African Women Rise up in Forbes ‘Most Powerful Women’ Rankings

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala retains the position of Africa’s most powerful woman, while new entrant Mpumi Madisa takes second place as African women solidify their place among Forbes' ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ rankings, boosting their influence on global leadership, politics and business.

African women rise up in Forbes ‘Most Powerful Women’ rankings

Conrad Onyango, bird story agency

More African women are joining and rising up the ranks of the world’s 100 most powerful women, according to Forbes, as they grow their influence in shaping the policies, products and political fights defining the globe.

Nigeria’s former minister of finance, currently World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has moved the highest on the continent by four places from position 91 in 2022 to 87 in this year’s Forbes "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" rankings.

Okonjo-Iweala, the first African woman to lead the WTO, made it to the list for the seventh time in 2023 since her debut in 2011.

The 69-year-old has also hinted at a growing number of African women who may not be in the world’s 100 most powerful but whose global influence is on the rise.

“Congratulations to all the women on this list working hard to make a difference and to others working hard to change the world even if they are not on the list. Special congratulations to my younger sister @MoAbudu, great to have two Nigerian women on this list,” Okonjo-Iweala said on X.

New entrant Mpumi Madisa, Chief Executive Officer of Bidvest Group, a South African services and distribution company with nearly 130,000 employees and a US$4.7 billion market cap, is now the second most powerful woman in Africa, according to the publisher.

Over the last three years, Bidvest has delivered annual growth in headline earnings per share in excess of 20% and created over 6,000 jobs in 2023, according to the group’s 2023 annual report, published in October.

Bidvest has built up a US$1.49 billion (R28 billion) war chest as it looks for growth opportunities in South Africa and other markets where the company operates.

Madisa, ranked 88th in the global Forbes 2023 list, became the only black female Chief Executive of a top-40 company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange when she took the helm of the listed company in 2020. In November 2023, she was named the 2023 Sunday Times Business Leader of the Year.

Madisa raced ahead of Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Nigerian Media mogul, Mo Abudu, whose rankings have also improved, signifying a spirited growth in influence amongst both political and business leaders on the continent. At 44 years, is the youngest African Woman on the Forbes list.

Tanzania’s President, Samia Hassan who is marking her third consecutive appearance on the Forbes rankings, saw her star rise slightly, coming in at number 93, from 95.

Hassan is the first female president of Tanzania. She took over in March 2021 following the death of President John Pombe Magufuli. The former Vice President began her political career in 2000.

Hassan’s achievements include a strategic focus on infrastructure development, building regional ties and contributions to a range of global discourses, after moving the country away from her predecessor's increasingly isolationist policies.

The country recently received global recognition in key sectors such as tourism and logistics, which are contributing to the growth of its economy. Thanks to recent growth, the country is on course to surpass Kenya as East Africa's largest economy.

In October, Tanzania's tourism sector was ranked growing the second-fastest in Africa and among the top 15 in the world by the UNWTO. During the same month, Tanzania became a member of the council responsible for developing global tourism strategies and plans, as well as the UNWTO's vice-chair.

In May, Tanzania's port of Dar es Salaam surpassed Kenya's Mombasa port in the World Bank rankings. According to the latest ports ranking commissioned by the World Bank, Dar es Salaam port ranked 312th in the world, ahead of Mombasa, at 326th.

In early 2023, the IMF predicted that Tanzania would become the largest economy in East Africa, surpassing that of Kenya.

Tanzania's economy, the fund said, would grow to US$136 billion by 2028, while Kenya's is forecast to reach US$151 billion in the same period. Moreover, Tanzania may surpass Kenya's growth rate for the next decade.

As one of the most powerful women in global media, Nigerian Mo Abudu also made the list for the third time and moved a rank higher from position 99 to position 98.

The owner of the Ebony Media, whose content airs in more than 49 African countries, hailed fellow African women on the list.

“As the only two Nigerians and among only three African women on this esteemed list, alongside other extraordinary women, we continue to pave the way. I'm proud to see Mpumi Madisa, CEO of Bidvest, representing South African excellence on this global platform,” Abudu posted on Instagram.

She added, “There's an abundance of remarkable African Women making waves. Here's to more inspiring women joining the ranks of Forbes' 100 Most Powerful Women in the future.”

In early November, the Nigerian media mogul announced the start of production of her latest collaborative Netflix venture, “Black, Brilliant, and Bold” which celebrates the incredible achievements of Black women, sharing behind-the-scenes footage of an interview with Okonjo-Iweala.

“In various fields, from science and technology to arts and activism, politics, and beyond, black women have made significant contributions that often go unnoticed. It’s high time we changed that narrative,” she posted on her Instagram page. 

In October, Abudu was listed as one of the 20 most powerful women in global entertainment in a report by The Hollywood Reporter.

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