A story recently came out about how an Ethiopian man, obsessed with aviation, decided to build himself a plane. Even though the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy rejected Asmelash Zerefu’s bid to enrol (he was too short) he decided to set about on his own and fulfill his dreams, single-handedly constructed Ethiopia’s first ever home-built aircraft from scratch by reading aviation books and watching YouTube tutorials.
The result is a completed “K-570A”, a two-seat, open-tandem parasol light aircraft – he’s yet to fly it successfully though.
All over the continent individuals are dreaming big – and those determined enough have reached some inspiring heights. Here are some more of those African individuals who have, over the past year, strived to achieve some remarkable goals – and who would make fascinating dinner guests:
Macky Sall, President of Senegal
Over the past year this West African president has put many of his African counterparts to shame with his sheer enthusiasm, vision and commitment to projects – all attributes that would make him a particularly engaging dinner companion.
He singled out higher education as an area for investment, putting himself out as a champion for the cause and pushing for more heads of state to follow suit. Earlier this year he began actively lobbying African countries to allocate more than 1% of gross domestic product to research, hosted the African Higher Education Summit in Dakar and announced the construction of two new universities in Senegal, each with a capacity for 30,000 students. Sall was also critical in the push to build Senegal’s reputation as a digital nation with the launch of an ambitious project to create Africa’s version of silicon valley, “Diamniadio Technology Park”, located about 40km from the capital Dakar it will feature data and higher education centres.
At a time when several African leaders are tearing up constitutions to remove presidential term limits, and even, as in Burundi, taking their countries back to war so they can cling to power, in May Sall proposed to reduce his country’s presidential term from seven to five years!
Samrawit Weldemariam, RIDE founder
Samrawit Weldemariam has taken on Uber in Ethiopia with the launch of RIDE this year, an on-demand SMS taxi service. The service registers blue and white city taxi drivers and connects them automatically to customers who SMS their location. Aimed at making travelling in Addis easier, to date she has registered and activated more than 450 Taxi drivers all over Addis with around 2500 drivers on their waiting list to curb future shortages.
Daniel Teklehaimanot, International cycling champion
Boredom wouldn’t be on the menu if you sat down with the first African to start the Tour de France! In 2015 at the Critérium du Dauphiné, this Eritrean cyclist, who started cycling at the age of 10, won the first World Tour jersey in MTN-Qhubeka’s history by taking the mountains competition. This year he also became the first African rider to wear the polka dot jersey after winning it on Stage 6 of the 2015 Tour de France. For the record, he shared the honours with fellow countryman Merhawi Kudus, although he had a quieter race.
Elvis Ogweno, Tactical Combat Paramedic
With the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which claimed over 11,000 lives, this has been an incredibly tough year for health personnel on the front lines. One hero has had a particularly colourful career, having attended to the 1998 bombings in Kenya and protracted conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan and Congo. Now Elvis is working to save lives in the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic. Working with the International Medical Corps, he leads an ambulance team designated for transporting both suspected and confirmed Ebola patients and blood specimen in Liberia. No matter where, no matter what the conditions.
Ugaaso Abakar, Instagram Diva
Sure to be a colourful dinner guest, what started off as a way of making her friends laugh turned this Somali instagrammer into a global sensation. With over 40,000 followers Abakar started working to counter negative stereotypes of Somalia, and Mogadishu in particular. The self-styled comedienne posts videos and photos of daily life, presenting a visual commentary which most would never have imagined came out of Somalia. When war broke out in Somalia in 1991, Abakar had fled to Canada with her grandparents and only returned to Somalia in 2014. When asked by the BBC if her Instagram feed only represented the lives of Mogadishu’s privileged society, she responded in the negative. “I don’t feel privileged at all. A lot of us who came to Somalia are here because we want to be here.”
Rida Essa, Commander of the Coastguard in Misrata, Libya
This year the number of migrants and refugees trying to make their way to Europe has reached epic proportions. More than 2,600 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015, many of them from Africa, all in search of a better life. One of the groups trying to prevent migrants from crossing the sea, save them from drowning and bring them back to safety, are the coastguards from Libya’s strategic Mediterranean port city of Misrata. But this coastguard, led by Colonel Rida Edda, faces immense challenges of its own – it has only eight boats to patrol 1,930km of coastline, operates in a country which is barely functioning and is also trying to deal with illegal fishing, terrorists and gunrunners. The coastguard’s commander has had his work cut out for him and would have some truly incredible feats to describe over dinner.
Adnane Remmal, Researcher
One of the greatest African scientific creations of the year came from Moroccan Adnane Remmal. He came up with a revolutionary antibiotic alternative for livestock farmers which reduces health hazards in livestock and prevents the transmission of multi-resistant bacteria and carcinogens to humans through consumption of milk, eggs and meat. His patented solution saw the Moroccan researcher win the 2015 Innovation Prize for Africa.
Denis Mukwege, Gynecologist
Denis Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who is credited with saving the lives of at least 40,000 women, raped during conflict. He founded and works in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he specialises in the treatment of women who have been gang-raped, becoming the the world’s leading expert on how to repair the internal physical damage caused by it.
This year has been exciting for the doctor, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Harvard University and a movie on his work, “The Man Who Mends Women” was released. Unfortunately the film has been banned from being shown in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya
Kenya’s First Lady has not taken her position, role or ability to influence lightly this year. An elegant, unassuming First Lady who doesn’t say much, she has been running a campaign to reduce child maternal mortality rates, dubbed the “Beyond Zero Campaign”. On October 24th 2014, she was named UN Person of the Year for her efforts. As part of the campaign, this year she organised a huge half marathon, which she participated in along with 15,000 participants – aimed at raising funds for the Beyond Zero campaign. Even before the event began, the campaign had already managed to buy and deliver 21 fully equipped mobile clinics to 21 counties as part of the campaigns objective to improve maternal and child health.
Aliko Dangote, Entrepreneur
He doesn’t slow down. Nigerian billionaire, Aliko Dangote, has continued to cause waves. This year Forbes have him down as the 67th richest person in the world and name him as the richest man in Africa with a net worth of about $17.7 billion.
Earlier this year he announced that he’s expanding his cement empire to Asia, signed a deal with a Chinese state-owned engineering company (worth $4.3bn) to build seven new factories in Africa and expressed an interest in purchasing the English football team Arsenal. Through all of this ups and downs, he would make for extremely interesting conversation – and you wouldn’t have to listen to him or laugh at his jokes only because he is filthy rich.