On Tuesday the 17th of July 2018 former president Barack Obama delivered a lecture on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late statesman Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa.
Nelson Mandela is an African Icon and a global symbol of such epic proportions that I am sure even he would be hard pressed to walk in the shoes the world but we should try to find the Nelson Mandela inside of us
Madiba’s light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Robben Island cell, that he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to make me consider the small role I might play in bending the arc of the world towards justice.
“Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its on judgments”
Zefram Cochrane – Star Trek First Contact
In a lecture to celebrate the birth and life of one of history’s giants, President Obama touched on three distinct facets of the last 100 years of history:
- Where we have been
- How we arrived here
- And the way forward
Where we have been:
And such a view of the world – that certain races, certain nations, certain groups were inherently superior, and that violence and coercion is the primary basis for governance, that the strong necessarily exploit the weak, that wealth is determined primarily by conquest – that view of the world was hardly confined to relations between Europe and Africa, or relations between whites and blacks.Whites were happy to exploit other whites when they could. And by the way, blacks were often willing to exploit other blacks. And around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives.Women were almost uniformly subordinate to men. Privilege and status was rigidly bound by caste and color and ethnicity and religion. And even in my own country, even in democracies like the United States, founded on a declaration that all men are created equal, racial segregation and systemic discrimination was the law in almost half the country and the norm throughout the rest of the country.
That was the world just 100 years ago.
How we arrived here:
A second World War, even more terrible than the first, along with a cascade of liberation movements from Africa to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, would finally bring an end to colonial rule.
A new age began founded on principles of democracy, rule of law, civil rights where the marginalised could re-imagine themselves in a world of freedom equal rights and democracy…..
But it hasnt all been sunshine roses and progress. Globalization and technology though growing economies have greatly reduced the demand for workers and by extension influence of labour movements resulting in economic inequality “a few individuals control the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity”
The politics of fear and resentment is now the order of the day, as those in power corrupted by unaccountability and greed seek to maintain their influence and wealth at the expense of basic rights of everyone else through lies and coercion.
“Who needs free speech as long as the economy is fine”
No individual – not Mandela, not Obama – are entirely immune to the corrupting influences of absolute power if you can do whatever you want and everyone’s too afraid to tell you when you’re making a mistake. No one is immune from the dangers of that.
“In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same”
The way forward
So on Madiba’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?
The president’s lecture has been said to be a rebuke to particular individuals but without mentioning any names and some have felt targeted by the speech but I kept thinking of a quote from one the books on Obama’s Summer reading list
An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned
–Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
It basically means that someone who has a problem with something cannot easily laugh it off or take it lightly; hence, old women (who typically have dry bones) feel uneasy when dry bones are mentioned.
“We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past.”
Basically democracy is more than just elections we need to work harder to achieve equality; to strive to embrace people with views divergent from ours and the power is in the hands of the youth to remake the world
President Obama’s closing remarks are the kind which 100 years from now we will look back upon and say this is when history was made:
Madiba reminds us that: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. 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.” Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, “they kept the march going, that’s why we live under new banners of freedom.”
“Its a long walk to freedom.”
Did you see the speech what are your thoughts?
You can read the full transcript of the speech here: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AT THE 2018 NELSON MANDELA ANNUAL LECTURE
Images courtesy The Obama Foundation