In this article, I will share the 50 of the most powerful women in Africa. Powerful in this sense does not relate only to African women holding political positions but also to those who have been successful in their career paths and have become recognized by different international bodies and organizations for their contribution to the development of their environment and humanity.
Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa
Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa (South Africa)
Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa is the CEO of Naspers and one of Africa’s most successful business executives. The 51-year-old South African became the first person of African origin to run Naspers, South Africa’s famous publishing company.
Before being an executive at Naspers, Mahanyele-Dabengwa was a co-founder and CEO of Sigma Capital. Her experience in business management made it possible to grow Nasper’s presence in Africa. In addition, she is credited for helping the company to make effective tech investments. Mahanyele-Dabengwa’s contribution to impacting small businesses in Africa earned her recognition as one of the most powerful women in Africa.
In 2008, she was listed in The Wall Street Journal as one of the “Top 50 Women in the World to Watch.” In 2014, Forbes recognized her as the “Business Woman of the Year.”
Bonang Matheba (South Africa)
Bonang Matheba’s success story teaches African women that there is more to being a TV presenter; she is the first South African to sign an ambassadorial deal with the international cosmetic brand; Revlon. The South African-born TV Presenter, Actress, and Media Personality started her career as a SABC 1 Music Show presenter. However, Bonang Metheba’s tenacity and consistency kept her going in her career.
In 2015, she was given the opportunity of being the first African to get Special news on E. Forbes listed her as one of the “Faces of Entrepreneurship” in Africa the following year. She host a reality show “Being Bonang,” which she launched in 2017.
Graca Machel (South Africa and Mozambique)
Let me introduce you to the only woman in modern history to become the first lady of two different countries. Well, not at the same time, though.
Graca Machel is a humanitarian and a political figure in Africa. She was married to the late President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, and remarried President Nelson Mandela of South Africa a few years after losing her first husband. Graca proved that being the First Lady can be an impactful position in the lives of her people. She used her position to advocate for the rights of African women, children, and workers.
Being a human rights advocate and one of the most powerful women in Africa, she was honored with the “Dame” title in 1997 by Queen Elizabeth II of England. In addition, Graca, through her interest in developing a better educational system for Africans, served as the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s Chancellor, from 1999 to 2019.
Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya)
The list of most popular women in Africa will not be complete without the inclusion of this inspiring figure. Lupita Nyong’o is one of the black women making Africa proud in Hollywood.
Born in 1983 to the family of a Kenya Politician in Mexico City, Lupita had her childhood in both Mexico and Kenya. She developed an interest in acting, modeling, and humanitarian activities. Lupita grew to become one of the most successful black actresses in Hollywood. Apart from acting, she also impacts the world by being part of movements against women’s discrimination, racism, sexual harassment, and animal cruelty.
Some of the awards Lupita has received include; Academy Award, NAACP Image Award, and a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award. She is credited as the first Afro-Latina actress to win the Academy Award. In addition, Lupita, 2020, appeared on the Forbes list of “50 Most Powerful Women.”
Rebecca Enonchong (Cameroon)
Rebecca Enonchong is one of the African women dominating the tech industry and using her influence to pave the way for others to grow. The 55-year-old Cameroonian is the founder and CEO of AppsTech, a software company located in Douala, Cameroon. In 2014, Forbes listed her as one of the “Top 10 Tech Founders to Watch in Africa.” Rebecca is credited with being an African woman in tech, helping enterprises develop better solutions.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)
Meet Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first woman in Nigeria to serve twice as a Minister for Finance. She is an economist, humanitarian, environmental sustainability advocate, and the present Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
The 68-year-old has long been listed amongst Africa’s top women revolutionizing economic growth. But, in March 2021, she again came into the limelight after becoming the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She is among the 50 most popular women in Africa.
Apart from being at the forefront of management activities of the WTO, she is also a member of the board of different corporations such as; Rockefeller Foundation, Standard Chartered Bank, Earthshot Prize and many more. In addition, she served as the Managing Director for Operations at the World Bank from 2007 to 2011. In 2015, Ngozi was listed by Forbes as the 86th most powerful woman in the world.
