What Comes to Mind When I think of a US President…

It seems to be just an ordinary day everywhere in the world, not least of which is the USA where people went to work as usual, and did the normal things they would do on a Tuesday. But in reality this is no ordinary Tuesday!!!

As the hours die down voters have been going out to decide who becomes the US President for the next four years. While it is now left for a few swing states to decide, the decision will boil down largely to maybe Florida and most importantly Ohio.

The outcome of the vote in Ohio will hinge on candidates’ attitude to the automakers’ bail-out in 2009. While Obama had decided that the government would allow GM and Chrysler to move into bankruptcy and provide transitional financing while both firms restructured their liabilities and returned to viability, Romney had instead gone on to write an opinion piece in the New York Times urging bankruptcy for the two car-makers, stating that he preferred them to rely on transitional financing from the private sector. Given that the automakers’ bail-out is now viewed as a success and is believed to have saved around 1 million jobs in the car industry, and most especially in the manufacturing-heavy state of Ohio, Obama can, from that policy secure re-election, which will have paid off in political as well as economic terms.

This is because as things stand, getting the 18 Electoral Votes of Ohio will see Obama easily crossing the 270 mark needed to win… the question remains however as to whether Iowa will remember the bailout and whether the Hispanics in Florida will think of the gains of Obama’s proposed immigration changes.

Whatever the outcome, whoever wins today will be a great decider on how many wars the world will have in the next four years… at least that is the one thing I remember US Presidents for – the ability to wage war, especially on Sovereign States.

HAPPY NEW YEAR BOYCOTT WAR (nsnbc.wordpress.com)

2011 has been a year with so far unprecedented aggression against sovereign nations, in which the United Nations Security Counsel has been utilized to instigate aggressions that are the antithesis of the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

The ousting of President Laurent Gbagbo with the aid of French sponsored “rebels” , trrops from the French Foreign Legion and UN-Peacekeepers is one example.

The appalling abuse of UNSC-Resolution 1973-2011 to conquer the sovereign nation of Libya is another.

If you ask me for advise pertaining 2012, that is, if you wish to make a new years “resolution” my advise is this:

” It´s time to move from resolutions and intentions to action”

” It´s time to not only to criminalize war by “resolutions” but to establish a permanent office where war crimes can be reported, and that assists independent and sovereign nations world wide to prosecute war crimes”.

“It´s time to make war unprofitable by consequently boycotting any corporation that is delivering arms to a waring party that is the aggressor in a given conflict, any corporation who has stocks in such companies, and any corporation whose major share holders have invested in such companies. Let´s establish a Blacklist of Companies, their merchandise, their services, and let´s begin to make war the least profitable business possible. As long as our corporate leaders are educated according to the principles of the Chicago School and similar, this is the one and only language that is understood by them ”

“It´s time to act upon the “resolution” that such boycott is a good idea. I suggest editors of independent media contact one another and discuss how we best could facilitate such a Blacklist and the Boycott by means of our media. . This is a standing invitation to get in touch. ”

I wish you a hopefully more peaceful 2012, so let´s DO IT!

Christof Lehmann on nsnbc

nsnbc editor

“My Football Field/Tram Experience” – Racism, Ignorance, Stupidity or Nationalism?

ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD…

It has been with some degree of amusement or should I add fascination, that I have read stories today about Suarez’s 8 match ban and possible fine for being found guilty by the FA for racist remarks! This comes on the same day the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision to bring charges against John Terry for allegedly racially abusing another player. My amusement and fascination was not really provoked by these two incidents but rather one that took place a few weeks ago.

ON A TRAM…

What I find a bit difficult to get over is the renewed ‘concern’ being shown towards victims of racial abuse.  The woman on the video titled ‘My Tram Experience‘ that went viral within a few days simply said what so many people in the world want to say but lack the courage. Watching her, I felt nothing for her but pity – not only for her but also for the innocent child she was carrying on her laps. While views differ so much on the woman’s attitude, I have not ceased to ask this question as I watched the video several times over – Is she really RACIST; IGNORANT, SIMPLY STUPID or A NATIONALIST?

