Africa don’t have a shortage of powerful voices, indeed they are enriched and endowed all-round. Blessed with so many great public speakers, so many that it will be an uphill (if not impossible) task to list the top of the best.
Nonetheless, the selection of persons who featured on this list was done based on their popularity, and fundamentally the impact of their speeches.
I think public speaking should not be solely based on rhetorical melody but it should, to a great extent, rest on the shoulders of impact.
Honestly, I hope this list will inspire you, inspire you to be like them; the voice of hope, truth and change. Seek to improve your oratory skills for the right reasons, not just for popularity but for impact; positive impact.
As you go through this list, do note that they are listed in no particular order.
And the listing begins …
Jerry RawlingsEmbed from Getty Images
Jerry John Rawlings featuring on this list is no accident. He is a skilled public speaker, one whose words change the course of his country’s (Ghana) history.
Rawlings announced himself to the world on the 15th of May, 1979. When he and six other soldiers staged a failed coup in Ghana, against a corrupt government led by Gen. Fred Akuffo.
He and the other soldiers were arrested and tried in a General Court Martial that was aired Nationally. During the trail Rawlings grabbed the mic and made one of the best impromptu speech ever. A speech that made history.
Jerry Rawlings, During Trials in 1979
“I am not an expert in economics, and I am not an expert in law. But I am an expert in working in an empty stomach while wondering when and where the next meal will come from. I know what it feels like going to bed with a headache, for want of food in the stomach”
This speech gained him civilian sympathy. It also motivated a group of soldiers that eventually sprung him from custody while he was awaiting execution.
He ruled Ghana from 1981 to 2001. First as a military dictator, and then as a civilian President.
Rawlings is renowned for his skill in public speaking.
Nyerere JuliusEmbed from Getty Images
Nyerere Julius was the first president of present day Tanzania. He served first as Prime Minister from 1961 to 1962 and then as president from 1963 to 1985.
He is an African Nationalist and Socialist, famed for promoting the political philosophy known as Ujamaa (familyhood). He passed on aged 77 in 1999.
Nyerere was a trained teacher, who practiced the teaching profession shortly before being fully active in politics.
He was elected president of the Tanganyika Africa Association (TAA) in 1953. His oratorical skills was a major influence in his ability to take on the role. TAA was later transformed into a political party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Which gave Nyerere and his party members a platform to campaign for their independence from British Colonialism.
Nyerere is one of the highly gifted public speakers in African’s rich history. His effective use of words and body language are notable.
He campaigned for Tanazania’s (then Tanganyika) independence, delivering many powerful speeches along the way. And on December 1961 Tanazania’s independence was gained and the rest is now history.
Kwame NkrumahEmbed from Getty Images
Kwame Nkrumah was a pan-african advocate and a revolutionary leader. He was the first prime minister and president of Ghana.
Do you know?
“Ghana is the first black African country to gain independence from colonist.”
Nkrumah was highly influential in the fight for Ghana’s independence. He was an excellent public speaker. His public speaking skills was a major factor that lead to the success and peaceful attainment of independence for his country, Ghana.
He had his early education and obtained a teachers’ certificate in the Gold Coast (present day Ghana). Nkrumah later secured a job as a primary school teacher where he would eventually become a headmaster.
While a student at the then Government Training College in Accra, Nkrumah was opportuned to have heard journalist Nnamdi Azikwe speak about black nationalism.
Nnamdi Azikwe who himself later became the first president of Nigeria, increased Nkrumah’s interest in black nationalism.
Nkrumah’s drive for an independent black nation pushed him to hone his public speaking skills.
He also spent 10 years studying in the USA and taught there briefly. It was in the US that he perfected his philosophy. After which he returned to Ghana to take an active and lead role in the attaintment of Ghana’s Indpednence.
Nnamdi AzikiweEmbed from Getty Images
Azikiwe was a true African nationalist. He is sometimes refered to as “the Zik of Africa”.
Zik was the Governor General of Nigeria from 1960 – 1963 when Nigeria got her independence. He later became the first president of Nigeria in 1963 – 1966. Azikiwe influenced the African public through journalism.
He was an eloquent public speaker who had been earlier influenced by Garveyism.
Zik preached black nationalism till it became a reality.
He had similar educational background like many African Nationalist of his time. An early education in his native country (Nigeria) before travelling abroad (to the US) to attain an undergraduate degree and subsequently a graduate degree.
Azikiwe was a major force behind his country’s (Nigeria) attainment of independence. And his nationalist rhetoric was an arsenal he used to that effect.
Desmond TutuEmbed from Getty Images
Desmond Tutu is a south African theologian and an Anglican cleric. He was the first black South African Bishop and Archbishop of Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively.