Jennifer Riria (Kenya )
Jennifer Riria is one of the first women to serve as a member of the board of the Nairobi Stock Exchange. She is a co-founder of Kenya Women Finance Trust and the CEO of Echo Network Africa.
Besides being a CEO and co-founder, she is also a banker, corporate executive, and author. Her consistency in developing the Kenyan economy earned her a stance on the list of the top most powerful women in Africa.
In 2014, she was awarded the “Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year“. That same year, she launched two books: An Autobiography and A History of Higher Education in Kenya. Jennifer is an advocate of educating the girl child. She uses the ‘Educates the Net 235 Girls Programme’ to ensure young girls in Kenya are given access to free education.
Charlize Theron (South Africa)
If you remember the 1998 movie Mighty Joe Young, you’ll be familiar with this exceptional woman.
Charlize Theron is one of the South African-born Hollywood actors making Africa proud through her impact on the world. The 47-year-old Hollywood actress is one of the highest-paid actresses in the world. However, Charlize is not only an actress but also a producer.
She has received several awards and nominations, including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Silver Bear Award. Charlize overtime has appeared on many lists of the top 50 most popular women in Africa.
Angelique Kidjo (Benin)
Angelique Kidjo is a singer, songwriter, actress, multilinguist, and humanitarian. The music legend has appeared many times on the list of the top 50 most popular women in Africa. She has also been privileged to be nominated for the Grammy Awards, which she won five times. In addition, she performed at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 2020.
As a musician, she is one of the most powerful women in Africa. Her influence in the music industry has paved the way for many young African musicians to be recognized globally.
Angelique can communicate fluently in five languages; Fon, English, French, Yoruba, and Gen. She also sings in these languages.
At the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, she won an award for her music album, Mother Nature, making that her 5th Grammy award.
Clare Akamanzi (Rwanda)
Representing one of the top most powerful women and also listed among 50 most popular women in Africa is Clare Akamanzi from Rwanda. Akamanzi is a businesswoman, lawyer, politician, and CEO of the Rwanda Development Board.
Akamanzi uses her influence to positively contribute to women in Rwanda and other parts of Africa. Her consistency earned her the appointment as the executive director and CEO of the Rwanda Development Board. A position approved by the President of Rwanda.
Amina Jane Mohammed (Nigeria)
Amina Mohammed is currently serving as the fifth Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. If that feat is not enough to make this black woman powerful, then I don’t know what else.
Amina was born to the family of a Nigerian Veterinarian officer and a British nurse in the northern part of Nigeria in 1961. She had her basic education in Nigeria before relocating abroad in 1989 to further her education at the Hensley Management College.
In 2015, she served as a Minister for Environment in Nigeria. She was appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in 2017. Amina is one of the 50 most popular women in Africa.
Elsie Kanza (Tanzania)
Elsie is one of the most powerful women in Africa, transforming the economy of her home country Tanzania and other parts of the continent.
She is an economist who has had a career in the central bank of Tanzania and the ministry of finance. In addition, she once had the privilege of working as the Personal Assistant and Economic Advisor to the President of Tanzania. Her remarkable achievements in developing her home country’s economy earned her the recognition of being named “One of Pan-Africa’s Continent Leading Women” by Forbes in 2020.
Ibukun Awosika (Nigeria)
Ibukun Awosika is a former chairman of First Bank of Nigeria – one of the largest African banks. She is an economist, businesswoman, author, and motivational speaker. She is popular for speaking up on issues on women and girl child development in Africa. Ibukun is also the founder and CEO of the Chair Centre Group.
Judy Dlamini (South Africa)
Judy Dlamini is the first black female Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand. She is also the founding chairman of the Mbekani Group.
Judy is a popular businesswoman and author from South Africa. She is known as one of Africa’s most influential and powerful women. In 2020, Forbes honored her as “One of Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women.”
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (South Africa)
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the first woman to hold the position of the Deputy President of South Africa.
Born November 3, 1955, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is oneof the most powerful women in Africa who has served under the Secretary-General of the United Nations. As a politician, Phumzile used her position to influence movements for positive change in South Africa. Ensuring poverty and discrimination are dealt with is one of her core goals for her nation.
