Former US president Barack Obama will be returning to South Africa—this time to deliver the annual Nelson Mandela lecture.
Obama will deliver the 16th annual lecture to mark the centennial of Mandela’s birth, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement on Monday April 23.
Themed, “Renewing the Mandela Legacy & Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World,” Obama’s speech will focus on working across ideological lines and resisting oppression and inequality. As previous speakers have looked at the world’s problems through gender or global economics, Obama seems to be addressing growing intolerance in a world where extremist views are increasingly finding a mainstream platform in western countries including the United States, France and Germany.
Obama’s brand of beer diplomacy was not always successful, especially on issues of race, but it brought to the table the voices of marginalized groups who were often excluded from White House talks. Globally, he shook hands with old adversaries and championed greater cooperation, seeing the advantages of a globalized economy for the US. Now, however, under president Donald Trump the US is no longer perceived as holding the global stature it did.
Speaking to Obama’s former speechwriter, the New York Times portrayed the lecture as setting the tone of Obama’s post-White House career as one of championing tolerance, in contrast to the current American administration. Obama is unlikely to directly take a dig at president Donald Trump, but his speech could address “an enhanced sense of tribalism in the world,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama’s former speechwriter.
“Our unifying theory is that the best way to promote inclusive and democratic societies is by empowering young people in civil society,” said Rhodes, who still acts as an advisor to Obama. Obama is expected to write his own speech, as he practically rewrote the eulogy Rhodes wrote for him when he spoke at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013.
Where the current administration seems to have forgotten about Africa (or just insulting it), Obama is still looking to the continent as a key future player. He will also use his visit to South Africa to launch his new program, Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa. The five-day program will begin after the lecture and include 200 young Africans, the Obama Foundation said.
The course follows the announcement of the inaugural of the year-long Obama Foundation Fellows, a group of diverse young people involved their communities around the world—exactly the kind of America and global community that Obama tried to champion and now seems out of reach again.
Usually held at a university campus, it’s the first time the July 17 lecture will be held in a sporting arena in downtown Johannesburg. With 4,000 people expected to attend, it could be a signal that organizers are expecting Obama to pull larger crowd than previous speakers.
In the past, former president Bill Clinton, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, Africa’ first female head of state, former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have all delivered the address. In 2016, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates used his address to urge young Africans to drive innovation to change the continent.