BY INTELLECTUALS…

I want to dispel the thinking that this woman is as  bad as she has been made to look especially after she got arrested. Do not get me wrong… I am no supporter of discrimination of any form but we need to get the facts straight.

From the 18th and 19th Centuries, most European views of Africans for example had been one of a distinct category of humanity, a view based on the supposedly irreconcilable foreignness of African mental processes. For example one of the most celebrated scholars in Western thought argued that that Africa falls outside the boundaries of world history. He boldly argued that  “We [Europeans] cannot feel ourselves into [the African’s] nature .…Only by means of thought can we achieve this understanding of his nature; for we can only feel that which is akin to our own feelings.” (1) Hegel‘s argument was based on the original distinction between normative  existence and the African being.  He did not mix words then when he came to the conclusion that “Africans have not  achieve full self-awareness, as “their consciousness has not yet reached an awareness of any substantial objectivity.”  According to this view, Europeans, with their exclusive access to objective rationality, were the only ones capable of interpreting and understanding the African’s essential character. Was Hegel RACIST? MAYBE! IGNORANT? PERHAPS! STUPID? MAYBE NOT!

BY A PSYCHOPATH…

When Hitler, decided to incarcerate millions of Jews because of their race, the world did not react – about 6 million died in concentration camps. It was only when he started his re-militarisation  and re-occupation campaigns, that war was declared on him – in fact the world went to war against Hitler because he invaded Poland (the same Poland whose people are insulted by the woman in the video). Was Hitler RACIST, IGNORANT, STUPID or A NATIONALIST? All will say he was none of the above as all of them fall short of describing him – HE WAS SIMPLY A MONSTER OR A PSYCHOPATH! I concur.

BY COUNTRIES….

At the end of the war the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came up as part of peace processes in the world just three years after the United Nations was formed to curb any such Hitler-type aggression. It begins with the WONDERFUL WORDS “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”,

Wonderful! Is the simple word for such giant strides taken to stop a repeat of what Hitler had done. But under the watchful eyes of the UN with the declaration of human rights very much intact, it was a fierce battle before African States could gain political independence from their erstwhile colonial masters. It was with the existence of the UN and  paradoxically in the same 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights that  South Africa’s governance was built on a system of racial segregation called ‘apartheid’. Was apartheid Racism! YES!  Were its perpetrators Ignorant? MAYBE! Were they stupid? I doubt it!

That same fateful year, a new State called Israel was born and they have denied Palestinians all that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, effectively doing to them the same things that Hitler had done. Strangely enough, all those who demonize Hitler welcomed Apartheid and will die to support what is happening in the Gaza. Are Israelis and their supporters RACIST, IGNORANT, STUPID OR NATIONALISTS?

It would seem that the problem is not really who is abused or whose rights are denied in the world today but rather who does it. Or perhaps I just happen to have a nuanced view of what these terms mean.

RACISM, IGNORANCE, STUPIDITY OR NATIONALISM…

Racism is usually considered to be a belief that there exist  inherent differences among the various human races that can be said to account for cultural or individual achievements.This believe in a way usually involves the notion that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. The first aspect could have been fueled by views such as that of Hegel, Levy Bruhl and others who used it to justify the slave trade. The myopia in such a doctrine does not lie only the fact that it is something that has no empirical basis but also because in reality there is no homogeneous race – one in which all are either achievers or all are failures. Some societies have made more technological or industrial or infrastructural advancements than others, but given the cyclic nature of history, this is not a given that the presently more advance society translates into a superiority of race. It is only a matter of priority in time. Also within each of the societies is a mix of greater and lesser persons. My point here is that going by the first view of racism, it amounts to nothing more than myopic egocentricism which is tantamount to STUPIDITY.

Closely linked to the second aspect about having the right to rule others, racism is seen as a case where a policy or  system of government is based upon fostering such a doctrine. I can recall vividly a great speech on immigration made by the British PM David Cameron in April, 2011, in which he argued that “When there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods, perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods… This has been the experience for many people in our country and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it.”  Cameron was simply observing an issue of national policy that is aimed at protecting the UK.