Waris Dirie (Somalia)
Waris Dirie is one of the most powerful women in Africa, using her influence to deal with female gender mutilation in Somalia. She was appointed a UN ambassador against female gender mutilation from 1997 to 2003. After many years of influencing the growth of the female child in Africa, she decided to start her organization, the Desert Flower Foundation, in 2002.
Obiageli Ezekwesili (Nigeria)
She is popularly known as Oby Ezekwesili, a Nigerian chartered accountant, public analyst, and economic cum political activist. Oby is a senior economic advisor for the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative (AEDPI). Oby Ezekwesili has earned herself a place on the list of 50 most popular women in Africa due to her numerous contributions to good governance in Africa.
She is also a die-hard advocate of good governance, human capital development, and transparency. Oby’s interest in ensuring the girl child feels safe and secure in Nigeria led her to co-found the BringBackOurGirls Movement. A movement advocating for the safe return of girls abducted by terrorists in the northern part of Nigeria.
Glenda Elisabeth Gray (South Africa)
Glenda is not just one of the 50 most popular women in Africa but also one of Africa’s greatest scientists. She is a physician specializing in treating children and researching HIV. In 2014, her impact in the medical field earned her the position of the first female President of the South Africa Medical Research Council.
Ilwad Elman (Somalia)
Ilwad Elman advocates human rights, gender justice, peace, security, and social entrepreneurship. Ilwad founded the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center as a social activist to help people battling social issues in Somalia. In 2016, she was recognized as the “African Young Female Personality of the Year” at the Africa Youth Awards.
Mosunmola Abudu (Nigeria)
Popularly Known as Mo Abudu, she is one of the most successful women in Nigeria’s media and movie industry. Mo Abudu is a media mogul, producer, business, and philanthropist. She is the Chairman and CEO of Ebony Group. Mo started her career as a TV presenter in Nigeria before eventually becoming a successful woman in Nigeria.
She has been widely recognized in Nigeria and by international bodies as an influential woman in the media industry. Forbes once described her as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman.” In 2021, she appeared on the Forbes list of “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
Wendy Applebaum (South Africa)
The South African businesswoman and philanthropist is not justs one of the most powerful women in Africa but also one of the richest women on the continent. She is the founder of DeMorgenzon Wine Estate, located in South Africa. Wendy is widely applauded for her entrepreneurial skills, leadership influence, women empowerment, and involvement in humanitarian activities.
Folorunsho Alakija (Nigeria)
Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian billionaire and philanthropist. She has maintained the position of being the richest woman in Nigeria for some years now. She has investments in the fashion, printing, and oil industries. Folorunsho is also the Managing Director of the Rose of Sharon Group. In 2015, Forbes listed her as the 87th most powerful woman in the world.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (Ethiopia)
If you have heard of SoleRebels, one of the fastest-growing footwear companies in Africa, then you will be interested in knowing Bethlehem Tilahun.
Born in 1980, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is a businesswoman and the founder of SoleRebels. Being an entrepreneur, Tilahun was able to innovatively introduce ways Ethiopians can invest in the leather industry through mass production of footwear and exportation of the finished products to other parts of the world. In addition, she founded two other businesses in Ethiopia; The Republic of Leather and Garden of Coffee.
Dlamini-Zuma (South Africa)
Let me introduce you to the first woman to lead the African Union, Dlamini-Zuma. She was also once married to South African President Jacob Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma, popular as NDZ, was born in 1949 in South Africa. She is a doctor, political activist, and the Chancellor of the University of Limpopo. NDZ has been able to hold various political positions in South Africa under the administration of President Nelson Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki, and President Jacob Zuma (her former husband). She is credited with having increased the participation of women in governance during her reign in power.
Mokgadi Caster Semenya (South Africa)
Mokgadi is one of the intersex women advocating for the rights of intersex persons in Africa. Mokgadi was born as an intersex woman in 1991. She grew to love sports which eventually made her become an athlete. Mokgadi has represented South Africa in different Olympic and international sports events. She has won several bronze and gold medals for herself and her country.
Rawya Mansour (Egypt)
In 2020, this great woman was listed among the “100 Most Influential African Women” by Avance Media.
