Mandela’s Illness Weighs on Obama’s Africa Trip


Barack Obama, then a United States senator, met with Nelson Mandela in 2005.

DAKAR, Senegal — Barack Obama had been a United States senator for just weeks in early 2005 when Oprah Winfrey offered to carry a message for him to Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African leader.

Mr. Obama disappeared into a back room in Ms. Winfrey’s television studio to write the note, but he was gone so long that his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, popped his head in after half an hour.

“You’ve got to give me some time here,” Mr. Obama, pen in hand, told Mr. Gibbs, who recalled the moment recently. “I can’t just wing a note to Nelson Mandela.”

Mr. Obama had been hoping to have his first face-to-face meeting as president with the ailing 94-year-old leader during a three-country, weeklong trip to Africa that began on Wednesday. But Mr. Mandela was hospitalized on June 8 for a chronic lung infection, and on Thursday he remained in critical but stable condition.

A meeting between Mr. Mandela and Mr. Obama would have been rich with symbolism and symmetry for people on both continents: two men from different generations who made history as the first black presidents of nations with deep racial divides. Both embraced a cool pragmatism in their attempt to be post-racial leaders, and both have inspired as well as disappointed many supporters….

Click here to read more