Yale University presented honorary degrees to 11 individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields at its 318th graduation ceremony recenty. Among the honorees were Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, Zimbabwean owner of Econet Wireless, Strive MAsiyiwa and Cynthia Moss, an American who has dedicated her life to the welfare of Kenya’s Amboseli elephants.
Chimamanda was conferred a Doctor of Letters degree from the university, while Strive received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
The degree from Yale is coming days after Chimamanda got two Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degrees from American University and Georgetown University.
Below are the biographies of the Africans among the 2019 honorands.
Chimamanda Adichie is an acclaimed author whose novels, non-fiction, and lectures have vaulted her to the forefront of world literature — a position from which she speaks eloquently about race, gender, and other social issues. Her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” has been viewed more than 17 million times, a perennial favorite among the media platform’s “ideas worth spreading.” In 2008 she received a master of arts from Yale in African studies.
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Ms. Adichie grew up on the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where her father was a professor and her mother was the university’s first female registrar. After studying for a year at Nsukka, she moved to the United States, enrolling at Drexel University in Philadelphia before transferring to Eastern Connecticut State University. In 2001 she received her bachelor’s degree in communication and political science, and in 2004 she earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. Passionate about education and supporting the next generation of African authors, Ms. Adichie has led an annual writers’ workshop in Lagos for the past 12 years.
Ms. Adichie’s writings, illuminating and exploring the African experience as well as immigrant, black, and female identities, have been translated into more than 30 languages. Her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus” (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; her second, “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006), received the Orange Prize for Fiction and became an international bestseller. “Americanah,” published in 2013, was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award and named one of The New York Times’s top 10 books of the year. Her second TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” was delivered in 2012 and published as a book two years later. Her latest book, “”Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” was released in 2017.
Ms. Adichie received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008, was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015, and was listed among the “World’s Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine in 2017. She is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She, her husband, and their young daughter divide their time between the United States and Nigeria.
Strive Masiyiwa, a global businessman and philanthropist, is widely credited with having helped to open the African telecommunications sector when he founded the Econet Group, a technology company that spans 29 African countries. With his wife, Tsitsi Masiyiwa, he created the Higherlife Foundation, which grants scholarships to orphaned and vulnerable children.
Born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Mr. Masiyiwa moved to Zambia with his family as a young child. He completed his secondary education in Edinburgh, Scotland, and later studied electrical engineering at the University of Wales, receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1983. He then began his career in the United Kingdom, working briefly in the computer industry before returning to his home country, which had gained independence from Britain in 1980.
In 1986, Mr. Masiyiwa left a job in Zimbabwe’s government-owned telephone company to establish Retrofit Engineering, a construction and electrical contracting firm. Seven years later — following a successful legal battle to end the country’s state-run telecommunications monopoly — he founded Econet. Today, the firm extends beyond Africa to include operations and investments in Europe, South America, and North America. In addition to telecommunications, Econet invests in businesses including financial services, renewable energy, and hospitality.
Mr. Masiyiwa is also recognized for his humanitarian work. He is a member of the Giving Pledge, through which some of the world’s most prosperous individuals have committed to donating the majority of their wealth. Mr. and Mrs. Masiyiwa’s Higherlife Foundation, launched in 1996, has supported the educations of more than 250,000 children across Africa.
Mr. Masiyiwa serves on the boards of Unilever and the National Geographic Society; chairs the board of AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; sits on the global advisory councils of Stanford University and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations; and is a past board member of the Rockefeller Foundation. As a member of the SMART Africa board, he contributes to digital transformation strategy throughout the African continent. He has served on two United Nations commissions: the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and Sustainable Energy for All.
Dedicated to mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs, Mr. Masiyiwa has a Facebook page followed by nearly four million young people across Africa — the most engaged following of any business leader in the world. In 2014 and 2017 he was included on Fortune’s list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders,” and in 2015 Forbes named him one of its “10 Most Powerful Men in Africa.”
Cynthia Moss, a groundbreaking conservationist and researcher, is the founder and director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the longest-running study of African elephants. For over 50 years she has studied elephant populations in the wild, yielding important insights into their complex social and familial structures.
Ms. Moss grew up in Ossining, New York; her father was a newspaper publisher, and her mother had been a legal secretary before their two daughters were born. As a child, Ms. Moss would go horseback riding in the woodlands near the family’s home, looking for deer and foxes. These experiences sparked in her a love of the wilderness and a desire to preserve natural habitats. She attended Smith College, receiving her bachelor of arts in philosophy in 1962, and spent the first five years after graduation testing the waters of a career in journalism.
In 1967, at the urging of a friend from her undergraduate days, Ms. Moss traveled to Africa and met the zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton during a visit to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park. Observing his work, she became fascinated with elephants and soon left her job as a reporter for Newsweek to become his research assistant. She started the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in 1972 and has lived in Kenya ever since.
Ms. Moss’s research focuses on the demography, social organization, and behavior of the Amboseli elephants; her collaborators use the Amboseli data to study genetics, communication, reproductive histories, and cognition. Much of what we know today about the sophisticated nature of relationships among wild elephants has emerged from research carried out in this project. In addition to directing and supervising research, training young conservationists, and working with the local Maasai community, Ms. Moss promotes public awareness by writing and making films about elephants. Her books — including “Portraits in the Wild: Behavior Studies of East African Mammals,” “Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family,” and “Echo of the Elephants” — are recognized both for their popular appeal and for their importance in the science of elephant behavior. In 2011 she and her colleagues published “The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal,” covering the first 30 years of their research.
In 2000 Ms. Moss founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, whose mission is to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants through scientific research, training, community outreach, public awareness, and advocacy. She was awarded a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship for her research that “promises to provide a wealth of new information on animal behavior and in support of the conservation of an endangered species.”