10 Influential World Leaders You’ve Probably Never Heard About

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All hail…what’s that guy’s name? Well, you might not know him, but odds are he’s pretty important in his own country. Even the smallest nations are led by someone, and that person is usually a big deal.

The majority of people don’t know anything about other countries’ leaders, especially those that aren’t leading major world powers. In fact, some people can’t even identify their own leaders. A 2007 survey of Americans found that only 69 percent could identify the Vice President of the United States, the second in command. In comparison, only 36 percent of surveyed people could name the president of Russia. And Russia is a major player in world politics.

The following list is composed of world leaders who are extremely important for various reasons. Some have been in power for years. Others have made impressive accomplishments during their tenure. Some are more infamous for charges of corruption. And still more have made huge contributions to the world economy. Despite their deserving status—and despite the fact that many are leaders of big countries—most average people around the world have never heard of these heads of state. Depending on where you live, you might have been exposed to some more than others. Read through this list to get acquainted with 10 of world’s least known presidents, prime ministers, and reigning monarchs.

10. Pratibha Patil


Pratibha Patil is the 12th president of India and the first woman to fill that role. She’s been in her position since July of 2007 and is a member of the leftist Indian National Congress, or INC. Patil has been a leader in India for much of her life, having served on various national committees and in parliamentary positions before becoming Governor of Rajasthan in 2004. She also made history as the first female governor in the state.

If you haven’t heard of Patil, it’s probably because her role is largely ceremonial. Most of the executive power in India falls to the prime minister, so, for the most part, Patil isn’t the one making the big decisions for the nation. If you have heard of her, it probably was in the form of scrutiny rather than praise. While Patil has undeniably done some good things as a leader, like starting up multiple charitable organizations, she has also been associated with much controversy. Some of her pet projects have been connected with fraud, and one enterprise was found to be a drug trafficking ring, albeit after her disassociation with it. She has also been criticized for using government funds to favor her family. But despite these allegations, Patil has been extremely successful in politics. In fact, she has never lost an election.

9. Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow


As Turkmenistan’s second president, Gurbanguly Berdimunhamedow follows in the shoes of Saparnurat Niyazov, the leader who deemed himself president for life and was regarded as one of the world’s most totalitarian dictators by many outside media sources. Since his assumption of the office in late 2006, Berdimuhamedow has yet to prove himself as eccentric and corrupt as his predecessor, who renamed the months of the year after his family members. But his road to the presidency did raise charges of corruption. After Niyazov died suddenly, Berdimuhamedow was made his successor. The rules about presidential elections were then changed suddenly so he could formally run for the office, which he did, winning a reported 89 percent of the popular vote. Many international groups have called this election obviously rigged.

Berdimihamedow’s party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, is the only political group in the nation. All opposition parties have been quashed over the years. With no competition, the odds are that Berdimihamedow will remain in power for years to come. And that might have been the plan. There have been rumors that Berdimuhamedow is Niyazov’s illegitimate son.

8. Michaëlle Jean


Bet you didn’t think Canada would make the list of countries with obscure leaders. But this next person isn’t someone who’s often talked about. Michaëlle Jean is a prominent leader in Canada, though she’s not well known by people outside the country. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the political face of Canada for most people, and Jean plays an important ceremonial role as the countries’ 27th Governor General. She’s officially the representative of the British monarch in Canada, which is a Commonwealth country. But since Queen Elizabeth’s role in Canada is minor these days, Jeans position as Governor General is more for show as well.

Jean was nominated for her role by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, and she took office in 2005. She is the first Canadian governor general of Caribbean origin and the third woman in that role. Before her appointment, Jean worked as a journalist for a variety of Canadian television programs in both French and English. She has studied at universities all over the world and speaks five languages fluently.

7. Beatrix of the Netherlands


Did you know about the Netherlands’ queen? The Dutch monarchy is one of the oldest in Europe, but its members aren’t often in the press. Therefore, you may not be aware that Queen Beatrix is the current monarch of the Netherlands, having been in power since 1980. In fact, Beatrix’s foreign obscurity is protected by law; there is a special Dutch law that prohibits the press from quoting Beatrix in publications. It’s meant to keep the queen from slipping up with unplanned comments, but the law actually serves to keep a lot of what Beatrix says off the newsstand. The Dutch monarchy is something of a spectacle in Northern Europe, but Beatrix and her family aren’t well known outside the area.

Like most European monarchs, Beatrix’s role is more ceremonial than political. In the Dutch constitution, the queen is granted much political authority, but in practice, most of the government work is left to the Dutch parliament. But although Beatrix’s power is minimal, she is a very important figurehead in Europe and deserves to be known throughout the world.

