Africa’s Nobel Prize winners: A list

A look at the continent’s Nobel laureates honoured for efforts in peace, chemistry, literature, medicine and physics.

Nobel Peace prize winners

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday will receive the 2019 Nobel Prize for Peace for his “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.

In winning the award, the 43-year-old joins a prestigious club of African Nobel laureates, including Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai and Wole Soyinka.

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901. Since then, the Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences have been awarded 597 times to 950 people and organisations.

Here, Al Jazeera presents all African and African-born Nobel laureates, honoured over the decades for their contributions in peace, chemistry, literature, physiology or medicine and physics.

Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Abiy: ‘Peace is a very expensive commodity in my country’ [File: Alessandro Di Meo/EPA]

Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Peace for his regional peacemaking efforts, mainly his initiative to resolve a long-running conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The 43-year-old, who initiated a series of broad changes soon after coming to power in April last year, was recognised by the Norwegian Nobel Committee “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation” and for introducing reforms that gave many Ethiopians hope for a “better life and brighter future”.

Read more here.

Denis Mukwege

Denis Mukwege
Mukwege: ‘We all have the power to change the course of history when the beliefs we are fighting for are right’ [File: EPA]

Abiy succeeded Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege in winning the 2018 Nobel Prize for Peace, who was recognised for his efforts to assist war rape victims “end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”.

Mukwege is the founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The facility receives thousands of women each year, many of whom require surgery from sexual violence, and provides HIV/AIDS treatment, as well as free maternal care.

The 64-year-old shared the award with Yazidi rights activist Nadia Murad.

Watch an interview with the two winners here.

Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

Tunisia Nobel
 The Quartet was hailed for its efforts to build a ‘pluralistic democracy’ in Tunisia  [File: Hassene Dridi/AP Photo]

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Peace for “its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy” in the period following Tunisia’s 2011 revolution.

The consortium of four organisations – the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers – was recognised for establishing “an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war”.

Read more here.

Michael Levitt

Michael Levitt
Levitt: ‘An obvious requirement for doing ground-breaking work … is to start off on high ground and climb onto the shoulders of giants’ [File: Getty Images]

Michael Levitt, a United States-based scientist who was born in South Africa in 1947, shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with US chemist Martin Karplus and US biochemist Arieh Warshel.

The trio were recognised for their ground-breaking work on computer programmes that simulate complex chemical processes and have revolutionised research in areas from drugs to solar energy.

Levitt, a US and British citizen, carried out research at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Karplus, a US and Austrian citizen, at the University of Strasbourg and Harvard University, while Warshel, a US and Israeli citizen, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Serge Haroche

Haroche conducted research on Quantum Physics [File: Michel Euler/AP]
Haroche conducted research on Quantum Physics [File: Michel Euler/AP]

Serge Haroche, a Moroccan-born French scientist, was a co-recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with US physicist David Wineland.

The two scientists, who worked separately, paved the way for experiments in the field of quantum physics, after showing how individual quantum particles may be observed without being destroyed. 

They were recognised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for developing “ingenious laboratory methods” that allowed them to manage, measure and control fragile quantum states.

“Their ground-breaking methods have enabled this field of research to take the very first steps towards building a new type of superfast computer based on quantum physics,” the Academy said in a statement.

“The research has also led to the construction of extremely precise clocks that could become the future basis for a new standard of time.”

Haroche, a Casablanca-born professor at the College de France in Paris, won the award at the age of 68. 

Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee
Gbowee: ‘We were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power’ [File: Richard Drew/AP]

Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee was one of three recipients, along with her country’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkul Karman, of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace.

The winners were honoured for their nonviolent efforts to improve women’s safety and their participation in peace-building processes.

Among Gbowee’s accomplishments was mobilising Liberian women from “across ethnic and religious dividing lines” to help end Liberia’s brutal civil war in 2003.

She was given the award at the age of 39.

