Teacher’s Resource: Inspirational Leaders

Which inspirational leaders or role models, from Africa and the Diaspora, have achieved global recognition for bringing about positive change?

This page gives examples of famous African leaders, but feel free to do some further research of your own. You may want to use Wikipedia or just a straightforward Google search, or perhaps a visit to your local library would be more informative.

You may need to find out more information about some of these figures. You may find opposing opinions about some of these figures. You may need to discover more about African history in particular countries to understand some of these figures. Be prepared for some questions that you can’t answer immediately and research alongside the pupils where you need to.

You know your pupils, so you will have to judge how sophisticated their tasks need to be. Even a very basic response to these topics can stimulate new thinking, or your pupils may create some very detailed and inspiring material. A world map will be useful, as many of these stories are about American history as well as Africa, and the pupils research may lead them all over the world.

Pupils could work together in groups or on their own projects. Again, you should be the judge of this, based on how much time you have for the subject.


Nelson Mandela

South African President 1994 to 1999.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

He was South Africa’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.

His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation.

Some questions as starting points for research:

  • What was Apartheid? How did a minority control a majority?
  • What politicised Nelson Mandela? What was MK, or Umkhonto we Sizwe?
  • How was Nelson Mandela arrested? Where was he imprisoned and what were the conditions like?
  • How did Nelson Mandela win his freedom? Who else was involved?
  • What happened after Mandela’s release? What was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission?

Wangari Maathai


Wangari Muta Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was an internationally renowned Kenyan environmental political activist and Nobel Peace Laureate, who became Kenyan Assistant Minister for Environment. She founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. (Source: Wikipedia)



Leader of Ghana, 1951 to 1966.

He led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957. An influential advocate of Pan-Africanism, Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity. (Source: Wikipedia)


Harriet Tubman

Slave, abolitionist, humanitarian.

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved people, family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. In the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage. (Source: Wikipedia)

Malcolm X


African American Muslim minister and human rights activist.

To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. (Source: Wikipedia)

Martin Luther King Jr


American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

Shirley Chisholm


American politician, educator and author.

Shirley Anita Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and, in 1972, became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. (Source: Wikipedia)

Marcus Garvey


Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and orator.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr., ONH (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), was a proponent of Black nationalism in Jamaica and especially the United States. He was a leader of a mass movement called Pan-Africanism and he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). He also founded the Black Star Line, a shipping and passenger line which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands. Although most American Black leaders condemned his methods and his support for racial segregation, Garvey attracted a large following. The Black Star Line went bankrupt and Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud in the selling of its stock. His movement then rapidly collapsed. (Source: Wikipedia)

Patrice Lumumba


Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected leader of the Congo.

Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of Congo after it gained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960. He was murdered by Katanga officials on January 17, 1961 after Joseph-Desire Mobutu took power in a coup. The country, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, was renamed Zaire by Mobutu. A Belgian parliamentary inquiry concluded in 2001 that Belgium had a “moral responsibility” in Lumumba’s assassination and the government apologised to its former colony, but no legal action was taken afterwards. (Source: Wikipedia)

Queen Nefertiti

And there have, of course, been inspirational leaders in Africa for millenia – for example…


Great royal wife of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (c. 1370 – c. 1330 BC) was an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshipped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this identification is a matter of ongoing debate. (Source: Wikipedia)


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