The question then is: HOW DIFFERENT IS CAMERON’S VIEW OF IMMIGRANTS AND THE WOMAN’S ON THE TRAM? While the woman has been branded racist for saying that immigrants had destroyed ‘her’ country, Cameron is right when he says the same thing. I am not insinuating here that Cameron is or was racist. What I am highlighting is that National policies will always ‘discriminate’ against foreigners but it is not simply in a bid to protect the country. IT IS CALLED NATIONALISM – the general attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity.

A third aspect of racism is that which is expressed in form of hatred or intolerance of another race. This is the one that calls for serious concern as it usually amounts to actual physical violence against the discriminated race. What I do not seem to understand is that footballers are banned or fined and a woman is arrested for making comments that are similar to those made every day in policies about immigration in a country that is supporting the ethnic cleansing and extermination of a town because of their race… AND NO ONE SEEMS TO SEE ANYTHING WRONG with it.

 I personally do not think calling me any name makes me that – because in most cases those calling the names are usually suffering from an inferiority complex. If people like Nelson Mandela were called Kaffir and they rose up to get over a hundred awards within a decade, then I daresay that he has ‘glorified’ the name, and only an idiot should think using it makes someone inferior.

If the President of the United States of America is called ‘Boy’ and ‘Tar Baby’ within a week, then I daresay that it is an honourable thing to be a White House ‘Boy’. The names did not qualify Obama, rather I think Obama has qualified those names. The people who called those names far from dishonoring their revered Presidency made me understand that another name for the US President could be ‘Boy’ or ‘Tar Baby’. If it is honourable to be the US President then it follows that it is an honourable thing to be a ‘Boy’ or ‘Tar Baby’.

In conclusion then, one can rightly argue that most of what is happening today in the international scene is a re-enactment of the acts committed by Hitler – when governments trade in arms, support rebels to topple governments, deny people the right to self-determination – all in the name of foreign policies, they sponsor genocides, support racism and perpetrate the highest levels of Human rights violations which they so much claim to want to protect.

NO PLAYER DIES FROM BEING CALLED NAMES BY ANOTHER IN A FOOTBALL FIELD; NO ONE DIES WHEN A WOMAN EXPRESSES HER FRUSTRATION ON A TRAM BY CALLING HER FELLOW CITIZENS NAMES… BUT MILLIONS DIE WHEN GOVERNMENTS ARM DICTATORS IN THE NAME OF FOREIGN AID; MAKE THEIR FOREIGN POLICY THE DEGRADATION OF OTHERS IN A BID TO PROTECT THEIR COUNTRIES; DENY OTHERS THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION FOR SELFISH REASONS AND SUPPORT ILLEGAL TAKE-OVER OF GOVERNMENTS WHILE EMPOWERING OTHERS TO KILL. 

1. G.W.F. Hegel.  “Africa” in “The Natural Context or the Geographical Basis of World History” in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975. (177)

CAMEROON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: A KEG OF GUNPOWDER BUT ANY CAUSE FOR ALARM?

CAMEROON: READY FOR CHANGE?

Throughout the time I have been in Cameroon, (about two weeks now) I have not felt for once that a very crucial presidential election is around the corner – only once in Yaounde when I was asked to present my ID card twice within a distance of 200 km did I get the sense that there was some tension in the air. In fact, I get a greater feel that on the 9th of October 2011, Cameroonians will have to go to the polls, is when I am on Facebook.

It should not be in the least surprising for anyone who has been following Cameroonian politics. The first thing to note about the country is that it is one of the countries that are called ‘democratic’ but which has never for once elected its president. It is alleged that the first President Ahmadou Ahidjo was simply a choice of the erstwhile colonial masters who preferred him to André Marie Mbida after killing Ruben Um Nyobe. Ahidjo himself decided to single-handedly appoint Paul Biya his successor, who has clung to power since 1982. When the winds of change of the ’90s brought multi-party politics to Cameroon, it was an opportunity for old goons to learn new tricks.

