DAKAR, Senegal - Reflecting on the life on Nelson Mandela, President Obama this morning called the ill civil rights leader a "hero for the world" and said his legacy will linger through the ages.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall, Obama said Mandela inspired him to get involved in political activism.
As a college student, Obama said he "read [Mandela's] writings and his speeches and I understood that this was somebody who believes in that basic principle… treating people equally, and was willing to sacrifice his life for that belief.
"To see Nelson Mandela step forward after 27 years of captivity and not only help usher in democracy and majority rule and one person one vote in South Africa but, as importantly, for him to say, 'I embrace my former captures and my former oppressors and believe in one nation and believe in judging people on the basis of their character and not their color,' you know, it gave me a sense of what is possible in the world, when righteous people, when people of good will, work together on behalf of a larger cause," Obama said.
Obama extended his thoughts and prayers to the people of South Africa and to the Mandela family.
"I've had the privilege of meeting Madiba and speaking to him. He is a personal hero, but I don't think I'm unique in that regard," he said. "I think he is a hero for the world. If and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we will all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages."
The president reiterated that he will be traveling to South Africa "over the next several days" after he leaves Senegal. Obama is currently scheduled to travel to South Africa tomorrow.