10 Africans Helping the World to Solve its Challenges in the 21st Century

Many Africans are helping the world to solve its problems in governance, engineering, medicine, technology and other fields of endeavour. Below are some personalities of African descent, whose ingenuity and innovations are significantly helping Africa and the world to solve their challenges.


  1. Siyabulela Xusa, South Africa

For Siyabulela Xusa, the imagination and passion for science had been ignited right from age five. He nearly burnt his mother’s kitchen, while experimenting with rocket fuel at that early age. This passion would later progress into a serious science project that culminated in him developing cheaper and safer rocket fuel.

In 2006, Xusa won a gold medal in the Eskom National Science Expo for building a homemade rocket fuel. He later attended the Nobel Prize ceremony in Sweden and met with King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.

His ingenuity attracted global recognition after winning the two top prizes at the Intel Science and Engineering fair. The MIT Lincoln renamed a minor planet which was discovered in 2000 after him as “23182 siyaxuza”

Xusa got a scholarship into Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2007. “Most times, we tell ourselves I must have my PhD before I start. I started with what I had. I was so keen in seeing African innovation,” the rocket scientist Xusa told a South African local station in 2014.


  1. Mo Ibrahim, Sudan

Sudan-born entrepreneur, Mo Ibrahim is keen to see the continent take a leap forward. He is a beacon and channel of inspiration to many Africans and peoples across the world.

In 2006, Ibrahim founded the Mo Ibrahim foundation to celebrate ex-African leaders doing things differently and empower young leaders in Africa. The foundation gives a $5 million initial payment and a $200,000 annual payment for life to African heads of states that have made education, health, security and respect for democratic tenets a priority, while in office. Beyond the activities of his foundation, he is contributing to other humanitarian causes on the continent.

The businessman who sold his telecommunications company, Celtel in 2005 was on the 2011 Forbes Billionaires list, with net worth of $1.8 billion.


  1. Samuel Achilefu, Nigeria

In 2014, a set of tech-enabled cancer visualizing goggles developed by Nigeria-born Samuel Achilefu was birthed to the world of medical science.

With the innovation, surgeons can see cancer cells in real time, during surgeries. Abnormal cells are targeted with a dye. Doctors wearing the goggles can see the smallest of cancer cells, as light is shone on target areas and the tiniest of cancer cells which had hitherto escaped the vigilance of surgeons can now be made visible and nipped in the bud.

52 year old Achilefu is a Professor of Radiography and Biomedical engineering at the Washington University School of Medicine. He received the St. Louis Award in 2014 for his contribution to cancer treatment research.


  1. Sara Menker, Kenya

Kenya-based entrepreneur, Sara Menker is stamping new thinking on the agriculture sector. She is the founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence, a company employing the use of cloud-based software, data, and digital analytics to develop the agricultural sector.

Menker is an ex-Wall street trader working with Morgan Stanley as Vice President in the Commodities Group. She is a Trustee of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and also named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Gro Intelligence provides its users with world’s agricultural data in real time from weather forecasts, satellite imagery, government policies, industry reports, pricing, consumption among others. According to Menker, “To create efficient agriculture markets, you need high quality data,” She continues, “the cost of capital [is] simply too high for agriculture in Africa. To increase capital flows in agricultural markets you need really good data, a common language.”


  1. Bernice Dapaah, Ghana

In Ghana, the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is building bikes with bamboos and metal. Indirectly, this is helping to combat environmental degradation and global warming. The social enterprise was founded by a Ghanaian social entrepreneur, Bernice Dapaah in 2009.

The initiative was initially a pet project of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) University, before it became a full-fledged social enterprise.

For her contribution in making the world a better place, Dapaah has won different awards across the globe. In 2013, she received the International Women Alliance World of Difference Award as a Vital Voices Lead Fellow. She sits on the advisory board of the World Intellectual Property Organization GREEN in Switzerland. Dapaah is a graduate of the Christian Service University in Ghana.


  1. Arthur Zang, Cameroon

A cardiac test device, Cadiopad was built by a 26 year-old man in Cameroon. Zang was motivated by the plight of people living in rural communities.

