Before his inauguration today President Barack Obama received a hand delivered letter from Nelson Mandela. He praised Obama for bring a new voice of hope to the world’s problems.
Mandela wrote, “Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done. Amidst all of the human progress made over the last century the world in which we live remains one of great divisions, conflict, inequality, poverty and injustice. Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place.”
He made the comparison between Obama’s inauguration and South Africa’s transition to democracy, “We are in some ways reminded today of the excitement and enthusiasm in our own country at the time of our transition to democracy. People, not only in our country but around the world, were inspired to believe that through common human effort injustice can be overcome and that together a better life for all can be achieved.”
Mandela wrote about the excitement in Africa over Obama, “There is a special excitement on our continent today, Mister President, in the knowledge that you have such strong personal ties with Africa. We share in that excitement and pride. We are aware that the expectations of what your Presidency will achieve are high and that the demands on you will be great. We therefore once more wish you and your family strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead. You will always be in our affection as a young man who dared to dream and to pursue that dream. We wish you well.”
Nelson Mandela’s letter serves as a reminder that Obama, more than other recent presidents, has global expectations on him. Mandela is right about the enthusiasm about Obama. It is almost palpable everywhere you go. Part of this is due to the new president himself, but I suspect that a big chunk of it is also due to the country’s desire for a fresh start, and to forget about the Bush years. Mandela’s eloquent letter demonstrates that hope is a universal message.