neither cruelty, nor violence, nor torture will make me beg for mercy, because I prefer to die with my head raised high, with unshakeable faith... In my country’s predestination rather than live in submission forsaking my sacred principles.” – Patrice Lumumba

Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti, was a Nigerian musician, political activist and Pan-Africanist born in 1938. He is known as one of the pioneers of Afro-Beat. While traveling the world in the 1960s he came across various musical styles by playing piano in rock and jazz groups and combining it with traditional Nigerian music. It was then that he pioneered the Afro-Beat sound. Fela Kuti was an activist, committed to fighting the oppression of Nigeria’s autocratic regime. During his United States tour in 1969 he was inspired by the politics of the Black Panther, Malcolm X and others, and his music grew increasingly political. Through his music he pushed for social change in songs such as “Beats of No Nation”, “Monkey Banana” , and “Upside Down”. His songs denounced oppression by Nigerian Military government and led the Nigerian authorities to imprison him in 1984 on trumped up charges of currency smuggling. His arrest and imprisonment brought international outcries condemning his detention as politically motivated.

Fela Kuti’s legacy continues today through Afro-Beat.

“The music of Africa is big sound: it's the sound of a community” – Fela Kuti

Thebe Medupe

Thebe Medupe is one of the first a South African astrophysicist. He has authored many books and is recognized as one of the most influential scientists in Africa. Medupe grew up in a rural village in northwest South Africa, and at the age of 13, he built his own telescope.  He is most known for his role in the documentary Cosmic Africa. In this 2003 documentary, Thebe Medupe visits indigenous peoples across the African continent to learn about the significance that astronomy takes in their cultures. He is the President of the African Astronomical Society where he continues to inspire the youth to take on this science.

when I was 15, I started to question why everything was Eurocentric. Textbooks were using European things and so on. So I used to ask myself whether it was because there was nothing Africa can offer. I refused to believe that. It remained a very big question for me for a long time, until I came across a review on African ethnoastronomy. I was very excited. – Thebe Medupe

Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka, born in 1934 is Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and political activist.  In 1984 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Soyinka was the first Black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Soyinka is an outspoken opponent of oppression and tyranny and a critic of the political situation in Nigeria. He has had to live in exile has also been imprisoned.
During the 1960s Civil War in Nigeria, Soyinka was arrested in for an article he wrote appealing for cease-fire. He was accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner.

Some of the work he authored include:  Aké: the Years of Childhood (1981) and You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir (2006), the novels The Interpreters (1965) and Season of Anomy (1973), plays shaped by a diverse range of inspiration, including African myth, politics and traditions.

In his poetry, Soyinka’s draws on Yoruba myths, politics, and life as a political prisoner. Some of his poetry includes: Idanre and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), Ogun Abibiman (1976), Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988), and Selected Poems (2001).

“I don't know any other way to live but to wake up every day armed with my convictions, not yielding them to the threat of danger and to the power and force of people who might despise me.” Wole Soyinka

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta, born the 1890s, was the first Prime Minister and then first President of Kenya.  At a young age, Kenyatta left his hometown of Kikuyu to become a civil servant and political activist in Nairobi in 1920. He was an anti-colonial activist and opposed the union of British colonial territories of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. He wanted a Kenyan government controlled by native Africans. In Nairobi, he was introduced to the East Africa Association, a protest movement against white European governance which had transformed Kenya into a British colony. Active in the association, he traveled to London on its behalf to protest against British plans in Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta spearheaded the African militant movement, the Mau Mau, to set Kenya free from its colonialists. He was subsequently sentenced to seven years of prison for his role in the movement. But after his release, his commitment and his followers were even stronger.

Kenyatta is one of the people who negotiated the constitutional terms that led to Kenya’s independence. As the leader of Kenya, he maintained a strong central government, rejecting calls to nationalize property, and making Kenya one of the most stable and economically dynamic African country.

Jomo Kenyatta’s legacy remains as a man who gave birth to a nation and set in motion the ideals of Pan-Africanism and for East Africa’s largest economy.

“We must show the world that some of them have been wrong, that some of them have misunderstood us. And it’s only by our actions they will know that we mean business.”
Jomo Kenyatta, President of Kenya

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, born in 1918, was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, a political activist, and a philanthropist who served as the first democratically elected President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Nelson Mandela is known and loved around the world for his engagement for peace, negotiation and reconciliation. As a member of the African National Congress in the 1940s, Mandela led peaceful protests and armed resistance against white minority’s oppressive rule and racist policies in South Africa.

He spent 27 years in prisons for opposing South Africa’s apartheid system. The ruling party used harsh measures to break him but Mandela never gave up his commitment to achieving equality for all people. His love for people and his sacrifice for equality made him the international face of the antiapartheid movement. Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for peacefully destroying the Apartheid regime and laying the foundation for democracy.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I
have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I
have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live
together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am
prepared to die.”   Nelson Mandela