Of Book Recommendations and Barack Obama’s speech at Mandela100

In April, we reported that Former U.S. president Barack Obama would embark on his first trip to the continent since he left office this July, where he’ll visit his ancestral home of Kenya, before heading to South Africa to deliver the keynote address on the eve of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday.

Yesterday, the world leader finally gave his 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, which was organised in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, to a stadium filled with 15000 people and even more who tuned into the lecture online. Before heading to the South African nation however, the 44th American president shared his reading list majority comprising authors from the continent.

“Over the years since, I’ve often drawn inspiration from Africa’s extraordinary literary tradition,” said the former head of state on his Facebook page. “As I prepare for this trip, I wanted to share a list of books that I’d recommend for summer reading, including some from a number of Africa’s best writers and thinkers—each of whom illuminate our world in powerful and unique ways.”

The list includes foundational texts like Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” which he called “a true classic of world literature,” Nelson Mandela’s “A Long Walk to Freedom, and A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o as well as more contemporary classics such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and The Return by Hisham Matar, which he described as “a beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.”

On 17 July, the former U.S. president addressed xenophobia, climate change, economic inequality, corruption and more in his lecture along the theme, “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World,” to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.

During the Mandela100 celebration, Obama sat alongside South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, foundation chairperson Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Motsepe Foundation founder Dr Patrice Motsepe, and Mandela’s widow Ms. Graca Machel. He appealed to people around the world to honour human rights and other values under threat, as well as to keep alive the ideas that Mandela worked for.

With a special message to the younger generation which reminded us all of how much words have the ability to inspire a nation—something he very eloquently did leading up to his election in 2008 and throughout his tenure—the former president said to “those hope carriers”: “Keep believing. Keep marching. Keep building. Keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world.” Watch the lecture below.