The (Un-) Making of Icons in Africa

Which African leaders qualify as an icon? Perhaps this is always a controversial question, but it was much easier to answer, say, 25 years ago, when the public memories of Pan-Africanist champions such as Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere were still fresh, Nelson Mandela had just walked out of prison, and Robert Mugabe was a widely respected leader. Today, lists like New African’s 2004 “100 greatest Africans of all time” – in which these leaders took the top four places – seem somewhat stale. Beyond famous musicians, artists and authors, the time of easy consensus on who is an “African icon” seems past. The sands are shifting beneath the political icons of old.