The most free and fair elections in the Country was held in 1992 which the opposition led by Ni John Fru Ndi allegedly won but which, the incumbent Biya having the knife and the yam, ended up declaring himself the winner. Many today, blame Mr. Fru Ndi for the 1992 lapse. That was the decisive moment, they claim. He simply had to say the word and Cameroonians would have fought to defend their votes. He rather chose the pacifist route by taking up the bible and pointing to Cameroonians that ‘when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’. That saved Cameroon the agony of going down the path of many African nations. OR DID IT?

Since then, the incumbent Biya and his party, the CPDM have mastered the art of maintaining power at all costs. The ultimate result has been that the government has concentrated more on trying to maintain power than do anything else. Most terrible in the whole scenario is that Biya has succeeded to build even within his own party a personality cult around himself. Without holding a Party congress since 1996, he has evolved into a ‘natural candidate’ for the party. Two days ago a Congress held after his candidature had already been declared seemed to be an opportunity for him to show all that he was ‘lord’ of the party (Of course, he is. The most popular emblem of the party is now his 1985 face. It is on all party uniforms and official documents). To have selected another candidate would mean the party will have to go through an overhaul of all its intrinsic values. CPDM is synonymous with Paul Biya.

But why all this sycophancy? Why is it that the failures of the Biya regime stare at all in the face yet he keeps receiving ‘motions of support’ even from parts of the country that are so run-down that one wonders if they are part of same Cameroon? All these would have pointed to the fact that the elections are a foregone conclusion had it not been for the recent happenings of the so-called Arab Spring – especially the fall of Hosni Mubarak. This is what makes the Cameroon situation precarious.

A KEG OF GUNPOWDER?

Cameroon did not take a cue from the uprisings in North Africa as many will wrongly assume. In 2008 Cameroonians came out on a nationwide protest and strike against Mr. Biya’s bid to change the constitution, a protest that was effectively crushed by the US-trained Battalion Intervention Rapide (BIR). Since then it was clear that the force could effectively carry-out the mandate for which it was created. However, with the fall of Mubarak, even when he tried some of the tricks Biya used in 2008, (clearly showing that they were reading from the same script), it became clear to the United States that even the BIR may not be able to quell a revolt in Cameroon this time, should one occur. President Obama quickly called on Biya to hand over power as a bid to avoid the same situation whereby power could fall into the hands of someone who was not on the US control-roll. This will have been an easy thing for Biya to do but unfortunately, he has little or no guarantee that leaving power would mean freedom. He had already soiled his hands. There is the lake Nyos disaster of 1986 that still has unanswered questions; there are the massive killings that he carried out from the period of 1990 to 1992; there are the mass imprisonment of people without trial; there is the case of the 9-killed at Bepanda; there is the recent case of 2008 and many crimes against humanity which the ICC has on their lists waiting for him.

Caught in this dilemma, Biya could not declare his candidacy until a few weeks to the elections as trips to China clearly gave him reason to dare the US. While it is clear that China endorsed his bid, given that they were clearly represented at his party’s congress, the real problem is that the leadership and command of the BIR is more American than pro-Biya. Should there be massive protests in Cameroon this time around, the US will be slow in using the BIR to maintain Biya in power. However, unless the US can get a candidate they can back, it will be a difficult situation as their inaction could still lead to what they are trying ab initio to avoid. The worse case scenario, however, will be one in which the US backs another person against Biya using the BIR and Biya manages to get support from the Country’s French forces and military. A clash between the gendermarie and the military on one hand and the BIR on the other, will be inevitable. BUT THIS CAN ONLY HAPPEN IF THE US SEES A POTENTIAL THREAT TO BIYA’S REIGN AND DECIDE TO LEAVE HIM IN THE COLD!

ANY CAUSE FOR ALARM THEN?

