Three learnings from Obama’s Mandela Lecture

On 17 July, former US President Barack Obama delivered the Nelson Mandela annual lecture on renewing the Mandela legacy and promoting active citizenship in a changing world. In what’s been said to be Obama’s most important speech since having left office in 2017, the former president was chosen for being a representation of what Madiba stood for. As for the hour and a half long speech, Obama suggested three guideposts for the road ahead that draw on Mandela’s work, words and life lessons.

Obama’s guideposts, inspired by Madiba

  1. Those of us who still believe in freedom and in democracy, we must fight harder for it in order to encourage economic opportunity for everyone, for there is talent everywhere in the world when given a chance. It’s imperative that we measure our well-being by comparing ourselves to our neighbours and whether or not we can expect that our children will live a better life. To understand that when economic power is kept in the hands of the few, political power is certain to follow is important – history has proven this and it is the demise of democracy. Note that protesting is not enough. It’s necessary to build, innovate and close the wealth and opportunity gap within and between countries (A great way to do this is volunteering through forgood!).
  2. We are bound together by a shared humanity where everyone has inherent dignity and worth. Unfortunately, we’re finding ourselves fighting for elemental human rights, still using superficial differences as guiding principles for how we care for and respect one another. We must resist that the concepts of freedom to dissent, inequality between gender, sexual orientation, religion and race and the treatment of minorities are anything but universal imperatives. It’s possible own our individual identities without condemning others’.
  3. Democracy is so much more than elections… it comes from the bottom up, not the top down. It is about minority rights, checks and balances, freedom of speech, expression and press. Democracy means you can petition and protest your government while having everyone follow the law. Obama reminds us that Mandela knew this and pulled from the best democracies around the globe to build South Africa’s and although it may be slow and messy, it must be safeguarded.

The guideposts are to serve as lessons that we can’t undermine the power of democracy, the importance of our common humanity and the fact that government is meant to serve the people, not itself. After having Imparted with the audience hope inspired by the legacy of Madiba, Obama closed with some of Mandela’s truest words,

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

To read the full speech, click here.

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