Read an op-ed written for Al Jazeera by Gbowee to mark International Women’s Day here.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Johnson Sirleaf: ‘Mine has been a long journey … [I was taught] that only through service is one’s life truly blessed’ [File: The Associated Press]

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women”, along with her compatriot Gbowee and Yemen’s Karman.

The first woman freely elected as a head of state in Africa, Johnson Sirleaf took on the leadership of Liberia in 2006 at a time when it was still seeking to heal deep divisions and rebuild infrastructure following a devastating civil war.

Johnson Sirleaf won the award at the age of 73.

Watch an interview with her here.

Mohamed ElBaradei

Mohamed ElBaradei
ElBaradei: ‘If we hope to escape self-destruction, then nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience’ [File: AP Photo]

Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Peace, along with the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

The winners were recognised for the “efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes … and for ensuring that nuclear energy is used in the safest possible way”.

ElBaradei, who won the award at the age of 63, was also praised for strengthening the watchdog, an organisation he led until 2009.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai
Maathai: ‘There comes a time when humanity is called … to reach a higher moral ground’ [File: Salvatore Di Nolfi/AP]

Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition “for her tireless contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

In 1977, Maathai founded a grassroots campaign aimed at countering the deforestation that was hurting poor people, especially women, living in rural Kenya. Her so-called “Green Belt Movement”, which encouraged women to plant trees, spread to other countries on the continent and contributed to the planting of tens of millions of trees.

According to the Nobel Committee, her project was not just limited to work for sustainable development, but it included “democracy, women’s rights and international solidarity”.

Maathai, who was born in 1940, was the first black African woman to receive the award, aged 64. She died in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in 2011.

Coetzee was hailed for developing a style that 'in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider' [File: AP]
Coetzee was hailed for developing a style that ‘in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider’ [File: AP]

John Maxwell Coetzee

South African author John Maxwell Coetzee was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was recognised for developing a style that “in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”.

The Swedish Academy hailed the author as a “scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilisation”.

Born in Cape Town in 1940, Coetzee won the Booker Prize for 1983’s Life & Times of Michael K before. Over a decade later, he became the first author to win the prestigious British literary award twice with 1994’s Disgrace.

A recluse, he shunned both Booker Prize ceremonies but did go to Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, to accept the Nobel.

Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner
Brenner made significant contributions to the understanding of molecular biology [File: Jan Pitman/AP Photo]

South African-born biologist Sydney Brenner shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Robert, of the US, and John E Sulston, of the UK, for their discoveries about how genes regulate tissue and organ development via a mechanism called programmed cell death, or apoptosis.

His work made it possible to link “genetic analysis to cell division and organ formation”.

Brenner, who received the Nobel Prize at the age of 75, died on April 5, 2019, in Singapore.

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan was the secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006.

He was the co-recipient, along with the UN, of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Peace in the centennial year of the Nobel Committee.

The winners were recognised “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world”.

The Nobel Committee also hailed Annan’s commitment to the struggle to contain the spreading of the HIV virus in Africa.

Born in 1938 in Kumasi, he died last year in Bern, Switzerland. Read more about his legacy here.

Ahmed Zewail

Ahmed Zewail

Egyptian Ahmed Zewail was the recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a rapid laser technique that helped scientists to study the action of atoms during chemical reactions. 

His work led to the development of a new field of physical chemistry known as femtochemistry.

Zewail was the first Arab to win a Nobel Prize in a science category.

He was born in Egypt’s Damanhur in 1946 and died in the US in 2016.

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji
Cohen-Tannoudji: ‘Quantum physics is no longer an abstract theory’ [File: Charles Platiau/Reuters]

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, an Algerian-born French scientist, was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for the “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light”.

He shared the award with US physicists Steven Chu and William Phillips.

The winners were praised for developing innovative techniques that use laser light to cool atoms to extremely low temperatures. In these temperatures, the atoms move slowly enough to be studied in detail.

Born in 1933 in Algeria’s Constantine, Cohen-Tannoudji was 64 when he won the Nobel.

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat
Arafat: ‘We view peace as a historic strategic option, not a tactical one directed by current calculations of gain or loss’ [File: Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty Images]

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Prize for Peace with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for “their efforts to create peace in the Middle East”.