There seems to be none as far as Cameroon is concerned. This is because of three reasons:

First is the fact that Cameroonians are generally peaceful people. No people will bear the failures of Biya with such docility. From the time Biya took power in 1982, the country has been on a steady decline in all aspects. The economic crisis officially declared in 1987 was just the beginning of worse things to come. No new infrastructure in the country can be credited to the regime. From the presidency, airports to even football stadia, everything still carries the insignia for Amadou Alhidjo. Despite all these, Cameroonians have watched the country go from bad to worse with a geometric retrogression but maintained stoic silence. This may be because they are very hard-working, such that they have been able to weather the storms and keep sustaining themselves and forging ahead, and hence, lacking some of the basic ingredients of violent revolutions such as widespread hunger and great frustration, which makes the likelihood of a popular revolution slim.

Secondly, Cameroon has a breed of opposition leaders who unlike the Alassane Dramane Ouattaras and Morgan Richard Tsvangiras, are not ready to sacrifice the blood of innocent Cameroonians for the presidency or a piece of power. John Fru Ndi showed this in 1992 and at this stage, even popular leaders like Kah Walla and Ayah Paul Abine have all shunned the way of violence. This, however, can only be sustainable if none of them decides to approach the USA or France with promises of greater concessions against China. As long as they keep hoping to win through the ballot, none will defeat Biya unless they decide to team up with the power brokers – the USA and France. If they should take this root, however, the avenues for violence in Cameroon will be greatly opened.

Thirdly, the ability of the US to maintain the status-quo is crucial. Asking Biya to leave was not because they favoured change in Cameroon but because they fear change that is not within their control. If Biya can play his cards well and retain power, the US will be all too glad to endorse him again. He may not be playing the huge role that Mubarak was playing in the Middle East but at least being as naive as he is, he is effectively the type of person the US needs to maintain a solid base in West and Central Africa. Hence the USA will back another person only when it becomes crystal clear that a popular uprising that could threaten Biya’s hold on power is imminent.

In the final analysis, one should not expect anything to really change with the present elections, unless the opposition can effectively work out a strategy that promises a fair deal to the US and France. Should this happen, then Cameroon could explode at the slightest ignition after the elections.

Great Speech By Michelle Obama in Soweto: Video and Words

The speech Michelle Obama delivered this morning at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa:

Thank you. Thank you so much. It is such a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.

I want to start by thanking Graca Machel for that just gracious, kind introduction. It is overwhelming. And I want to thank her for her lifetime of service as a champion for women and children. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for all of the kindness and generosity that you have shown my family for our visit here. Thank you so much.

I am also honored to share the stage with another remarkable leader, Baleka Mbete. She has played a vital role in advancing equality and promoting development here in South Africa. Thank you to the both of you for joining us here for sharing this moment with all of us.

I also want to thank the Archbishop of Johannesburg for honoring us today with his presence.

And of course, I want to recognize our guests of honor –- these 76 extraordinary young women leaders from here in South Africa and across the continent. (Applause.)

These are young women transforming their communities and their countries, and let me tell you I am so impressed by all of them. I am so proud of everything they have achieved.

And finally, I want to thank the leaders and the congregation of Regina Mundi for hosting us in this sacred space today. It has been more than three decades, but those bullet holes in the ceiling, this broken altar still stand as vivid reminders of the history that unfolded here.

And you all know the story –- how 35 years ago this month, a group of students planned a peaceful protest to express their outrage over a new law requiring them to take courses in Afrikaans. Thousands of them took to the streets, intending to march to Orlando Stadium.

But when security forces opened fire, some fled here to this church. The police followed, first with tear gas, and then with bullets.

And while no one was killed within this sanctuary, hundreds lost their lives that day, including a boy named Hector Pieterson, who was just 12 years old, and Hastings Ndlovu, who was just 15.

Many of the students hadn’t even known about the protest when they arrived at school that morning. But they agreed to take part, knowing full well the dangers involved, because they were determined to get an education worthy of their potential.

And as the Archbishop noted, that June day wasn’t the first, or the last, time that this church stood in the crosscurrents of history. It was referred to as “the parliament of Soweto.” When the congregation sang their hymns, activists would make plans, singing the locations and times of secret meetings. Church services, and even funerals, often became anti-Apartheid rallies. And as President Mandela once put it, “Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves.”

It is a story that has unfolded across this country and across this continent, and also in my country — the story of young people 20 years ago, 50 years ago, who marched until their feet were raw, who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked, and sacrificed, everything they had for the freedom they deserved.