6. Zillur Rahman


Becoming president without any opposition seems strange in counties like the United States, where the nomination and campaign seasons take up the news for the greater part of two years. But there have been some presidents in the world who have been the only candidate for the position in an election. Bangladesh’s 19th president, Zillur Rahman, came to power in early 2009 after he was declared the winner of an election that he ran in unopposed. One-candidate elections seem ordinary enough in Bangladesh; Rahman’s predecessor also won the presidency in an uncontested race.

The presidency is Bangladesh is largely a ceremonial office, with most executive power in the country going to the prime minister. That setup suits Rahman well; he is 80 years old now and will be 85 at the end of his term.

5. John Atta Mills


John Atta Mills is the current president of Ghana, having been inaugurated in early 2009. His many accomplishments, both inside and out of the political world, make him well worth knowing.

Mills had an illustrious political career before becoming Ghana’s fourth president after a hard-fought, three-part election. In fact, he was the vice president of the country from 1997 to 2001. But it is his academic accomplishments that have made him most known throughout the world. Mills earned a Ph.D. in Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in the 1970s, and after his studies, he was invited to Stanford Law School on a Fulbright Scholarship. Since then, Mills has been active as a professor. He has travelled all around the world delivering talks to young law students.

Mills is also an athlete; he once played for Ghana’s national hockey team and is still a veteran member of the group. As an active member of the academic and athletic worlds, Mills knows how to work hard to achieve his goals. His presidency may become another accomplishment on his list.

4. Ivo Sanader


Ivo Sanader is someone you should know for his unwavering service to his home county, Croatia. Sanader is Croatia’s prime minister and one of the country’s most popular politicians. He came into power in late 2003 and serves as head of government, officially sharing leadership duties with the president. Sanader’s main goal in his position is to get Croatia accepted into the European Union, a feat which many people consider likely to happen soon.

Sanader is well loved and considered a strong leader, but he has been the focus of some controversy. Most notably, he was the topic of extensive tabloid drama after it was reported that he owned more than €150,000 worth of watches. Sanader never claimed the watches among his assets. Still, most Croatians have forgiven Sanader for the watch mishap, preferring to focus on his many strong leadership skills.

3. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi


Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi is the prime minister of Samoa, and he’s been quite a character since his 1998 ascension to the office. Malielegaoi was the first Samoan ever to get a master’s degree, which he was awarded in the field of economics in 1980. He’s been a very vocal Pacific leader during his time as prime minister, making some of the most vehement objections to the Fijian leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who came to power after a coup d’etat. But it’s not Malielegaoi’s international politics that have made him famous; it’s his less important antics that have gotten the most attention. His government passed legislation to switch Samoan driving from the left side to the right. He said his reasoning was linked to the fight against global warming.

Malielegaoi was also the first Samoan to compete for his country at an international, multi-sport event. In 2007, he won the silver medal for team target archery at the South Pacific Games. He took up the sport just five months prior to the event. So for his outspoken political personality and his eccentric ways, Maliegaoi deserves to be on the world’s radar.

2. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono


As the sixth president of Indonesia, Susilo Yudhoyono is the most powerful person in the Pacific country. He’s been in power since 2004 and is a retired military general. Yudhoyono has made great progress during his time in office, facilitating a free trade agreement between Indonesia and Japan and expanding the Indonesian education and healthcare systems. He’s a true reformer.

Interestingly, Yudhoyono received his Ph.D. in agriculture just two days before winning the presidency in a greatly publicized runoff. He’s also made great strides in dealing with Suharto, the former Indonesian president who was in power for more than 30 years. Before Suharto’s death, Yudhoyono helped the Indonesian people come to terms with this former ruler, who was regarded with mixed feelings.

“Yudhoyono” is not the prime minister’s family name, although it is the name he is referred to outside of Indonesia. In the country, he is known by his first name, “Susilo.” Yudhoyono was the name he chose to be called in his early military days. Regardless of what you call him, keep Indonesia’s leader in sight—he’s going places.

1. Hamad bin Jassin bin Jaber al Thani


His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani is a big deal. He’s a member of the royal family of Qatar and currently serves as the country’s prime minister and foreign minister. He’s the cousin to the emir—or supreme ruler—of the government, and he played a role in overthrowing his uncle, the former emir, in 1995.

Prime Minister Hamad plays a huge role in the global economy. He’s the richest man in Qatar and the fifth richest man in the world. He has holdings in many foreign businesses and is said to have close ties to the United States government. He also serves on the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institute. So while you may not pay attention to the secondary leaders in the Middle East, Prime Minister Hamad is someone worth knowing about. With his massive wealth and influence, you never know what he’ll be doing next.