The three men were recognised for reaching the 1993 Oslo interim peace agreement.

Arafat, the founder of the Fatah movement, was born in 1929 but the exact date and place of his birth are disputed. He always maintained that he was born in Jerusalem but several investigators cast doubt on the claim, saying he was born either in the Gaza Strip or Egypt’s Cairo – hence his inclusion in this list.

He died on November 11, 2004, at a hospital in Paris.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Mandela: ‘We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war’ [File: Marty Lederhandler/AP]

South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize for Peace for his work in ending the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination and for “laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”.

He shared the prize with Frederik Willem de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president whose negotiations with Mandela in the early 1990s helped end apartheid.

One of the world’s most recognisable fighters against inequality and oppression, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his active opposition to the racist regime.

A year after winning the Nobel, Mandela rose to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president – a position that he voluntarily retired from after just one term.

The iconic leader died on December 5, 2013, in Johannesburg. See a photo gallery of key moments of his life here.

Frederik Willem de Klerk 

Frederik Willem de Klerk
De Klerk: ‘Peace … is not an absence of conflict or a condition of stagnation. Peace is a frame of mind’ [File: AP Photo]

Born in Johannesburg in 1936, Frederik Willem de Klerk was president of South Africa from 1989 to 1994, when the country’s first free election marked the end of white minority rule.

De Klerk released Mandela and other key political prisoners in 1990. 

He was a co-recipient for the 1993 Nobel Prize for Peace for overseeing South Africa’s transition from apartheid rule.

Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer

South African author Nadine Gordimer received the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.

One of the most powerful voices against the injustice of apartheid, Gordimer published novels and short stories steeped in the drama of human life and emotion of a society warped by decades of white-minority rule. Some of her work was banned by the apartheid authorities.

The Swedish Academy referred to her as an author “who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity”.

Some of Gordimer’s most notable work includes The Conservationist (1974), Burger’s Daughter (1979) and July’s People (1981).

Born in 1923, she died in Johannesburg on July 13, 2014.

Mahfouz: 'Truth and justice will remain for as long as mankind has a ruminative mind and a living conscience' [File: Raphael Gaillarde/Getty Images]
Mahfouz: ‘Truth and justice will remain for as long as mankind has a ruminative mind and a living conscience’ [File: Raphael Gaillarde/Getty Images]

Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, the first writer in Arabic to receive the award.

He was recognised for a work “rich in nuance” that “formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”.

Mahfouz is best known for The Cairo Trilogy, his saga about a modern Egyptian family living under British colonial rule between the two world wars.

His first three novels – published in Arabic in 1939, 1943 and 1944 – were set in ancient Egypt.

Born in Cairo in 1911, he died in the Egyptian capital in 2006.

Wole Soyinka

Nigerian Literature Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka
Soyinka: ‘I grew up with a very strong sense of what is just and what is not’ [File: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

Nigerian playwright, poet and essayist Wole Soyinka won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.

In its citation, the Academy referred to Soyinka as someone “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.”

Born in Abeokuta in 1934, he was the first black African to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and has a long history of fighting for social justice and human rights both in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Some of his most notable work includes The Lion and The Jewel (1959), Poems from Prison (1969) and Death and the King’s Horseman (1975).

Watch his discussion with renowned novelist and academic Elif Shafak here.

Simon was born in Madagascar in 1913 [File: Wikipedia/Creative Commons]
Simon was born in Madagascar in 1913 [File: Wikipedia/Creative Commons]

Claude Simon

Claude Simon was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was born in Madagascar in 1913 but moved to France at a young age.

Upon winning the Nobel, the French author was recognised for his particular writing style “which combines the poet and the painter’s creativeness … in the depiction of the human condition.”

Conflict is a constant theme throughout Simon’s work, which drew on his experiences including during the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

Simon is widely hailed as a key figure of the nouveau roman movement that emerged in the 1950s.

Some of his most well-known books are The Grass (1958) and The Flanders Road (1960).

