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Soft Power

The parameters used by Forbes are indeed subjective, and many other names could have been included. In the literary field, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s is among them; she authored three novels: Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, soon to become an Hollywood film, and Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in March and was considered among the best of 2013 by the New York Times Book Review. Looking at the development of the Internet, instead, Ory Okolloh and Juliana Rotich could have been taken into consideration. They co-founded the Ushahidi website during the 2007 post-electoral violence in Kenya and at the time it was used to collect information – though the web and mobile phones – on the troubles. Beyond Africa, this tool proved to be useful after earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Japan and New Zealand (Christchurch), during floods and snowstorms in the US and even in the media industry, thanks to al-Jazeera.

Isabel Dos Santos’s name, instead, was on the list as expected. The daughter of the Angolan President, JosÈ Eduardo, is almost unanimously considered the richest woman in Africa: her net worth – 3,5 billion dollars according to estimates – includes shares in both Angolan and Portuguese firms. The daughter of another Portuguese-speaking president, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, is apparently willing to follow the same path: the exact amount of 33-years old Valentina Da Luz’s personal assets has never been disclosed; however, she probably is far less rich than her older (Dos Santos is 41) ‘colleague’. Many other among the women listed by Forbes own, run or founded private companies. A slightly peculiar case is that of Ola Orekunrin, a medical doctor, who created Nigeria’s Flying Doctors, a Lagos-based air ambulance service, the first of its kind in Western Africa.

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The richest women of Africa are usually older than Dos Santos and Da Luz: according to the Nigerian magazine Ventures, a citizen of that country might actually be at the top of the list, and she is 63. Folorunsho Alakija, during her life, has worked in many fields: in the 70s she was a top manager at the International Merchant Bank, but in 1985, after having studied fashion design in the UK, she founded a company, Supreme Stitches, which in just one year becomes the most important in the Nigerian fashion industry. Money then allowed Alakija to have a share in the country’s most remunerative business, oil: she got, thanks to then president Ibrahim Babangida, a lucrative prospecting license. In the following years, another head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo, tried to acquire a control share in her company without duly compensating her, but this attempt was eventually stopped by the Nigerian Supreme Court.

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The third-richest woman on the continent is not the daughter, but both the widow and the mother of politicians: Ngina Kenyatta was the spouse of the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and the current head of State, Uhuru, is her son. At 80, she leads a quiet life and little is known also about her actual net worth: however, from banking to the dairy industry, there’s virtually no sector of the country’s economy in which either she or the family do not have a share. This trend begun immediately after independence, when the Kenyattas, taking advantage of laws backed by the former British colonial rulers, were able to enter the number of the main landowners in the country. At a continental level, nevertheless, both mama Ngina and Isabel Dos Santos are an exception. When talking about female millionaires, the countries that number most of them are Nigeria and South Africa. In the ‘rainbow nation’, according to the South African, the richest woman is Wendy Appelbaum, the daughter of the octogenarian businessman Donald Gordon, and also the already mentioned Mamphela Ramphele, with ‘just’ 12 million dollars, figures in the white-dominated list.

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