The former US President made the comments while delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture to around 15,000 people in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move. It’s on the move at a pace that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago,” Obama told the crowd.
“I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. Look around.
“Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”
"I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality, justice, freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal." —@BarackObama at #MandelaLecture pic.twitter.com/pdXn6kTht6
— The Obama Foundation (@ObamaFoundation) July 17, 2018
Obama was delivering the speech at an annual event to commemorate the life of South African revolutionary and political leader Nelson Mandela. This year would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday.
What did Obama cover in his speech?
Elsewhere in his address, Obama took aim at climate change denial, protectionist economics and closed borders, all policies Trump has advocated.
He also made an impassioned plea to the audience to embrace objective facts and reason and to reject fake news.
“You have to believe in facts,” he said. “Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate.
Barack Obama slams 'strongman politics' without directly attacking President Trump https://t.co/mLiJsEHBqv
— TIME (@TIME) July 18, 2018
“People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see it in the growth of state-sponsored propaganda. We see it in internet fabrications. We see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment.”
Despite his apparent reservations about the current US administration, Obama’s speech was shot through with the optimism associated with his presidential campaign. He spoke of the potential for youth to topple authoritarian regimes and singled out some young Africans such as Ugandan journalist Abaas Mpindi and Kenyan Caren Wakoli for their work.
It was Obama’s most high-profile speech since leaving office. He has tended to remain out of the political fray and has resisted commenting on the day-to-day events of US politics.
Despite his relatively low profile of late, Obama recently topped a poll for best US president and remains a hugely popular figure. Democrats will be hoping he becomes more visible as they contest the mid-term senate elections later this year.