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Mandela praises Obama for his message of hope

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — 

On the day that he made history, Barack Obama got some heartfelt praise from Nelson Mandela.

The anti-apartheid icon said Obama's inauguration in Washington has inspired the same sense of hope the world felt when South Africa threw off apartheid and elected its first black president _ Mandela himself.

Mandela, in a letter released shortly after Obama took the oath of office Tuesday, said people around the world were inspired by his inauguration in 1994 to believe that "injustice can be overcome." And he says Obama's presidency offers a similar hope.

"Your election to this high office has inspired people as few other events in recent times have done," Mandela wrote. "Amongst many around the world a sense of hopelessness had set in as so many problems remain unresolved and seemingly incapable of being resolved. You, Mister President, have brought a new voice of hope that these problems can be addressed and that we can in fact change the world and make of it a better place."

Mandela also wrote of Africa's pride at seeing Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, achieve such high office.

Across the continent Tuesday, particularly in Kenya, Africans celebrated Obama's inauguration and marveled that a nation that once bought and sold African slaves was now led by a man with African roots. There was also recognition that Obama would have concerns and an agenda beyond Africa.

"We are aware that the expectations of what your presidency will achieve are high and that the demands on you will be great," Mandela wrote. "We therefore once more wish you and your family strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead."

Mandela, 90, has largely retired from public life and such statements from him are increasingly rare. But he seems to feel a personal connection to Obama _ he also sent a letter of congratulations in November when Obama won the U.S. presidential election.

Obama "will always be in our affection as a young man who dared to dream and to pursue that dream," Mandela wrote Tuesday.

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