(FORBES) – As Africa continues to rise, so do African women. With the upward economic, social and political trajectory of the continent, a new breed of African women continues to emerge. So much so, that the African Union christened the years 2010 to 2020 as the “African Women’s Decade”.
For the first time in history, the African Union voted an African woman to its helm. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa‘s Minister of Home Affairs and a medical doctor, will lead and usher the 54-nation organization into a new era of possibilities for the continent. In her keynote address honoring her as the first female chair of the African Union, Dlamini-Zuma said: “African women make up over fifty percent of the continent, and let’s not forget that they produce the other fifty percent–men.”
Here are the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa for 2012 according to Forbes.com, all under age 45, shaping the narrative of the continent’s rising:
1. Leymah Gbowee, Liberia, Peace and Women’s Rights Activist.
The peace activist was one of three female recipients who were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Gbowee helped organize and lead the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, an alliance of Christian and Muslim women, in public protest during Liberia’s tumultuous times. Now, through her organization Women Peace and Security Network Africa, Gbowee trains and empowers women in Africa to bring peace to their own countries. Gbowee is a recipient of multiple awards including the Blue Ribbon Peace Award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School, Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the Medal for Justice from New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Women’s eNews Leaders For the 21st Century Award.
2. Cina Lawson, Togo, Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Togo.
Lawson is currently the Minister of Post and Telecommunications of Togo. Prior to her appointment, Lawson was a Manager of Corporate Strategy and Business Development at the France Telecom/Orange Group in New York City and Alcatel-Lucent in Paris. Lawson began her career in telecommunications at the World Bank in Washington DC where she focused on regulatory reforms for developing nations. She is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and was named a 2012 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
3. Juliana Rotich, Kenya, Co-Founder Ushahidi.
Rotich is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi, a Nairobi-based tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software that aggregates and curates crisis data on a real-time basis and collates the data into live, interactive maps. She was named one of the “Top 100 Women” by the Guardian newspaper, “Top 2 Women” in Technology and “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2011 by The World Economic Forum. Rotich is a technologist and a TED Senior Fellow.
4. Patience Mthunzi, PhD. South Africa, Senior Scientist, CSIR.
Born in Orlando West, Soweto, Dr. Mthunzi is currently South Africa’s only Senior Scientist for the Biophotonics Research Group within the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) National Laser Center in biophotonics – a field of study that enables microscopic study of biological molecules, cells and tissue using laser. Unable to study biophotonics in South Africa, she became the first South African PhD student at the School of Physics and Astronomy of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Dr. Mthunzi was recently awarded one of the country’s highest orders, the Order of Mapungubwe, for her contribution in the field of biophotonics.
5. Maud Chifamba, Zimbabwe, 14-year old University Accounting Student.
At 14-years old, Chifamba made history this year when she became the youngest student (male or female) in Zimbabwe and possibly the whole of Southern Africa to enroll at university. The young genius was admitted to theUniversity of Zimbabwe where she will study towards a Bachelor of Accountancy Honors Degree. An orphan, Chifamba’s mother passed away last December, days after she sat for her final exams, and her father nine years ago when she was five years old. Despite this and abject poverty (her two brothers were unable to pay her fees for regular school), Chifamba home schooled herself and broke academic records earning a four-year scholarship of nearly USD$10,000.
6. Florence Iwegbue, Nigeria, Attorney & Co-Founder, LiveWello.
A life-changing event, the diagnosis of her son with Autism gave birth to LiveWello™, social network targeted at health. A U.K-trained attorney, Iwegbue and her physician husband, a self-taught software developer, built LiveWello to support their Autistic son’s health while harnessing the best elements of their African culture: village life. By building a health app that was social in nature, they were able to collaborate with their son’s health providers, their health coaches and the rest of their family back home in Africa, to collectively manage his health. Now Iwegbue is helping other people manage their own health with the social network app she built.
7. Lisa Opoku Busumbru, Ghana, Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs.
US-based Black Enterprise magazine named the Wall Street executive one of its 2012 “40 Rising Stars Under 40″ and one of “75 Most Powerful Women in Business” for 2010. She is the Chief Operating Officer for Goldman Sachs‘ securities division for the Asia Pacific region. Opoku Busumbru earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high honors in Sociology from the University of Minnesota in 1993 and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1996.
8. Leila Lopes, Angola, 2012 Miss Universe.
On September 12, 2011, Lopes was crowned Miss Universe, becoming the first Angolan woman to win the position, the fourth African to win the title (Miss South Africa took the title in 1978, Miss Namibia won in 1992, Miss Botswana won in 1999) and the second Black African woman to win following Mpule Kwelagobe from Botswana in 1999. As the reigning Miss Universe, Lopes used the platform for advocacy for HIV and AIDS patients worldwide.
9. Isha Sesay, Sierra Leone, News Anchor & Journalist, CNN .
Sesay reports for “African Voices” and “ Inside Africa“, CNN International’s award-winning, weekly program that covers political, economic, cultural and social trends in Africa. Sesay is also an anchor on CNN International and a contributor to CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and HLN’s nightly news show “Evening Express.”
10. Rainatou Sow, Guinea, Women’s Right Activist, Founder & Executive Director, Make Every Woman Count.
Originally from the West African country of Guinea, Rai is a human rights and social justice advocate and women’s rights activist. Founded in December 2010, two months after the declaration of the “African Women’s Decade” by the African Union, “Make Every Woman Count” is a U.K-based non-profit organization that monitors women’s rights in every African country. The organization publishes an annual report as an audit of the status and conditions of women in each African country. Rai was awarded the “Most Inspirational Woman of the Year 2012″ by Women4Africa.
