Obama Invokes Mahatma Gandhi During Nelson Mandela Lecture

During a tribute to South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, former U.S. President Barack Obama cautioned against the rising “strongman politics.”


Former U.S. President Barack Obama invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr during a speech he made in honor of South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on July 17. In an address marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mandela, Obama also spoke in favor of democracy and against the rising “strongman politics” in the world.

“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision, I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King, 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 and are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

“And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuits of a common good. That’s what I believe,” Obama said at the 16th annual Nelson Mandela Lecture.

In one of his most significant appearances and incisive political comments since he left office in 2017, Obama launched a veiled attack on U.S. President Donald Trump. Without naming the Republican American leader, Obama said, “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. It used to be that if you caught them lying, they’d be like, oh man — now they just keep on lying.”

Obama’s speech, titled “Renewing the Mandela legacy and promoting active citizenship in a changing world,” also highlighted the increase in fake news, suppression of freedom of press and increasing rejection of the concept of objective truth. “People just make stuff up. We see it in the growth of state-sponsored propaganda, we see it in internet-driven fabrications, in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment,” he said.

The former U.S. President has not spoken openly about the current political climate in the United States, and the controversial policies launched by the Trump administration. He, however, said during the speech, “Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”

He urged people to resist cynicism. “Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the 90s, people now are talking about the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. But we need to resist that cynicism.”

Obama also pointed out that some far-right parties in the West have a “barely hidden racial nationalism.” Speaking about structures of privilege and power around the world, he said, “Caste differences still impact the life chances of people on the Indian subcontinent. Ethnic and religious differences still determine who gets opportunity from the Central Europe to the Gulf. It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa.”

Obama, who became the first black President of the United States in 2009, has been influenced a lot by Mahatma Gandhi. He had a picture of Gandhi on the wall of his Senate office and also cited him during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, PTI reported.

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