Notable SOAS alumni



Chief Justice Dr Shirani A Bandaranayake
PhD Law (1986)

After SOAS Chief justice Bandaranayake returned to Sri Lanka and served at the Faculty of Law University of Colombo until 1996 in several capacities including as Associate Professor of Law and Dean. In 1996 she was appointed to the Supreme Court, as the first woman to hold that position and in 2011 she became the first woman Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. She retired in 2015.


Ambassador Johnnie Carson
MA International Relations (1976)

Ambassador Johnnie Carson spent 37 years with the US foreign service, mostly on assignments throughout Africa. His ambassadorial postings were in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya, after which he retired from the Foreign Service in 2003. He then joined the National Defense University in Washington DC as Senior Vice President and in 2006 was appointed National Intelligence Officer for Africa by the National Intelligence Council. In 2009, he was made Assistant Secretary for African Affairs by President Obama. He is now a Senior Advisor at the US Institute for Peace and at the business strategy firm, Albright Stonebridge Group.


Dr Gus Casely-Hayford OBE
PhD African History (1992)

Gus Casely-Harford is a curator, cultural historian, broadcaster and lecturer and the current Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. He presented the Lost Kingdoms of Africa series for the BBC in 2010, presenting a second series in 2012, as well as other cultural programmes for Channel 4 and Sky Arts. Dr Casely-Hayford was the executive director of Arts Strategy for Arts Council England, the head of the British Museum's diversity programme and has acted as an advisor to several bodies, including the UN, Canada Council and the Dutch and Norwegian Arts Councils. He has been a trustee for numerous cultural organisations and was made a SOAS Honorary Fellow in 2016. He was awarded an OBE in 2018 for his services to Arts and Culture.


Dr Benjamin Dix
BA Political Geography (2002)

Benjamin Dix is the founder and executive director of PositiveNegatives, which produces animations, comics and podcasts on social and humanitarian issues such as asylum, migration, conflict and racism. Dr Dix has worked as a Communications Manager for a number of NGOs and the UN in Asia and Africa, including in North Sri Lanka from 2004 until 2008, during the conflict there. He has also worked as a photojournalist in India. Dr Dix is a Senior Fellow at SOAS and a Research Associate at the University of Sussex, from where he has an MA in Anthropology of Conflict and Violence and a Doctorate in Anthropology.


Jamie DrummondJamie Drummond
MSc Development Studies (1992)

Jamie Drummond is an advocacy entrepreneur and co-founder of the pressure group ONE, which campaigns against extreme poverty and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in Africa. Jamie was previously the Global Strategist for Drop the Debt, which helped cancel $110billion of African debt and the co-founder of, which helped to campaign for aid for the health sector and boost trade deals in Africa.


Dr Meenu Gaur
PhD Film and History (2010)

Dr Meenu Gaur is an award-winning independent filmmaker and screenwriter, working in the UK, Pakistan and India. She is best known for her Pakistani feature film ‘Zinda Bhaag’, which she co-directed with Farjab Nabi in 2013. In 2017, her film ‘Barzakh: between Heaven & Hell’ was shown at the Locarno Film Festival. Dr Gaur is also the co-editor of 'Indian Mass Media and the Politics of Change', published by Routledge in 2011.



Bernard smallBernard Herzberg
MA African Studies (2006)

Bernhard Herzberg was an anti-apartheid activist and entrepreneur, who was born in Germany in 1909 and emigrated to South Africa soon after the Nazis came to power. He established an industrial chemical company after the war and worked as a trade unionist, founding the Cape Town branch of the Jewellers and Goldsmiths' Union. In 1985 he emigrated to the UK and founded a chemical distribution company, which is still operational. Upon retirement, at the age of 81 he became a student and was awarded a BA in German and an MA in Refugee Studies by the University of East London. He was due to hand in his MA dissertation in African Studies at SOAS shortly before he died.


Lesetja Kganyago
MSc Development Economics (1994)

Lesetja Kganyago has been the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank since 2014. He started his career as an accountant, firstly with First National Bank and then with the ANC. He became a civil servant in 1996 when he joined the South African National Treasury Department, working his way through the ranks to Deputy Governor and then Governor. He has represented South Africa in several international organisations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and has co-chaired the G20 Working Group on the reform of the IMF.