And it is because of them that we are able to gather here today. It is because of them that so many of these young women leaders can now pursue their dreams. It is because of them that I stand before you as First Lady of the United States of America. That is the legacy of the independence generation, the freedom generation. And all of you -– the young people of this continent -– you are the heirs of that blood, sweat, sacrifice, and love.

So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance? What legacy will you leave for your children and your grandchildren? What generation will you be?

Now, I could ask these questions of young people in any country, on any continent. But there is a reason why I wanted to come here to South Africa to speak with all of you.

As my husband has said, Africa is a fundamental part of our interconnected world. And when it comes to the defining challenges of our times –- creating jobs in our global economy, promoting democracy and development, confronting climate change, extremism, poverty and disease — for all this, the world is looking to Africa as a vital partner.

That is why my husband’s administration is not simply focused on extending a helping hand to Africa, but focusing on partnering with Africans who will shape their future by combating corruption, and building strong democratic institutions, by growing new crops, caring for the sick. And more than ever before, we will be looking to all of you, our young people, to lead the way.

And I’m not just saying that to make you all feel good. The fact is that in Africa, people under 25 make up 60 percent of the population. And here in South Africa, nearly two-thirds of citizens are under the age of 30. So over the next 20 years, the next 50 years, our future will be shaped by your leadership.

And I want to pause for a moment on that word -– leadership — because I know that so often, when we think about what that word means, what it means to be a leader, we think of presidents and prime ministers. We think of people who pass laws or command armies, run big businesses, people with fancy titles, big salaries.

And most young people don’t fit that image. And I know that often when you try to make your voices heard, sometimes people don’t always listen. I know there are those who discount your opinions, who tell you you’re not ready, who say that you should sit back and wait your turn.

But I am here today because when it comes to the challenges we face, we simply don’t have time to sit back and wait.

I’m here because I believe that each of you is ready, right here and right now, to start meeting these challenges.

And I am here because I know that true leadership -– leadership that lifts families, leadership that sustains communities and transforms nations –- that kind of leadership rarely starts in palaces or parliaments.

That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status. And that kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in an instant.

Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals.

I mean, think about what happened here in Soweto 35 years ago. Many of the students who led the uprising were younger than all of you. They carried signs made of cardboard boxes and canvass sacks. Yet together, they propelled this cause into the consciousness of the world. And we now celebrate National Youth Day and National Youth Month every year in their honor.

I mean, think about the giants of the struggle –- people like Albertina Sisulu, whose recent passing we all mourn. Orphaned as a teenager, she worked as a nurse to support her siblings. And when her husband, Walter Sisulu, became Secretary-General of the ANC, it was up to her to provide for their family. When he was imprisoned for 26 years, it was up to her to continue his work. And that she did. With a mother’s fierce love for this country, she threw herself into the struggle.

She led boycotts and sit-ins and marches, including the 1956 Women’s March, when thousands of women from across this country, converged on Pretoria to protest the pass laws. They were women of every color, many of them not much older than all of you. Some of them carried their babies on their backs. And for 30 minutes, they stood in complete silence, raising their voices only to sing freedom songs like Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica. Their motto was simple, but clear: “If you strike a woman, you strike a rock.” (Applause.)

Ma Sisulu, the students of Soweto, those women in Pretoria, they had little money, even less status, no fancy titles to speak of. But what they had was their vision for a free South Africa. What they had was an unshakeable belief that they were worthy of that freedom –- and they had the courage to act on that belief. Each of them chose to be a rock for justice. And with countless acts of daring and defiance, together, they transformed this nation.

Together they paved the way for free and fair elections, for a process of healing and reconciliation, and for the rise of South Africa as a political and economic leader on the world stage.

Now, I know that as your generation looks back on that struggle, and on the many liberation movements of the past century, you may think that all of the great moral struggles have already been won.

As you hear the stories of lions like Madiba and Sisulu and Luthuli, you may think that you can never measure up to such greatness.

But while today’s challenges might not always inspire the lofty rhetoric or the high drama of struggles past, the injustices at hand are no less glaring, the human suffering no less acute.

