Desmond Tutu, the South African religious leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, praised President-Elect Barack Obama, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, comparing Obama to Nelson Mandela and suggesting he'll usher in a post-racial political age in the United States.
Tutu, who more recently has expressed his disappointment with the direction of politics in his homeland, wrote that Obama represents best what he means by a "rainbow nation."
We are in a different time now than when I first spoke of a rainbow nation, describing the South Africa that Mandela led for the first time in 1994. But my vision for such a place remains. It is a place where people of each race and cultural group exhibit their own unique identity, their own distinct attributes, but where the beauty of the whole gloriously exceeds the sum of its parts.
Obama is the son of a Kenyan man and a Kansan woman. He spoke movingly about his background during his long campaign. Now he's the president-elect. His triumph can help the world reach the point where we realize that we are all caught up in a delicate network of interdependence, unable to celebrate fully our own heritage and place in the world, unable to realize our full potential as human beings, unless everyone else, everywhere else, can do the same.
Tutu also counsels that Obama "could squander the goodwill that his election has generated if he does not move quickly and decisively on the international front."
On human rights, President Obama needs to signal the changes his administration will bring by speedily taking a few high-profile symbolic actions. One might be to close that abomination, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Another could be immediate replacement of guidelines on the treatment of detainees, thus putting the United States back in the mainstream of international humanitarian law. He could launch a comprehensive inquiry into who authorized torture and when. And it would be wonderful if, on behalf of the nation, he would apologize to the world, and especially the Iraqis, for an invasion that I believe has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.
On humanitarian issues, he will be hard-pressed in the ongoing global financial crisis to match the current administration's generally admirable record. President Bush has succeeded in working with Congress to devote unprecedented amounts of money to fighting malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. But if the United States is to show that it places as much value on a human life in Africa as on one in the United States, Obama actually has to improve on Bush's achievements.