Members of South Africa's Cage Advocacy group and other South African activists are rallying to rescind an invitation extended to former U.S. President Barack Obama to speak at the Nelson Mandela Foundation's 16th annual lecture, which will take place in Johannesburg on July 17.
They released a statement highlighting the fact that Obama's presidency, where he also served as commander-in-chief of the U.S. army, was remembered in Africa as a massive expansion of U.S. military operations, drone attacks and special operations on the continent.
“Giving this man a platform would be tantamount to condoning these actions, something that Nelson Mandela would surely have stood against," the letter noted.
"This is especially pertinent given Nelson Mandela's legacy as an individual who was also once designated a 'terrorist' and suffered torture and imprisonment as a result, and who despite this is now regarded as one of the pre-eminent figureheads for justice around the world."
Cage Africa spokeswoman, Karen Jayes, said that failing to withdraw Obama's invitation would send a very wrong message about the purpose and mission of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In effect it would relay the idea that it “is part of what many see as the 'whitewashing' of Mandela's legacy.”
This year's event marks Mandela's centennial birthday. Obama is scheduled to deliver an address titled “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”
Obama's U.S. presidential victory in 2009 was celebrated in much of Africa and the belief, at the time, was that he, whose father was born in Kenya, would be personally invested in the continent.
However, Oumar Ba, a professor of international relations at Morehouse, said by the time Obama left the presidency he was remembered for the “militarization of U.S. foreign policy on the African continent, his use of drones, his immigration policy and his disastrous intervention in Libya.”
Ibrahim Vawda, a member of the South Africa-based Media Review Network, went even further, saying that “Obama pursued the same predatory and criminal policies that provoked international anger and hatred under his predecessor George W Bush."