Rawya is an Egyptian businesswoman who founded RAMSCO to build a sustainable development plan against food insecurity, poverty, woman empowerment, and climate change. She is popular for sensitizing people through various programs created by RAMSCO.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first female President of Liberia and the first woman to chair ECOWAS.
She is one of the most powerful women in Africa. Ellen is not only a politician but an economist and humanitarian. In 2006, she assumed the position of the first female President of her country, Liberia.
A position she was re-elected to in 2011. Being a female president allowed her to engage more women in power; she worked on including women in the peacekeeping process and ensuring the girl child receives a proper education at the grassroots. In 2016, Ellen was elected to chair the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Yvonne Chaka Chaka (South Africa)
Yvonne Chaka Chaka is the first South African black child to appear on television. As an adult, she became the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum Crystal Award in 2012.
She is a musician, entertainer, actress, songwriter, and humanitarian. Some of her notable hit songs include; ‘I’m Burning Up,’ ‘Motherland,’ and ‘I Cry for Freedom.’
She found herself in the entertainment industry at a very young age. This made her the first black child to appear on television in South Africa. Apart from being one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry, Yvonne also is an advocate for a better and safer earth. Through her foundation. The Princess of Africa Foundation supports the fight against AIDS, Malaria, and TB.
Sahle-Work Zewde (Ethiopia)
Sahle-Work Zewde is the current President of Ethiopia. She is the first Ethiopian woman to hold the office. Apart from being a politician, Sahle is also a diplomat who advocates for the development of her country and her people. Forbes once listed her as the 96th most powerful woman in the world.
Fatou Bedsouda (Gambia)
Fatou Bedsouda is a lawyer and prosecutor. She once worked as a prosecutor under the International Criminal Court (ICC) from 2012 to 2021. In addition, Fatou has served as the Attorney General of Gambia and the Minister of Justice. She is known to be one of the most influential women in The Gambia.
Arunma Oteh (Nigeria)
Arunma Oteh is one of the most powerful women in the finance sector of Nigeria. She is an economist and former Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Director General. After leaving SEC, she became the Vice President of the World Bank.
Hajer Sharief (Libya)
Hajer Sharief is one woman devoted to the fight for peace in Libya to the extent that she got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. At the age of 19, she co-founded Together We Build It (TWBI) to encourage Libyans to embrace and promote peace, security, and human rights. In 2020, her name was included in Forbes “Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women.”
Precious Moloi-Motsepe (South Africa)
Precious Moloi-Motsepe is a fashion entrepreneur and philanthropist from South Africa. She is also listed as one of the richest women in South Africa. To push African fashion to the world, she established the African Fashion International events in 2007. She is a delegate of the World Economic Forum and a Harvard Kennedy School Women’s Leadership Board member.
Vera Songwe (Cameroon)
Vera Songwe is not only one of the most powerful women in Africa but also the first woman to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). In addition, Vera has worked for many financial institutions and corporations, both locally and internationally.
Tara Fela-Durotoye (Nigeria)
Tara Fela-Durotoye, a lawyer and beauty entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of House of Tara, a makeup and cosmetic brand. She is also the first woman to establish a makeup school in Nigeria.
Her innovation in the Nigerian beauty and cosmetic market earned her many recognitions. She was able to get many young women skilled in starting their makeup and cosmetic brands. In 2013, she was listed in Forbes 20 Young and Powerful Women in Africa. Once again, in 2020, she was listed in the Forbes “50 Most Powerful Women in Africa.”
Theresa Kachindamoto (Malawi)
Being a local chief did not stop Theresa from making an impact in Africa. Theresa Kachindamoto is the paramount chief of the Dedza District of Malawi. She is said to have over 900,000 people under her rule, and she ensures that everyone has the right knowledge of their fundamental human rights. Theresa strongly advocates education at the grassroots level and ensures that child marriage is not practiced in her district.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer and feminist. She uses her novels to pass deep messages about societal happenings. Chimamanda has also been invited to many international public speaking events where she airs her opinion about gender equality and girl child education.
Some of her notable works include; Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah, and We Should All Be Feminists. In 2018, she received the Pen Pinter Prize.
Magda Wierzycka (South Africa)
Magda Wierzycka is another billionaire that is using her influence to transform Africa. She is currently the richest woman in South Africa.