Lily Lapenna MBE
BA Development Studies (2003)

Lily Lapenna is an entrepreneur and thought leader in the areas of leadership and social impact. She is the founder and Co-Chair of the global social enterprise, an award-winning organisation which supports young people to become financially resilient. Ms Lapenna successfully campaigned to include financial education into the UK school curriculum and sits on the Financial Capability Strategy Board. She is an advisor to the Saïd Business School, Oxford, a Senior Fellow at Occidental College, California and works as a consultant, coach and public speaker on leadership and entrepreneurship. She was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was awarded an MBE in 2017 for her work in financial services and entrepreneurship.


Rozita Lotfi
MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies (2004)

Rozita Lotfi is a journalist and Head of the BBC Persian Service since 2016. She joined the BBC Persian service in 1996 as a producer and worked in various editorial roles. She was a member of the launch team for the BBC Persian TV channel in 2009 and has worked in World Service English, BBC World News TV and as the News Editor for Persian Radio and TV.



Akuja Mading de Garang MBE 
MSc Violence, Conflict and Development, (2003) BA African Studies (2002)

Akuja Mading de Garang is an international development practitioner who has worked as a project manager in technical and advisory roles for the UN, the EU and the Government of South Sudan. Born in southern Sudan, she was forced to flee the country with her family when civil war broke out in 1983 and she settled in the UK. She is currently a consultant for Mott MacDonald, in charge of a £70 million DFID project that is addressing barriers to girls' education in South Sudan. In 2017 she was awarded the MBE for advocacy of girls' education and social development in South Sudan.


Julia Onslow Cole
LLB Hons (1981)

Julia Onslow-Cole is Partner at Fragomen, specialising in Global Government Strategies and Compliance. She was previously Partner, Legal Markets Leader and Head of Global Immigration at PwC. She has over 20 years experience in providing specialist immigration advice and is ranked No. 1 in the legal directories. She has also been voted the UK’s ‘Experts Expert’ by Legal Business. She has extensive expertise in global immigration governance and risk management for international businesses and has led a number of high-profile crisis management projects from an immigration angle, including the Arab Spring and the Algeria crisis. Ms Onslow-Cole is a member of the UK Association for European Law, as well as fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies and an expert to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. She sits on the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s Brexit Experts Advisory Group and was recently appointed to the newly established Home Office EU Immigration Employers’ Representative Group. Among other things, Julia Onslow-Cole is also a contributing co-editor to several leading textbooks on immigration law, including Butterworths Handbook on Immigration Law and she is a general editor of Tottel’s Immigration Law and Practice.


Dr Walter Rodney
PhD African History (1966)

Dr Walter Rodney was a prominent Guyanese political activist, historian and academic, who was assassinated in 1980 at the age of 38. His dissertation on the slave trade in the Upper Guinea Coast was published in 1970 and was widely acclaimed for challenging the conventional wisdom on the topic. Dr Rodney became internationally known as a scholar, activist and speaker and taught at the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of the West Indies in Mona. He became a prominent Pan-Africanist and was an important figure in the Black Power movement in the Caribbean and North America. In 1974, the Guyanese government prevented him from taking up an appointment as professor at the University of Guyana, whereupon he founded the Working People's Alliance party to provide an opposition to the government ruled by the PNC.


AchimAchim Steiner
MA African Studies (1985)

Achim Steiner is the current UN Under-Secretary-General, Administrator of the UN Development Programme. He has occupied this role since June 2017, after his nomination by Secretary-General António Guterres in April 2017. Mr Steiner also stands as the Vice-Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group. His dedication to delivering on key Sustainable Development Goals and promoting economic growth spans more than three decades and continues to inform his work at the UN. 


AchimJustice Professor Nii Ashie Kotey
PhD Law (1981), LLM (1977)

His Lordship Justice Professor Nii Ashie Kotey is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court, he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Law,  University of Ghana and as Director, Ghana School of Law. His wealth of experience both in academia and practice has enriched a wide range of boards. He is currently the Chairman of the Independent Examinations Committee of the General Legal Council, the Judicial Training Institute of the Judicial Service of Ghana and the Governing Council of the Presbyterian University College of Ghana (PUCG).