Simon died in Paris in 2005.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu
Tutu: ‘There can be no real peace and security until there be first justice enjoyed by all the inhabitants of that beautiful land’ [File: Getty Images]

Anglican cleric Desmond Tutu won the 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa

Tutu’s objective was to see South Africa “as [a] democratic and just society without racial divisions”, and despite violent attacks committed against the black population, he would adhere to a nonviolent line and encouraged the application of economic pressure by countries dealing with the apartheid authorities.

After receiving the Nobel, Tutu used his international stature to step up the campaign against apartheid, leading calls for punitive sanctions against South Africa as one of the few strong voices inside the country, while others were imprisoned or forced into exile.

In 1995, Mandela appointed Tutu head of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation commission – the body set up to investigate apartheid-era crimes.

Born in 1931, Tutu began his retirement from public life 0n October 7, 2010 – his 79th birthday – after decades of activism.

Watch an interview with here.

Cormack was awarded aged 55 [File: AP]
Cormack was awarded aged 55 [File: AP]

Allan MacLeod Cormack

Allan MacLeod Cormack was a South African-born US physicist who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with British electrical engineer Godfrey N Hounsfield.

Born in Johannesburg in 1924, Cormack was recognised “for the development of computer-assisted tomography”.

Through his work, scientists were able to see cross-sections of the body, while computed tomography also provided the basis for three-dimensional images.

Cormack was an extraordinary choice for a Nobel laureate since he never earned a doctorate degree in medicine or any other scientific field.

Anwar al-Sadat

Anwar Sadat
Al-Sadat was president of Egypt from 1970 to 1981 [File: Kevin Fleming/Getty Images]

Former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat won the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace, along with ex-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

The winners were recognised for “having taken the initiative in negotiating a peace treaty between the two countries”.

Under the leadership of al-Sadat and Begin, Egypt and Israel made peace with each other in 1979.

Al-Sadat was assassinated in 1981.

Hodgkin: 'I was captured for life by chemistry and by crystals' [File: Getty Images]
Hodgkin: ‘I was captured for life by chemistry and by crystals’ [File: Getty Images]

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin was a Cairo-born English scientist who won the 1964 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The chemist was recognised for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, including of penicillin and vitamin B12.

Hodgkin, who received the award aged 54, died in England in 1994.

Albert Luthuli

Luthuli: 'The award is a democratic declaration of solidarity with those who fight to widen the area of liberty in my part of the world' [File: Getty Images]
Luthuli: ‘The award is a democratic declaration of solidarity with those who fight to widen the area of liberty in my part of the world’ [File: Getty Images]

South African Albert Luthuli was awarded the 1960 Nobel Prize for Peace, the first African to be so honoured.

He has recognised for his “role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid”

Born in 1898, the teacher and religious leader was the president of South Africa’s African National Congress from 1952 to 1960.

Luthuli led a campaign of civil disobedience against the apartheid’s policy of racial segregation and discrimination that led him to his persecution and imprisonment.

He received the Nobel Prize in 1961.

Luthuli died on July 21, 1967, after being struck by a train near his home in the eastern province known as KwaZulu-Natal.

Albert Camus

Camus received the Nobel aged 44 [File: Getty Images]
Camus received the Nobel aged 44 [File: Getty Images]

Algerian-born French author Albert Camus won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was recognised for his “important literary production, which … illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Camus breakthrough novel, The Stranger, was released in 1942.

Other notable work includes 1947’s The Plague and 1956’s The Fall.

Born in Algeria’s Mondovi in 1913, Camus died in 1960 near Sens, in central France.

Max Theiler

Theiler won the award aged 52 [File: AP]
Theiler won the award aged 52 [File: AP]

Max Theiler was a South African-born US microbiologist who won the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing a vaccine against yellow fever.

The virologist succeeded in passing the virus to mice, which later allowed him to obtain a variant that became a human vaccine.

Theiler, who was born in Pretoria in 1899, died in 1972 in New Haven, US.

Source: Al Jazeera