Barack Obama gives advice to up-and-coming leaders in SA

2018-07-18 18:11
Former US president Barack Obama delivers the annual Nelson Mandela memorial lecture. (Jerusha Sukhdeo-Raath, News24)

Former US president Barack Obama delivers the annual Nelson Mandela memorial lecture. (Jerusha Sukhdeo-Raath, News24)

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Former US president Barack Obama has advised the youth to worry less about what they want to be, but to rather concern themselves with the journey they take to get there.  

Obama engaged with young Obama Foundation leaders from across the continent in Honeydew, Johannesburg on Wednesday. 

This as South Africa celebrates what would have been the 100th birthday of its iconic former president Nelson Mandela.

The young leaders, who included executives and founders of organisations, asked various questions.

Obama was asked to give advice to those who wished to enter the world of politics.

"A lot of people think in terms of 'I want to be a president, prime minister, member of Parliament'... and so they see it as a sort of a position or a prize to win and blindly follow that ambition. But how they increasingly get there doesn't matter and, when they do get there, they don't know what to do with the position except just to keep it," Obama said. 

READ: Obama warns of 'strange and uncertain times' in Mandela tribute

He added that if the youth worried more about what they wanted to do, they could possibly be better people in society and successful politicians.

He said those who said they wanted to make sure that young people in Libya have a chance to read, or that health in Tanzania was available in rural areas, might never reach the goal of becoming a president or prime minister, but they would have helped thousands of people.

He also told the group that there was no formula to joining politics, but that one needed to be strategic.

There were ways that the youth could become involved in politics in a sincere way, without any corruption, he said, adding that those who joined politics should not do it alone.

READ: 10 quotes from Obama's Mandela lecture

Obama further said that becoming involved in politics transactionally did not work and added that if he had joined politics that way, he would never have been successful when he ran for president in 2008. 

"If you're mobilising young people or farmers who feel that nobody is paying attention to them or unemployed college students, you are doing something that is showing you are making a difference. Nobody can take that base from you because it's not dependent on somebody from the top, because you have earned it from the bottom," he said.

"When I ran for president in 2008, I got a bunch of 20 and 25-year-olds and trained them and said: 'Let's go knock on people's doors and talk to them' and they out-organised everybody because they were hungry and motivated and needed something."

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