11. Biola Alabi, Nigeria, Managing Director, MNET Africa.
As Managing Director for multi-national cable and satellite content company, MNET Africa, Alabi is one of the most powerful women in African media. Named a 2012 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, she has been at the forefront of the expansion of the AfricaMagic channels brand across the continent. In 2010 she served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Entertainment.
12. Lorna Rutto, Kenya, Sustainable Living and Green Technology Entrepreneur, Ecopost.
Rutto is the founder of Ecopost whose vision is “To Transform Africa’s Waste into Wealth.” Her Nairobi-based company, Ecopost, converts consumer plastic into durable, easy to use and environmentally friendly plastic lumber, an eco-friendly alternative to timber. Rutto is the 2011 Sub-Saharan Africa Cartier Laureate. She also won the 2010 Bid Network Nature Challenge Award, 2010 SEED Award and the 2009 Enablis Business Award.
13. Yolanda Sangweni, South Africa, Senior Editor/Producer, ESSENCE.com.
Born to a South African freedom fighter mother, who fled from the apartheid regime to the United States when Sangweni was a small child and lived in Harlem during her formative years, she is Senior Editor at ESSENCE.com, one of the leading publications for Black women in the United States. Sangweni is also co-founder of AfriPOP!, an online magazine focusing on contemporary African youth culture, music, fashion and film from an Afropolitan perspective. Sangweni worked as a Features editor at TRACE Magazine and contributing writer for “O: The Oprah Magazine” (South Africa), Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Arise Magazine, and Time Out New York covering music, fashion and culture.
14. Danai Gurira, Zimbabwe, Actress & Writer.
One of the lead characters on the popular HBO show, “The Walking Dead,” based on the popular American comic book of the same name, now currently in its third season, Gurira plays Michonne, a fearless woman warrior. A graduate of New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, Gurira has guest starred on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, “Life on Mars”, “Lie to Me” and had a recurring role on “Treme” on HBO. Her movie roles include The “Visitor,” “Restless City” and “MaGeorge.” A recipient of the Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress for an off-Broadway play, Gurira recently won the 2012 Whiting Award for USD$50,000, bestowed annually to 10 rising stars.
15. Eunice Cofie, Ghana, Founder & Chief Cosmetic Chemist, Nuekie.
A former Miss Black Florida USA, Cofie is the President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist of Nuekie – an ethnic dermatology company. She was also featured in Scientific American as “What a Scientist Looks Like.” Cofie was recognized by the Governor of Florida and the Florida Commission on the Status of Women with the prestigious Florida Achievement Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and families in her community. Cofie was named by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper as one of the “25 Women You Need to Know in Tallahassee” and a 2012 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum
16. Marieme Jamme, Senegal, Social Entrepreneur, Technologist & CEO, SpotOne Global Solutions.
Senegalese-born Marieme Jamme is London-based CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions, a UK-based company that helps IT organizations establish a global footprint in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. CNN named Jamme one of Top Ten African Tech Voices to follow on Twitter. Jamme is also a co-founder of Africa Gathering, the first global platform where entrepreneurs and experts meet and share ideas about development in Africa. A prolific speaker, particularly on Africa, Jamme is also the organizer of TEDx Accra and Dakar.
17. Jepchumba, Kenya, Digital Content Creator, Cultural Curator, African Digital Art.
Jepchumba is the Founder and Creative Director of African Digital Art, a platform for innovation and inspiration which is dedicated to African digital media. Originally from Kenya, but based in Cape Town, South Africa, Jepchumba travels the world to share her views on African art and technology at popular conferences including South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas and most recently at TedxEuston in England.
18. Redi Tlhabi, South Africa, Journalist, Broadcaster & Author.
She hosts the “Redi Tlhabi Show” on Talk Radio 702and 567 Cape Talk. She has interviewed prominent newsmakers including Nelson Mandela, South African President Jacob Zuma, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tlhabi is also the producer of a much-talked about documentary on the former South African President Thabo Mbeki. She is also a columnist for theSunday Times newspaper and author of Endings and Beginnings: A Story of Healing, a book based on her childhood experiences. The popular host has a new talkshow on Al Jazeera English television channel that will focus on politics, culture, music, health and science.
19. Swaady Martin-Leke, Ivory Coast, Entrepreneur & Founder, Yswara.
The former high-ranking General Electric executive left her job in 2011 to launch Yswara, a luxury brand committed to offering the best African teas and cultural experiences. The Yswara collection of teas include “African Queen Health Teas”, “Seven Wonders of Africa” and “Kingdoms of Africa”. Yswaraopened its flagship store in Johannesburg and two more are planned for Cape Town and Nigeria. Swaady is a member of the invite-only African Leadership Network which one of the leading organizations of young, dynamic and influential leaders in Africa.
20. Jacqueline Chimhanzi, PhD. Zimbabwe, Corporate Executive.
Dr Jacqueline Chimhanzi is Senior Strategist with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a leading development finance institute on the African continent. Prior to that, she was Lead: Africa Desk with Deloitte South Africa. She is a Fellow of the highly competitive pan-African Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Program run by the African Leadership Institute (AfLI) at Oxford University and is also a founding member of New Faces New Voices, under the patronage of Mrs Graca Machel committed to widening financial access for African women entrepreneurs. In 2010, she appeared on South Africa Destiny Magazine’s list: “The Power of 40” and in 2012 was part of a group of “esteemed Africa watchers” invited to submit their views on Africa to the leading journal Development for a special Africa-focused edition, Africa Strategies for Transformation.