As a businesswoman, Magda co-founded Sygnia Limited, a company that offers financial services to businesses. Besides being a businesswoman, Magda is a die-hard supporter of the anti-corruption movement. She does not encourage corrupt governance and creates awareness for people on fighting corruption in South Africa.
Manal Rostom (Egypt)
Manal is the first hijab-athlete from Egypt to be the face of Nike. She dreams of becoming the first Egyptian woman to climb all seven major mountains in the world. She has inspired many athletes of Arabian descent, especially the Hijabis.
Manal has been able to run marathons such as; the China Wall Marathon, Dubai Marathon, and others.
Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo (Nigeria)
Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo is a Nigerian architect, public speaker, and activist. She is also the founder of AD Consulting, an architecture and interior design firm.
Through public speaking, Olajumoke has educated many Nigerians on societal issues such as; gender inequality, unemployment, women empowerment, skill development, etc.
Uchenna Pedro (Nigeria)
If you are familiar with the popular Nigerian wedding blog, Bella Naija, you must have heard of the name Uche Pedro. Uchenna Pedro, popularly known as Uche Pedro, is the founder and CEO of Bella Naija, one of Africa’s largest entertainment and lifestyle blogs. Uchenna has inspired many media personalities to be innovative in the industry.
Lydia Nsekera (Burundi)
Lydia Nsekera is one of the African women making a change in sports. She is currently the President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), Burundi chapter.
Before she was appointed the President of NOC, Lydia was the President of the football federation of Burundi from 2004 to 2013.
Fatma Samoura (Senegal)
Fatma Samoura is one of the most powerful women transforming sports in Africa. She is the first female secretary-general of FIFA. Fatma’s remarkable achievements in this sector earned her a first-place on the Forbes list of the “Most Powerful Women in International Sports” in 2018. She is currently the secretary-general of FIFA.
Rosina Mamokgethi Phakeng (South Africa)
Rosina Mamokgethi Phakeng is a South African mathematician. She became a professor of mathematics and subsequently rose to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. In 2004, Rosina founded an organization called Adopt-A-Learner. This non-profit was founded to aid people who cannot afford education with the financial support they need.
Agnes Binagwaho (Rwanda)
Agnes Binagwaho is a pediatrician from Rwanda. She was once the permanent secretary of the ministry of health in Rwanda from 2008 to 2011. Due to her tenacity and intense research in her field, she became a professor of Global Health Practice in 2011 and a professor of Pediatrics in 2017.
Agnes Kalibata (Rwanda)
Agnes Kalibata is one of the most prominent agriculture ministers in sub-Saharan Africa. She is also the CEO and President of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa. In addition, Agnes is a member of the board of the Strategic Advisory Council of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), International Fertilizer Development Corporation (IFDC), and Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry.
Ahunna Eziakonwa (Nigeria)
Ahunna Eziakonwa is one of the most popular women in Africa. She became the Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for UNDP in Africa in 2018. Under her administration, the goal to support 46 countries from Africa for the agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals is being made possible.
Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania)
Samia Suluhu Hassan is another female president on the list. She is the first female President of Tanzania. Before becoming the President, she was privileged to hold several political positions in Tanzania. Some of these include; members of Parliament, Vice-chairperson of the Constituent Assembly, and the Minister of State.
She became the first female President in 2015, making her one of the most powerful women in Africa.
Aya Chebbi (Tunisia)
Aya Chebbi is one of the most powerful women in Africa. She was appointed to the African Union as the youngest diplomat in 2018. She is also an advocate for silencing the Guns by 2020.
Aya is a feminist and pan-African from Tunisia. She became the first youth to be appointed by Moussa Faki, the chairperson of the African Union, in November 2018.
Louise Mushikiwabo (Rwanda)
Louise Mushikiwabo is a politician, economist, and leader. Currently serving as the fourth secretary-general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) at the Summit of Francophonie in Armenia. Before that, she served as Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation from 2009 to 2018.
This list covers the top 50 most powerful women in Africa from politics, finance, entertainment, health, tech, agriculture, and many more. African women are also making a sustainable impact on the continent’s development.