So make no mistake about it: There are still so many causes worth sacrificing for. There is still so much history yet to be made. You can be the generation that makes the discoveries and builds the industries that will transform our economies. You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time — (applause) — the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease, the generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable, and treatable, and should never be a source of shame. (Applause.)

You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption and protects the rights of every citizen to speak freely, to worship openly, to love whomever they choose.

You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools. (Applause.)

You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place — including the home –- especially the home –- that isn’t just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation. And it has no place in any society.

You see, that is the history that your generation can make.

Now, I have to be honest. Your efforts might not always draw the world’s attention, except for today. (Laughter.) You may not find yourself leading passionate protests that fill stadiums and shut down city streets. And the change you seek may come slowly, little by little, measured not by sweeping changes in the law, but by daily improvements in people’s lives.

But I can tell you from my own experience –- and from my husband’s experience -– that this work is no less meaningful, no less inspiring, and no less urgent than what you read about in the history books.

You see, it wasn’t that long ago that my husband and I were young, believe it or not just starting out our careers. After he graduated from university, Barack got a job as a community organizer in the struggling neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. A lot of people there were out of work and barely getting by. Children had few opportunities and little hope for their future. And trust me, no one thought that this skinny kid with the funny name could make much of a difference.

But Barack started talking to people. He urged them to start working on the change they wanted to see. Soon, slowly, folks started coming together to fight for job training programs and better schools and safer housing for their families.

Slowly, the neighborhoods started to turn around. Little by little, people started feeling hopeful again. And that made Barack feel hopeful.

And I had a similar experience in my own career. Like my husband, I came from a modest background. My parents saved and sacrificed everything they had so that I could get an education. And when I graduated, got a job at a big, fancy law firm — nice salary, big office. My friends were impressed. My family was proud. By all accounts, I was living the dream.

But I knew something was missing. I knew I didn’t want to be way up in some tall building all alone in an office writing memos. I wanted to be down on the ground working with kids, helping families put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

So I left that job for a new job training young people like yourselves for careers in public service. I was making a lot less money. My office wasn’t so nice. But every day, I got to watch those young people gain skills and build confidence. And then I saw them go on to mentor and inspire other young people. And that made me feel inspired. It still does.

See, my husband and I, we didn’t change any laws, we didn’t win any awards, get our pictures in the paper. But we were making a difference in people’s lives. We were part of something greater than ourselves. And we knew that in our own small way, we were helping to build a better world. And that is precisely what so many young people are doing every day across this continent.

These 76 young women are outstanding examples. Take Gqibelo Dandala from here in South Africa. She left a lucrative career in investment banking to found the Future of the African Daughter Project, an organization that lifts up young women in rural and township areas. Of her work, she says: “…we are building a legacy which will outlive and outgrow us…”

And then there’s Robyn Kriel. She’s a young reporter from Zimbabwe who has written about corruption and human rights abuses in her country. She was beaten by police; her home raided, her mother imprisoned. But she still hasn’t lost her passion for reporting, because, as she put it, the people of Zimbabwe “want their stories to be told.”

And then there’s Grace Nanyonga, who joins us today from Uganda. Hey, Grace! You go, girl. Orphaned at the age of 13, she started cooking and selling fish during her school vacations to support her six siblings. Determined to get an education, she founded her own company, and she made enough money to put herself through university. And she’s now started an organization that trains local women to work at her company so that they can support their own families. Of her achievements, she says, simply — these are her words — “I made it against all odds” and “I want to be an example for girls in my country and beyond.”

Now, Grace could have been content to make lots of money, and just provide for her own family. Gqibelo could have climbed the corporate ladder, and never looked back. Where is she? Please stand. Grace got to stand. (Laughter.) Come on, where is she? Is she out there? And no one would’ve blamed Robyn — where’s Robyn? No one would have blamed Robyn if after all she’d been through she decided to quit reporting and pursue an easier career. But these young women — and these are just examples of stories that go on and on — these young women could not be content with their own comfort and success when they knew that other people were struggling.

