Cameroon’s global gamechangers

Cameroon has produced a number of outstanding leaders in a variety of disciplines who have gone on to have considerable influence not only in Africa but across the world. We profile some of them here.


John Nkengasong

Dr. John Nkengasong has always been a superstar among those operating in the public health space. An expert in the field of AIDS, where he made his name, he has come to the fore as the first Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). His leadership of the African Union’s public-health agency during the Covid crisis has been both tenacious and bold.

Since Africa’s first case, he has fought on the front line for the procurement and distribution of tests, ventilators, and vaccines in a region where funds and doses have been in scant supply.
He has been a powerful voice not just for Africa, but developing nations around the world, calling out manufacturers and governments in richer nations not to hoard vaccines. The Cameroonian virologist’s contribution to keeping the world safe in the face of the pandemic was recognised in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue.

More recently he has been advocating for a scheme to bring back African doctors and nurses from the Diaspora for a short time each year to help plug the shortfall in the continent’s healthcare systems.

Vera Songwe

Vera Songwe is the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The economist and former banker at the World Bank and IFC is the first woman to ever serve in this important role.

Songwe has also been the torchbearer on a significant number of issues, including overseeing the framework around debt relief and the moratorium that was negotiated with international creditors at the start of the pandemic; and later through lobbying and providing structure for implementation, helping African countries tap the Special Drawing Rights that the IMF agreed to make available. Her actions have been instrumental in ensuring Africa has the toolkit to finance its post-Covid recovery.

She has become a go-to person for Heads of State, Ministers and international partners alike, putting forward original ideas and providing clear road maps and evidence-based solutions that are helping shape African policy making.

Acha Leke

Acha Leke is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Johannesburg office, Chairman of McKinsey’s Africa region, and a member of McKinsey’s Shareholders Council, McKinsey’s global governance board.

The growth of McKinsey in Africa can largely be attributed to Leke’s phenomenal work. As one of the instrumental figureheads at the influential consultancy firm, his close association with African leaders across the public, social and private sectors makes him one of the most sought-after business and economic advisors on the continent. Many countries’ national development plans and African institutions’ strategy papers will have received some input, in one form or another, by McKinsey.

Alongside his friend Fred Swaniker, he is the co-founder of the Africa Leadership Network – a respected force that is now very much part of Africa’s new generation of thinkers. He is also a co-founder and member of the Global Advisory Council of the African Leadership Academy and a member of the Lagos Business School advisory board.

Paul Fokam

Cameroonian author, businessman, and entrepreneur Paul Fokam founded the CCEI Bank, which, in 2002, would become Afriland First Bank. Afriland is now of one of the largest commercial bank networks in Francophone Africa, and Fokam serves as the Chairman and CEO of Afriland First Group. He is also the founder of the Vox Africa TV Channel.

With a vision to restore African dignity and provide access to finance to vulnerable communities, he developed the MC2 Model, a unique and efficient approach for wealth creation among the poor in rural Africa. He is also the founder and president of the PKFokam Institute of Excellence, a pan-African University which seeks to be an incubator of world-class African leaders.

Hippolyte Fofack

Dr. Hippolyte Fofack is Chief Economist and Director of Research at the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank). One of the continent’s more strategic thinkers, Dr. Fofack is today widely recognised as one of the world’s leading economists. 

A fierce critic of orthodox thinking on Africa and the way the continent has been unfairly treated by international analysts and some international organisations and credit rating agencies, Dr. Fofack has been a strong advocate for more independent thinking on the continent to help accelerate Africa’s economic development.

He has promoted the use of evidence-based solutions, and been a supporter of the sciences and technology so that they become a bedrock of development in Africa. His analytical contributions and intellectual thinking has brought rigour to the debates around issues pertaining to Africa and is levelling the playing field when it comes to African thinking.

Prior to joining Afreximbank, he worked for the World Bank Group in Washington DC for over 18 years in various functions, including Senior Country Economist and Head of the Macroeconomics and Growth Programme.

Throughout his career he has received numerous distinctions and prizes for his contributions to economic development both in Africa and internationally.

Alain Nkontchou

Alain is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Enko Capital Management, a pan-African asset management company with $350m in assets under management. Alain is also the Chairman of the Board of Ecobank, a leading pan-African Bank and the bank with the largest footprint in Africa.

A dealmaker by nature, Alain has interests in several sectors of the economy. Through the private equity arm of Enko Capital, Alain invests in some of the most exciting companies on the continent. 

Moreover, his debt capital market experiences have proven highly rewarding to the firm and investors alike. Having generated positive calendar-year returns since 2017 across a wide spectrum of market returns, the Enko Africa Debt Fund has been able to support his firm’s profitability and increase investor dividends.

Landry Signé

Landry Signé is a senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Landry is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader for “finding innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues,” an Andrew Carnegie Fellow for being one of the “most creative thinkers,” a Desmond Tutu Fellow for driving “the transformation of Africa,” among many other distinctions.

An authoritative voice in his own right, Landry demonstrates the power, influence and need for accurate and innovative scientific research, pushing the boundaries of development and international economics.

This year he’ll be releasing two books, including one on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where he has become a foremost expert.

Recognition in the world of fashion

Cameroonian stylist Imane Ayissi was recently awarded the “Saint of Saints of Haute Couture” by the Haute Couture Federation in France, a first for a stylist from sub-Saharan Africa.
Ayissi has managed to bring about African influences to haute couture, helping open new opportunities for African fashion.

He is known for the audacity of his dresses and the use of his fabrics, such as Obom, a traditional African material made from the fibres of tree bark.

It is from his studio today in Paris that he moves the fashion world, although it’s as a model for the likes of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and others that he started his career in the world of fashion. The polymath is also a professional dancer.

Styling and him go a long way. “As a child, I was attracted to my mother, who was a very beautiful woman. She had a figure and a way of wearing clothes that impressed me. I started drawing, I was making drawings. I was trying to reproduce certain silhouettes that reminded a bit of what I saw on mom’s body.” Indeed, as the first Miss Cameroon, her elegance and natural charm were to have a very strong influence in the life of her son.

In the 90s, Ayissi began to present his collections. Avoiding wax, something that he deemed too stereotypical in terms of African fashion, Imane began using other African textiles, succeeding in imposing authentic African creations in the premier league of fashion.

This article is part of a special report supported by Stratline Communications and The editorial content was commissioned separately and produced independently of any third party.

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