Former US president Barack Obama took aim at “strongman politics” in his highest-profile speech since leaving office, in what appeared to be a dig at his successor, Donald Trump.
Mr Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other values now under threat in an impassioned address marking the 100th anniversary of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Mr Obama opened by calling today’s times “strange and uncertain”, adding that “each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines”.
These days “we see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business”, he said without mentioning Mr Trump by name.
He targeted politicians pushing “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment”, saying they are on the move “at a pace unimaginable just a few years ago”.
He spoke up for equality in all forms, saying that “I would have thought we had figured that out by now”, and he even invoked the World Cup-winning French team and its diversity.
He warned that countries that engage in xenophobia “eventually … find themselves consumed by civil war”.
And he noted the “utter loss of shame among political leaders when they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more”, warning that the denial of facts, such as that of climate change, could be the undoing of democracy.
He received a standing ovation.
This was Mr Obama’s first visit to Africa since leaving office in early 2017.
He stopped earlier this week in Kenya, where he visited the rural birthplace of his late father.
Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990 and became South Africa’s first black president four years later, died in 2013, leaving a powerful legacy of reconciliation and diversity along with a resistance to inequality, economic and otherwise.
Until Tuesday, Mr Obama had shied away from public comment on Mr Trump, whose administration has reversed or attacked notable achievements of his predecessor.
Mr Obama’s speech drew on his great admiration for Mandela, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner whom America’s first black president saw as a mentor.
When Mr Obama was a US senator he had his picture taken with Mandela.
After Mr Obama became president he sent a copy of the photo to Mandela, who kept it in his office.
Mr Obama also made a point of visiting Mandela’s prison cell and gave a moving eulogy at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, saying the South African leader’s life had inspired him.
Many South Africans view Mr Obama as a successor to Mandela because of his groundbreaking role and his support for racial equality in the US and around the world.