Russia Accuses Obama of ‘Hypocrisy’ For Quoting Mandela on Race – But Ignoring Mandela's Support for Gaddafi

By Patrick Goodenough | August 17, 2017 | 4:23 AM EDT

Nelson Mandela dismissed criticism of his support for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, calling him a longstanding ally of the ANC. (Screengrab: YouTube)

( – President Obama’s Twitter response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville has become the most “liked” tweet in history – it passed the four million mark early Thursday – but Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman implied Wednesday that the former president invokes Nelson Mandela only when convenient.

Obama’s tweet featured a photo taken at a Bethesda, Md. daycare center in 2011 and a quote from the late South African president’s autobiography: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”

Two further tweets continued the quote: “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love ... For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“Hypocrisy,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented on her Facebook page.


Zakharova called Obama’s quoting of Mandela with regard to racism “a great start, if belated,” but she also challenged him to tweet some of Mandela’s quotes about Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

“Mr. Obama, with your direct involvement, a man was killed whom Nelson Mandela called his brother and thanked for his help in gaining democracy,” she said. “Democracy is real, not invented in the Oval Office.”

The Libyan dictator was killed by rebel fighters in October 2011, seven months after U.S., British and French forces launched airstrikes on regime targets in response to the bloodiest crackdown on dissent in his 41-year rule.

Russia fiercely opposed the NATO-led mission that resulted in Gaddafi’s downfall and frequently cites the intervention – and the chaos that followed – in its criticism of the U.S.

In her Facebook post Zakharova listed six Mandela quotes from the 1990s supportive of Gaddafi. Some were critical of demands for him to isolate a leader who provided support for his outlawed African National Congress during its campaign against the Western-backed white minority government in Pretoria.

After 27 years in prison, Mandela became South Africa’s first popularly-election president from 1994 to 1999.

When he visited Tripoli in 1997, breaking a U.N. embargo imposed over Libya’s suspected role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, he was scathing of the resulting Western criticism.

Speaking in Libya – in one of the quotes cited by Zakharova – Mandela said, “No country can claim to be the policeman of the world and no state can dictate to another what it should do. Those that yesterday were friends of our enemies have the gall today to tell me not to visit my brother Gaddafi.”

(Mandela was later involved in mediation that led to the handover of two Libyan Lockerbie suspects for trial and the suspension of U.N. sanctions.)

Incidentally, the U.S. and Britain were not alone in criticizing Mandela’s approach to Gaddafi. Ahead of his 1997 visit, Libyan exiles published letters in a Johannesburg newspaper deploring the decision.

One called the visit an insult to “the thousands of Libyans who are still in the jails of this tyrant, subjected to torture on a daily basis for asking nothing more than what you and the people of South Africa have asked for: to breathe free in our own land.”

Wrote another: “I simply cannot believe that it is too much to ask of you what you have asked the world to do in the recent past: boycott tyranny and oppression.”

During the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump was sharply critical of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s policy in Libya, calling the way the 2011 military intervention was handled a “disaster,” and adding that “almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow