JOHANNESBURG – Former US President Barack Obama urged people on Tuesday to recall the late Nelson Mandela’s vision of a better world, saying it can serve as a counterweight to present-day cynicism and the rise of fear-based politics.
Obama made his remarks at a conference in Johannesburg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mandela (1918-2013), South Africa’s first head of state under majority rule.
Mandela served just one term as president, but he is credited with promoting reconciliation among white and black South Africans and helping to avert widespread racial violence in the post-apartheid era.
“So on Madiba’s (Mandela’s) 100th birthday, we now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?” Obama said in his speech at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.
“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by (Mahatma) Gandhi and (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal,” Obama told the audience of around 15,000 people, including several African heads of state and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Obama, however, warned about a backlash that threatens what had appeared to be the “inevitable triumph of liberal democracy and the virtues of the global supply chain.”
He mentioned transnational terrorist networks, an aggressive Russia and the rise of populist movements that “tapped the unease that was felt by many people who lived outside of the urban cores.”
Referring to the latter, he said those movements were often “cynically funded by right-wing billionaires intent on reducing government constraints on their business interests.”