The British Honours System is a centuries-old structure established by the British monarchy to recognize and reward exceptional individual achievement, bravery, and service to the United Kingdom. Among several Orders of Honour, the Knighthood is easily one of the oldest and most-coveted decorations from the British monarchy, with male and female recipients of the honor attaching the title “Sir” and “Dame” to their names, respectively.
The list of awardees for the knighthood and other honours, including the MBE and OBE, is customarily released twice a year on New Year’s Day (known as the New Year Honours List) and on the Queen of England’s birthday.
After a recent period that witnessed a noticeable fall in the number of persons of Black or African ancestry being recognized by the British Honours System and complaints about the lack of diversity among the list of awardees, the 2017 New Year Honours List appears to be an improvement on previous years.
To celebrate this year’s honourees and those who have come before them, we take a look at five notable Africans who have been knighted by the Queen of England.
Seretse Khama was the first president of a newly independent Botswana. Upon independence from British colonial rule in September 1966, Khama laid the foundation for a modern egalitarian Batswana society.
Khama helped transform Botswana from the world’s third-poorest country at independence to the largely middle-income economy that it is today. However, before he became president, Khama faced considerable hostility from the U.K. government, which specifically frowned at his interracial love affair and eventual marriage to Ruth Williams, an English girl.
In recognition of his pro-independence efforts and perhaps to patch up what had been a frosty relationship in the beginning, Khama was honoured as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by her majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.
Dawda Kairaba Jawara was the first prime minister of the Gambia between 1962 and 1970 and later president, when the small west African country became an independent republic in 1970. He was president until he was ousted from power by a palace coup in 1994.
Jawara is a trained veterinary surgeon who was variously educated in the Gambia, Ghana, and the U.K. He successfully led the Gambia for more than 3 decades and is mostly remembered for running a government that shunned the use of coercive techniques as a tactic of political survival.
He is widely regarded as a skilled leader and expert manager of human and material resources and made a knight of the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George by her majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.
Quett Ketumile Joni Masire was the second president of Botswana, after founding President Seretse Khama. President Masire is credited for protecting and advancing the steady financial growth and development he inherited from President Khama. He was also committed to entrenching democratic ideals in Botswana and on the African continent.
In 1991, he was honored with Knighthood of the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George by her majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Since his retirement from office in 1998, President Masire has continued to work to promote good governance, human rights, and the rule of law in Africa.
Somalia-born Olympic champion Mohamed Muktar Jama “Mo” Farah is considered to be a living legend of both the 5,000m and 10,000m distance running categories. Farah moved to the U.K. as a child and grew up in London, running for the Newham and Essex Beagles athletic clubs and later training at St. Mary’s University College.
Farah is easily the most-successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history. He won the gold medal in both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the 2012 London Olympics and successfully defended both wins at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, making him only the second athlete in modern Olympic Games history to achieve that feat.
He is the most-decorated athlete in British athletics history, with nine global titles, and was the first British athlete to win two gold medals at the same world championships. He was named a Knight Bachelor in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to athletics.
Internationally acclaimed, multiple award-winning British architect of Ghanaian ancestry David Adjaye became only the fifth architect to be knighted by the Queen when he was announced as one of the honorees of the 2017 New Year’s Honours List.
An official statement from St. James Park described Adjaye as “one of the leading architects of his generation and a global cultural ambassador for the UK.”
Some of Adjaye’s important architectural works include the design of the Whitechapel Idea Store in London, the Dirty House, the Stephen Lawrence Centre, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, and what is perhaps regarded as his magnum opus, the $540 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was opened by former U.S. President Barack Obama last September.