Obama: Real democracy means govt exists to serve the people

Former US President Barack Obama used his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Tuesday to lambast politicians who disregard facts.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Wanderers cricket stadium in Johannesburg on 17 July 2018. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – Former US President Barack Obama used his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Tuesday to lambast politicians who disregard facts.

Obama delivered the lecture before thousands of people at The Wanderers, which was also attended by several high profile guests and dignitaries.

The former US president has cautioned against the rejection of facts, saying it could lead to the undoing of democracy.

“Unfortunately too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.”

His comments on Tuesday are widely seen as thinly veiled criticism of his successor Donald Trump.

Obama says that there is a growing tendency of continual lying by politicians.

“We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they just come up with a lie and lie some more.”

The former US president said the denial of facts, like the denial of human rights, is against the principles of democracy.

Obama was met with thunderous applause when he said that real democracy means government exists to serve the people.

“Democracy depends on strong institutions and it’s about minority rights, checks and balances, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and a free press.”

He referred to the legacy of the South African struggle icon Mandela as he spoke about the need for change in the world.

“Madiba’s popularity… he could’ve been president for life. Am I wrong?”

The former US president noted that democracy should be about more than just elections and who gets the most votes.

Obama lashed out at strongman politics, which he says is on the rise.

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Just one day after his successor Donald Trump was heavily criticised for a humiliating news conference with Vladimir Putin, Obama criticised populist movements toward authoritarianism around the world and he ridiculed the "utter loss of shame among political leaders" who lie.

“Given the strange and uncertain times that we’re in, with each day’s news cycles bringing head-spinning and disturbing headlines, I thought maybe it would be useful to step back for a moment and get some perspective.”

Obama has made an art of criticising the current US president's values without explicitly naming Trump, peppering his speech on Tuesday afternoon with warnings against some of Trump's key policies, including protectionism, climate change denial and closed borders.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)