You see, that’s how people of conscience view the world. It’s the belief, as my husband often says, that if any child goes hungry, that matters to me, even if she’s not my child. If any family is devastated by disease, then I cannot be content with my own good health. If anyone is persecuted because of how they look, or what they believe, then that diminishes my freedom and threatens my rights as well.

And in the end, that sense of interconnectedness, that depth of compassion, that determination to act in the face of impossible odds, those are the qualities of mind and heart that I hope will define your generation.

I hope that all of you will reject the false comfort that others’ suffering is not your concern, or if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, then you shouldn’t even try.

Instead, as one of our great American presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, liked to say, I hope that you will commit yourselves to doing “what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are,” because in the end, that is what makes you a lion. Not fortune, not fame, not your pictures in history books, but the refusal to remain a bystander when others are suffering, and that commitment to serve however you can, where you are.

Now it will not be easy. You women know that already. You will have failures and setbacks and critics and plenty of moments of frustration and doubt. But if you ever start to lose heart, I brought you all here today because I want you to think of each other.

Think about Grace, supporting her family all by herself. And think about Robyn, who endured that beating so she could tell other people’s stories. Think about Ma Sisulu, raising her kids alone, surviving banishment, exile, and prison. When reflecting on her journey, Ma Sisulu once said, with her signature humility, she said, “All these years, I never had a comfortable life.”

So you may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.

It’s what happens when folks start asking questions — a father asks, “Why should my son go to school, but not my daughter?” Or a mother asks, “Why should I pay a bribe to start a business to support my family?” Or a student stands up and declares, “Yes, I have HIV, and here’s how I’m treating it, and here’s how we can stop it from spreading.”

See, and then soon, they inspire others to start asking questions. They inspire others to start stepping forward.

And those are the “ripples of hope” that a young U.S. senator named Robert Kennedy spoke of when he came here to South Africa 45 years ago this month. In his words, he said, the “numberless diverse acts of courage and belief which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

And that is how a church can become a parliament. That is how a hymn can be a call to action.

That is how a group of young people with nothing more than some handmade signs and a belief in their own God-given potential can galvanize a nation.

And that’s how young people around the world can inspire each other, and draw strength from each other.

I’m thinking today of the young activists who gathered at the American Library here in Soweto to read the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King for their inspiration.

And I’m thinking of how Dr. King drew inspiration from Chief Luthuli and the young people here in South Africa.

And I’m thinking about how young South Africans singing the American civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” in the streets of Cape Town and Durban.

And I’m thinking of how Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica echoed through university campuses in the U.S., as students -– including my husband –- planned boycotts to support students here in South Africa.

And I’m thinking of this church and how those stained windows depicting the struggle were donated by the people of Poland, and how the peace pole in the park outside was donated by people from Japan, and how every week, visitors from every corner of the globe come here to bear witness and draw inspiration from your history.

And finally, I’m thinking of the history of my own country. I mean, America won its independence more than two centuries ago. It has been nearly 50 years since the victories of our own civil rights movement. Yet we still struggle every day to perfect our union and live up to our ideals. And every day, it is our young people who are leading the way. They are the ones enlisting in our military. They’re the ones teaching in struggling schools, volunteering countless hours in countless ways in communities.

And in this past presidential election, they were engaged in our democracy like never before. They studied the issues, followed the campaign, knocked on doors in the freezing snow and the blazing sun, urging people to vote. They waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.

And I have seen that same passion, that same determination to serve in young people I have met all across the world, from India to El Salvador, from Mexico to the United Kingdom to here in South Africa.

So today, I want you to know that as you work to lift up your families, your communities, your countries and your world, know that you are never alone. You are never alone.

As Bobby Kennedy said here in South Africa all those years ago: “…you are joined with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose…determined to build a better future.”

And if anyone of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice –- the voice of a generation –- you tell them, “Yes, we can.” What do you say? Yes, we can. What do you say? Yes, we can!

Audience: Yes, we can!

Michelle Obama: What do you say?

Audience: Yes, we can!

Michelle Obama: Thank you all so much. God bless you.