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The 50 people who matter today: 11-20

11-20 on our diverse list of individuals, couples and families changing the world, for good and ill.

11. Daniel Nocera

Gas man

In 2004, an epoch-making realisation dawned on the MIT chemist Daniel Nocera. He saw that the photosynthetic mechanisms that plants use to split water could be mimicked in such a way as to build a catalyst capable of making hydrogen fuel. In coming to understand how hydrogen ions could be harnessed to make hydrogen gas, Nocera had happened on a procedure that could conceivably transform the way energy is generated. It is no exaggeration to say that the prospects for genuinely renewable energy in coming decades depend on Nocera's ability to develop a catalyst that runs not on electricity, but on sunlight itself.

12. Angela Merkel


A champion of business, Angela Merkel is the first woman to lead Germany since it became a nation state in 1871. And as leader of Europe's largest economy and the world's biggest exporter, she carries huge weight on the international scene. Merkel stands as a bulwark to the Anglo-Saxon capitalist free market. She pushes for tighter international regulation on banks and led the crackdown on bank bonuses that recently cowed Gordon Brown. She is a solid supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan and her back-seat diplomacy has been crucial in brokering compromise between the UK and US. With a personal approval rating of over 60 per cent, Merkel is Europe's most popular leader and the justified proprietor of the Forbes title of "Most Powerful Woman in the World".

13. Bill and Melinda Gates

The softies

Microsoft brought the Gateses their fortune, but nowadays their global influence is felt through their eponymous foundation. It is the largest of its kind in the world, with an endowment worth some $35bn. The $800m that the couple give every year to health programmes tackling diseases such as polio and malaria is almost equal to the World Health Organisation's annual budget. Their philanthropy has attracted others to the cause - Warren Buffett gave roughly $30bn (nearly half his fortune) to the foundation in 2006. But it has also attracted criticism: some suggest that their donations undermine public health systems in developing countries.

14. Paul Kagame

Rwandan unifier

Over a period of 100 days beginning in April 1994, more than 900,000 people, mostly from the country's minority Tutsi group, were slaughtered in the small, landlocked Central-East African country of Rwanda in a state-driven assertion of Hutu supremacy that the rest of the world, turning away in fear and revulsion, did nothing to stop. The failure to intervene in Rwanda was an act of cowardice for which countries such as Britain (which has become the world's largest bilateral donor to Rwanda) and the US have been seeking to atone ever since. The killing was eventually stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a guerrilla movement that invaded from bases outside the country. Its leader was the Tutsi politician-soldier Paul Kagame. A brilliant military tactician who fought alongside Yoweri Museveni when he toppled Uganda's Tito Okello in a coup in 1986, Kagame was born in October 1957 and grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. His parents fled from Rwanda during one of the country's periodic and systematic purges of the Tutsi minority. (The Tutsi diaspora is spread across Africa, with large groupings in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.)

To many, the tall, thin, ascetic Kagame is a hero. As president, he has abolished the divisive system of identity cards, introduced by the Belgian colonisers, who first politicised ethnicity in Rwanda and under whose governance each citizen had to carry proof of his or her ethnicity: Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. His minority-Tutsi regime has stabilised and modernised Rwanda, rebuilding the country from the trauma of genocide and the ravages of civil war. His hugely efficient military - arguably the best in Africa - helped to topple the despised Mobutu regime in the country that was then called Zaire.

But to his disparagers, of whom there are increasing numbers, absolute power has corrupted Kagame. He is a hardline authoritarian and war criminal. Rwanda's repeated incursions over the border into eastern Congo have been driven less by a desire to root out Hutu militias than by greed and expansionist ambition. The Rwandan Tutsi elite, it is said, has become rich on the mineral wealth looted from the war-ravaged eastern Congo: cassiterite, gold, coltan.

The war in Congo - Africa's World War, as it is called - has resulted in the death of as many as 5.5 million people; millions, too, have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. At present it seems to be a war without end, under-reported, misunderstood and shamefully too often ignored by western powers.

Does Kagame have the power to bring peace to eastern Congo? It seems absurd that a country as small as Rwanda could control the fortunes of one as vast as the DRC. But so pervasive is Kagame's influence in the Great Lakes region, so disciplined is the Rwandan military, so determined is the ethnic Tutsi elite (rather like the Jews of Israel) never again to be victims of genocide, and so supportive is the anglophone world of Kagame (to the irritation of the French, who supported the Hutu majority) that this complex and determined politician has, more than any other leader in the region, the authority and opportunity to broker peace in what is one of the most tragic nations on earth.
Jason Cowley

15. David Einhorn

High roller

David Einhorn has had a profound effect on Wall Street. As founder of the hedge fund Greenlight Capital, he was one of the first to see gaps in Lehman Brothers' first-quarter earnings in May 2008. Short-selling Lehman shares, he realised a hefty profit. Last year, he publicly denounced Lehman's shortfall before the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, or even Lehman's investors did. His gambling prowess was better known on Vegas poker circuits until 2002, when he exposed fraudulent records in the mid-cap financial company Allied Capital. Critics claim he caused a crisis of confidence in the economy, but he has been hugely important in ushering an era of accountability on to Wall Street.

16. Harvey Levin

Gossip guy, Harvey Levin's website (the acro­nym stands for the "thirty-mile zone" around Hollywood), feeds on celebrity activity of the lowest order: Twitter fights, Starbucks encounters, stylist errors. But it has also scooped some of the biggest celebrity stories since it began in 2005 - this year's trophy was the death of Michael Jackson, and the site's pictures of Britney Spears's meltdown were seen around the globe. In doing so, it has contributed to the increasing redundancy of slow print media. Levin, a lawyer by training, is now a media star in his own right, but it's his network of moles around LA (in the hospital, some said, when Jackson died) that makes the site the most influential source of gossip in the world.

17. Grand Ayatollah Yousuf Sanei

Clerical errant

A rare liberal voice from within Iran's theocratic Establishment, Grand Ayatollah Yousuf Sanei is not afraid of going against the grain: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to sue the senior reformist cleric for siding with pro-democracy protesters during June's contested elections. Sanei was already known, and well respected, for his progressive fatwas (condemning suicide bombing and nuclear weapons, and promoting women's rights), and holds one of the most senior clerical positions in Shia Islam. In a country so hostile to the west, a real chance of modernisation could only come from someone with his insider status.

18. Francis Collins

Gene genius

For 15 years, as the head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins led the quest to unravel the human genome. A born-again Christian, he created the BioLogos Foundation to promote harmony between science and faith. In May, he resigned to explore other avenues; in July, Barack Obama nominated him as director of the National Institutes of Health.

19. Mo Ibrahim


He made his name and fortune from mobile phones, but Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim has joined the ranks of global figureheads through his eponymous foundation. When Ibrahim set up his mobile phone company Celtel in 1998, there were two million phones in Africa. Seven years later, there were 100 million, opening up unprecedented business and communication. His foundation promotes good governance in Africa, awarding the largest financial prize in the world ($5m plus $200,000 a year for life) to an African leader every year.

20. Robert Iger

Cartoon hero

As the Walt Disney Company's CEO, Robert Iger is the head of the world's largest media conglomerate. Through entertainment phenomena such as Hannah Montana, he controls the deepest desires of the next generation; he also directs the TV news giant ABC and sports channel ESPN. In 2006, he acquired the digital animation studios Pixar, cemented a relationship with Apple's Steve Jobs and signed a $6bn merger with Marvel comics, adding more than 2,000 characters to Disney's repertoire.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hopep to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.