Former American president Barack Obama traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa on July 17 to deliver the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, the latest in a series of speeches given by luminaries like Bill Gates, Kofi Annan, Wangari Maathai and Bill Clinton. Obama’s speech was informed by the teachings of the lecture series’ namesake, whom Obama referred to as “Madiba,” a sign of respect for Mandela’s African heritage and the former president’s admiration for Mandela.
Obama’s speech, with the theme of “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World,” was delivered to over 15,000 attendees, and kept in line with Obama’s history as a thoughtful, composed orator. He touched on topics ranging from economics to democratic philosophy to social media, consistently referring back to Mandela’s actions and writings, holding up the South African president’s legacy as a gold standard for leadership. While Obama refrained from directly referencing his successor by name, parts of the speech highlight the challenges Donald Trump faces.
Take a look at key selections from the lecture below and watch the full speech above.
Addressing social justice:
“More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here at a lecture and devote some time to saying that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect. I would have thought we would have figured that out by now. I thought that basic notion was well established. But it turns out, as we’re seeing in this recent drift into reactionary politics, that the struggle for basic justice is never truly finished.”
On the challenges Trump faces with technology:
“The biggest challenge for your new President, when we think about how we’re going to employ more people here, is going to be also technology, because artificial intelligence is here, and it is accelerating, and you’re going to have driverless cars, and you’re going to have more and more automated services, and that’s going to make the job of giving everybody work that is meaningful tougher, and we’re going to have to be more imaginative.”
On fake news and truth in reporting:
“Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda. We see it in Internet-driven fabrications. We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment. We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders, where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. … I don’t think of myself as a great leader just because I don’t completely make stuff up. You’d think that was a baseline.”
The future of employment:
“It’s not just money that a job provides; it provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we’re going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review our work week and how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. We’re going to have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track.”
Democracy’s enduring importance:
“Democracy depends on strong institutions, and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances, and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press, and the right to protest and petition the government, and an independent judiciary, and everybody having to follow the law. And, yes, democracy can be messy, and it can be slow, and it can be frustrating. But the efficiency that’s offered by an autocrat, that’s a false promise. . . . It leads invariably to more consolidation of wealth at the top and power at the top, and it makes it easier to conceal corruption and abuse.”
A message to the youth:
“Keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” Now is a good time to be aroused. Now is a good time to be fired up. And, for those of us who care about the legacy that we honor here today—about equality and dignity and democracy and solidarity and kindness, those of us who remain young at heart, if not in body—we have an obligation to help our youth succeed.”
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