The device works with a wireless set of four electrodes and sensor placed on the heart of a patient. Signals are transmitted to the cadiopad and cardio examinations are done by a health worker. The information is sent to a cardiologist in the urban areas for further recommendations.

Though what Zang said can be situated within context, the message from a 2015 interview with African Leadership magazine captures the importance of the device to Africa and the world.

He said: “In Cameroon, we have less than 50 cardiologists for more than 20m people, and all these cardiologists are located in the big hospitals which are in the city. So all the patients [outside Yaoundé and Douala] have to travel into the city each time they need an examination.” In 2016, Zang, supported with some grant and loan, produced 300 test cadiopads for test-use in Cameroon. He has a company which markets medical devices, including the cadiopad.


  1. Rachid Yazami, Morocco

French Moroccan scientist, Rachid Yazami invented the graphite anode (negative pole) of lithium ion batteries. Yazami has a startup where his discoveries on fluoride are commercialized.

Yazami is the Director of Battery Programs at the Energy Research Institute in Singapore.

In 1980, he discovered the reversible intercalation of lithium into graphite in an electrochemical cell. This made lithium ion batteries to be available in commercial quantity. In 2010, Yazami became a Visiting Professor at the School of Materials Science and Engineering of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

His works are centred nanostructured, thermodynamics and entropymetry applications.

He was winner of the 2014 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering for inventing the graphite anode used in billions of lithium ion batteries.


  1. Kwatsi Alibaruho , Uganda

Kwatsi Alibaruho is the African that worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as Flight Director.

Alibaruho’s late father was from Uganda and his mother is from Georgia. It is plausible that his career has turned out well, because his parents laid the foundation by making him to love Mathematics and Science at an early age.

He studied Avionics in 1994 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and bagged a Masters in Business Administration at Rice University, in May 2011 in a full time programme, while still working as a flight director. In 2015, Kwatsi Alibaruho joined power management company Eaton as Vice President of Programme Management for the aerospace group.  Alibaruho was director of enterprise program management for UTC Aerospace Systems. Before UTC, he had spent 16 years with NASA in a variety of leadership roles, including flight director of the Mission Operations Integration Office for space shuttle and space station programs.

Alibaruho’s career with NASA began in 1993 in the Mission Operations Directorate’s ISS Life Support Systems Group, where he served as a Cooperative Education student. Through the years, he rose through different positions, until he became the first black flight director in 2005.


  1. Sossina M. Haile, Ethiopia

The first solid-acid fuel cell was created by a female Ethiopian-American chemist in the late 1990s. A new type of ‘superprotonic’ compound was used to create the fuel cells. Haile, who was a professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, would later join Northwestern University in 2015, after having served 18 years on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology.

Her research has been based on solid state ionic materials and devices, with specific focus on energy technologies. According to a Northwestern University citation, she has established a new class of fuel cells based on solid acid electrolytes and demonstrated record power densities for solid oxide fuel cells. Her more recent work on water and carbon dioxide dissociation for solar-fuel generation by thermochemical processes has created new avenues for harnessing sunlight to meet energy demands.

Haile has received different awards including the 2001 J.B. Wagner Award of the High Temperature Materials Division of the Electrochemical Society, and the 2000 Coble Award from the American Ceramic Society.


  1. Jelani Aliyu, Nigeria

Electric car is the future of the automobile industry. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many car enthusiasts have described the Chevrolet Volt as revolutionary, when it hit the United States market.  The Chevrolet Volt was designed by a Nigerian, Jelani Aliyu.

After he earned a Higher Diploma in Architecture from Kebbi Polytechnic, Nigeria, he got a scholarship in 1990 from his state government to study Transportation Design at the School of Creative Studies in Detroit, United States.

Recently, Jelani was appointed to the position of Director General at the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council by the Nigerian government. The body is responsible for developing and implementing policies to drive the growth of the country’s automotive industry.

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Deji Aroloye91 Posts

    a graduate of Linguistics and a staff writer at Outrepreneurs, Deji's forte includes tech, startups and innovations. Years back, Deji wrote on Entertainment and Lifestyle for a tabloid. If he wasn't a writer, Deji would be a photographer or teacher.


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