He achieved a lot and is well famed for his efforts in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
For his efforts he was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Do you know?
Before I knew Tutu, I thought Mandela was the first Black South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But I was wrong. Mandela got his award in 1993, that’s like nine years after Tutu’s.
Today, when we discuss South African anti-apartheid movement, the name that rings most is Mandela’s. But Tutu had been the major voice all those years Mandela was imprisoned. And continued to be after Mandela’s release.
He used his excellent public speaking skills to fight for the then oppressed black south Africans.
Tutu is a great public speaker. One who had delivered numerous speeches before different audiences (from the UN Security council to local church congregations).
For me, he was a child of circumstance, one who rose to the task impressively. Loved or hated, renowned or not, Desmond Tutu is one of the world’s greatest public speakers ever. Deserving his mention in this list.
Sirleaf Ellen JohnsonEmbed from Getty Images
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa. she served as president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, serving over two terms.
Sirleaf rose to power on the back of experience.
She had served as Librarian’s Assistant Minister of finance and later as minister of finance.
She also worked for the World Bank, serving as Vice President of the African Regional Office of Citibank and was appointed Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Regional Bureau of Africa.
Sirleaf’s experience was one thing and her vocal stance against corruption was another. She was widely known for her anti-corruption stance. And once resigned from her role as assistant Minister of Finance of Liberia, for an alleged mismanagement of public funds by the government.
Sirleaf’s story was a mixed one. Her father, Jahmale Johnson, was the first Liberian from an indigenous ethic group to be elected Liberian legislator.
And she married at a young age of 17, but later divorced her husband because he incessantly abuse her.
Sirleaf’s influence in her country is as powerful as her words. She is an excellent public speaker, one who made a difference in Liberia, Africa and the World at large.
Her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work was notable. A struggle that was acknowledged when she was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieEmbed from Getty Images
Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie is a novelist and an acclaimed public speaker. She is best known for her works as a novelist but also for her highly engaging speeches.
Adichie is an author of many books (novels, short stories and non-fiction). A new York times best selling author and a recipient of numerous awards.
Her 2009 TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story” is one of the top ten most viewed TedTalk ever.
The Adichie’s story may not be complete without mentioning her strong support for feminism. She had rose to become a prominent face of feminists.
Her TedxEuston speech, “we should all be feminist” initiated a global conversation on feminism. It attracted a global attention from people of different background.
In 2013, her speech (we should all be feminist) was sampled by Beyonce for the song “flawess”.
Adichie is not just a skilled African public speaker, she is one whose speeches passes influence globally.
MandelaEmbed from Getty Images
Nelson Mandela is the first elected black President of South Africa. He was a prominent figure in the South African Anti-Aparthied movement.
Mandela pass away in 2013 as an undisputed South African hero. I think he stood clearly as one of African’s most influential public speaker ever. He was so good at public speaking that he featured in our list of greatest orators of all time.
Mandela won numerous international and local awards for his selfless service to humanity. Notably honoured with the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He was a soft spoken speaker, thoughtful and eloquent.
He spent 23 years of his life in prison. Being imprisoned for his struggle towards the liberation of the then oppressed black south Africans.
Mandela had delivered a shipload of public speeches that made the difference for his people and the world at large.
Thomas SankaraEmbed from Getty Images
Sankara was the fifth Prime Minister of the Upper Volta (presently, Burkina Faso) and he was also the first President of Burkina Faso.
Sankara was a revolutionary, a pan-African and a charismatic public speaker. His words were visionary and honest.
He became president at the age of 33. Though he was in power for four years, his influence in Burkina Faso are somewhat incomparable.
Sankara joined the military aged 17 and quickly rose to an influential status. He spoke most often for the common man and ended up winning their affection.
His speeches were well-crafted, pragmatic and honest.
It was just unfortunate that he was assassinated aged 37. So much potential was sent to the grave early and unharnessed.
Sankara transformed Burkina Faso for good in his time. His major achievement was taking his country to a state of self sufficiency, increased housing and health conditions under four years. Something many African leaders today fail to achieve in 8 years or more.
And That’s It
Wow! What a list.
Are you inspired, touched and charged?
Because, personally I am inspired by stories of people working and developing themselves for the betterment of humanity. Stories and lists like this, are what pushed me to constantly seek to improve my skills in oratory (persuasive public speaking).
And I want to presume you, like me, want to improve your skill in oratory. Or at least you respect people with improved oratory skills. I encourage you to keep seeking improvement.
It actually took me approximately two weeks to complete this list. Although I was working on other articles. It was a burden to me, I felt I needed to make this list. And finally, I feel relieved.
I am looking forward to expanding the list, so I would love if you drop a name at the comment section below for inclusion in the next update.