Barack Obama Preached Equality & Justice In One of His First High-Profile Appearances Since Leaving Office

Former President Barack Obama addressed a crowd of nearly 15,000 people in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday in one of his most high-profile appearances since departing the White House. Obama made the trip to deliver a speech in honor of the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth. 

"We have to follow Madiba's example of persistence and hope," Obama said, referring to Mandela by his clan name. "It's tempting right now to give in to cynicism. To believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back. That the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the '90s, now you're hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism, because we've been through darker times."

Obama continued praising Mandela throughout his speech, calling the South African political leader "one of history's true giants." But for Obama, Mandela's perspective is needed now, more than ever.

"Mandela said, 'Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom," Obama said. "Now's a good time to be aroused."

Though the former president never mentioned the current one by name, he did make vague references to things like "fake news," Russia meddling in the 2016 election, politicians' continued lies, and more. 

"The free press is under attack. Censorship and state control of media is on the rise," Obama said. "Social media – once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge and understanding and solidarity – has proved to be just as effective promoting hatred and paranoia and propaganda and conspiracy theories."

Obama addressed a number of other problems plaguing both the U.S. and entire world, ranging from xenophobia to wealth inequality. Ultimately, though, he wants people to keep fighting for progress. 

"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 they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights," Obama said. "And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe."

He continued, "And I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence."

Read the full speech here.