What Obama’s Mandela Lecture Taught Me

The Youth are the key to advancement in South Africa – Obama at the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

Barack Obama, former President of the United States of America gave the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual lecture. This was the most significant speech President Obama gave since leaving office. The theme of the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was “ Be the Legacy”, which marked the the centenary of the anti-apartheid leader’s birth. This theme was created to encourage South Africans to positively represent the change they want to see in the world. There was no one better to deliver this lecture other than the first African-American President of the United States. In many respect Obama was likened to Madiba as he was the first black President of South Africa. Obama used this opportunity to discuss some of the controversial issues in the world at large such as dictatorship, hope and discrimination to mention but a few.

As youths in South Africa, Barack Obama coming to deliver this lecture to all South Africans on this this historic day was both galvanizing and emancipating. Obama represents hope and can be seen as a key to racial legacy, these are the same ideologies that Nelson Mandela stood for, hence the South Africans can easily connect with his him and what he stands for. The eulogy took the audience on a timeline of the past and illustrated how it shaped the present.

These are vital points Obama addressed in his speech:


Democracy is messy, Obama said, “but the efficiency of an autocrat is a false promise”. He went on to state that it was time for everyone to stop paying all attention to the world’s capitals and focus on the world’s grassroots, which is where democracy stems from.He warned against creeping populism and “strongman politics”, and supported firmly liberal democracy, saying that he believed it offered the better future for humanity. “I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision” for the world’s future, he said, “I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible”. “It can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good,” he added. Things may go backwards for a while, but – ultimately – right makes might,” Mr Obama said. “Not the other way around.”

His speech reinforced the ideology that there is a strong need to pursue a culture of democratic participation, especially among young people. Young people today are endowed with equal and better opportunities to acquire information and attain knowledge about the idea of democracy and politics. This equal opportunity stretches out to participation of youth in democratic decisions like taking part in elections.


“Keep believing. Keep marching. Keep building. Keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world,” Mr Obama said, ending his speech on a positive note. This message was directed to the young people of South Africa who have an incredibly
important role to play in the advancement of the country. Youths look up to politicians who continue to feed them stories of youth employment and opportunities but to no avail. The young generations may not have witnessed first hand the issues that came with Apartheid but they are constantly affected by its aftermath. Young people in South Africa have condoned far too long the poor governance and slow economic growth. Young people, especially in rural areas in the country, have little to no hope when it comes to seeking opportunities. Obama called on young people listening to him to get “fired up” and be the change they wanted in the world. As a youth, this theme was very significant in empowering the young generation to take initiative to better themselves and the country.


In his lecture, Obama shed some light on the issue of dictatorship. This is very problematic especially in Africa, where individuals in power are reluctant to pass the baton to younger able people. “Strong-man politics is ascending suddenly whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, a form of it, but those in power seem to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning,” Obama said. Examples of this are seen everyday, with the likes of Mugabe the former President of Zimbabwe, and Biya of Cameroon, to mention but a few.

This norm is not only seen in politics but in the many industries that make up the economy of the country. Young people are not given an opportunity to be showcase their talent and climb up the hierarchy ladder because of the totalitarian power in those sectors. This in turn blocks innovation and advancement of the country.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Mandela believed in the potential of the youth of South Africa to change the world and how people view it. “The most important thing about young people is the way their minds work. Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past.” Demographically, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and its youth can be the source of a special dynamism.

Philanthropist Bill Gates shares the views of both Mandela and Obama when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa being spearheaded by young people. He states that the African entrepreneurs are driving thousands of business startups that are already changing daily life across the continent. Studies of entrepreneurship and critical thinking should therefore be prioritised by the education system in order to develop the best youth that will help the country.It was therefore important for Obama to come and reinforce this message to the young people of South Africa.


Mandela was an advocate for globalization. He was passionate about connecting the South and the North so as to promote a common humanity, to fight inequality and provide a moral compass for the world. But in doing so, Mandela never lost his heritage, Obama emphasizes on
this point that globalisation in as much as it is spreading ideas and ways of life, it should not disrupt our own heritage. This is important for young people to hear from such a respectable person because nowadays there is cultural decadence that is taking over, because of globalisation. Social Class ladder imbalance Barack Obama said the world’s elite were out of touch with the lives of the poor. “In their business dealings, many titans of industry are increasingly detached from any nation state” and they “live lives more and more isolated from ordinary people”, he said. As a result, their decisions to “shut down a factory” were seen as simply a “rational response” to shareholders’ demands.

Barack Obama took this event to talk about all these issues that are affecting the world at large. As a youth, his speech was very empowering, because he spoke about the prominent issues being faced by many young people, such as trying to climb the social ladder, or power hierarchy but being blocked by selfish individuals or by being judged based on your ethnicity, religion, race and gender. He encouraged all the youth to “fire it up” and keep moving.


What do you think?

235 Points
Upvote Downvote

Written by mathsgee


Leave a Reply



Become an Accounting Technician in South Africa

Pre-Tertiary School English

Is this the solution to accelerate SA land reform?