President Barack Obama Nelson Mandela
On July 18, 2018, Nelson Mandela Day, former U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech in honor of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his legacy that continues in today’s world. The day marked 100 years since his birth and led to Obama speaking about the progress made in that time span. Despite the many people still oppressed by corrupt political systems, Obama suggested tactics that could promote a bright future.

Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day was made official on November 10, 2009. The United Nations General Assembly declared that the humanitarian’s birthday, July 18, would be internationally recognized to honor his achievements and philosophy. The General Assembly deemed it necessary to acknowledge Mandela’s peaceful methods of conflict resolution every year.

Mandela witnessed South Africa’s former apartheid take away human rights from the black race. This led to his advocacy work for blacks and impoverished communities along with his subsequent role of the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

Key Points in Obama’s Speech

In his speech, Obama made parallels between the political turmoil in Mandela’s lifetime and that which still exists today. He said that advancements in technology, poverty reduction, health and international trade have led to more peace. However, there’s a danger in prioritizing innovation and business interests over human needs. New machines can increase efficiency and production, but this hurts the common worker by eliminating jobs. If political leaders worked to raise people out of poverty, it would promote democracy in their government.

Obama went on to stress the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Advancements in the economy just provide those in power the chance to widen the disparity between themselves and the poor. People living in the top one percent do not need every penny they have to spend on luxuries since they have an excess of money. Even a small amount of that excess could help people in need. In other words, people do not have to commit themselves to a life of poverty in order to help lift others out of poverty.

Since his speech was in honor of Nelson Mandela Day, he brought up the philosophies Mandela wanted to see in future generations. When he became president, his declarations were not drafted for the sole use of South Africa. He believed in human rights for people all over the world.

Obama outlined what a democracy needs in order to be successful, including open-minded people and transparency. Decision makers must be receptive to opposing viewpoints. Even though a country might uphold a democratic system, that doesn’t mean those in power always base their actions on that philosophy. Instead of spreading lies and propaganda that only serve their personal interests, political leaders must be honest with their citizens.

Continuing the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Organizations based in South Africa are continuing work beyond Nelson Mandela Day. Rebecca’s Well is an organization that supports women on their journeys to become contributing members of society by offering to help fund their education and by providing counseling services after a divorce. Much like the activism done by Mandela, these actions ensure that a marginalized group of people receive a fair chance of fulfilling their potential.

In terms of Obama’s message about global progress, the New Voices Fellowship casts the spotlight on innovative minds from developing countries. The most effective way to help tackle poverty is by consulting with those experiencing it. With that in mind, the organization proposes solutions for how to generate income, increase access to medical services and invent technology that helps the lives of people in need.

Obama said that no one, not even Mandela during his presidency, is immune to the dangerous lure of power. Mandela recognized that truth, which is why he brought democracy to South Africa. Governments need to be reminded of it to ensure that people are free to express their opinions about how their government is being run. Citizens have power too.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr