Money & Power

Barack Obama Is Giving the Most Important Speech of His Post-Presidency This Week

The Obama Foundation is gathering 200 young African leaders in Johannesburg prior to the former president's Nelson Mandela Lecture.

Former President Barack Obama is planning to deliver his most important speech since leaving the White House this week.

Obama's advisor and former speechwriter Benjamin J. Rhodes told the New York Times that his address at the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa will "set the tone for Obama’s post-presidency."

"It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world," Rhodes said. "Mandela endured far darker times than anything we’re enduring today."

Former President Barack Obama interacts with some of the local young beneficiaries during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama, in Kenya on July 16.

The Obama Foundation is also gathering 200 young African leaders in Johannesburg in advance of the former president's address on Tuesday to"study and debate Mandela’s legacy and leadership attributes," South African news site the Citizen reports.

Barack Obama and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, previously made news in May when then inked a deal with Netflix to produce a set of films and series for the streaming service.

The couple will "have hands-on involvement in producing content and will appear personally in some of the shows while curating others," a source familiar with the arrangement told Reuters.

The first programming with the Obamas' input is expected to roll out beginning around May 2019.

"One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience," the former president said in a statement. "That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix — we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world."

The New York Times first reported in March that the Obamas were in discussions with Netflix about producing a series of shows, and while no terms have been announced, the newspaper noted that "similar deals between streaming services and high-profile celebrities have been worth many tens of millions of dollars over several years."

Barack and Michelle Obama pose with the Bush and Clinton families and First Lady Melania Trump at Barbara Bush's funeral in Houston on April 21.

The Obamas' last made news when they attended former First Lady Barbara Bush's funeral in Houston, Texas on April 21. They posed with President George H.W. Bush, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Melania Trump for the photo above, which went viral.

Before that, Barack Obama took an extended international trip, visiting Singapore, New Zealand, and Japan in March.

Obama, 56, arrived in Singapore on March 19—his first trip to the country since leaving office in January 2017. While local newspaper the Straits Times reported that he was there to speak at a private event for the Bank of Singapore, the former president tweeted on his first day in the country that he was "in Singapore with young people who are advocating for education, empowering young women, and getting involved all over Southeast Asia with a profoundly optimistic commitment to building the world they want to see."

On March 21, he arrived in New Zealand for a three-day visit that included meetings with public leaders including the country's prime minister along with some golf.

Barack Obama receives a traditional Maori Hongi greeting at government house in Auckland, New Zealand on March 22.

Barack Obama at Kauri Cliffs

He visited Australia next, where he met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney.">

On March 24, he tweeted his and his wife's support for the March for Our Lives back in the United States.

Japan was next on his itinerary, and he traveled to Tokyo to deliver a speech on March 25.

In that address, he spoke about North Korea, calling it "an example of a country that is so far out of the international norms and so disconnected with the rest of the world" that negotiating with its leaders it about the country's nuclear weapons program is difficult. He also said he would like to create "a million young Barack Obamas or Michelle Obamas" who "could take that baton in that relay race that is human progress. "The single most important thing I could do is to help develop the next generation," he told the crowd.

Here is a video of the appearance:

WATCH LIVE: Former President Barack Obama is speaking in Japan

WATCH LIVE: Former President Barack Obama is speaking in Japan

Posted by ABC 7 News - WJLA on Saturday, March 24, 2018


In January, Barack Obama appeared in the first episode of David Letterman's Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. In the episode, the former president told the host he was almost no help at all moving his eldest daughter, Malia, into her dorm room last year when she began her freshman year at Harvard. He was simply too emotional.

"I was basically useless," Obama said. "Everyone had seen me crying and misting up for basically the previous three weeks, so Malia, who's very thoughtful, she goes, 'Dad, you know, I've got this lamp in this box, could you put the desk lamp together?' I said, 'Sure.' It should have taken five minutes or three minutes, and it had one of those little tools. It only had, like, four parts, and I'm just sitting there, toiling at this thing for half an hour."

The rest of the interview covered everything from the vacation Obama took following his departure from the White House to how he keeps his "dad moves" under control while dancing (more on that in the clip above).

After two terms as president, Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama settled into a home in Washington D.C.'s Kalorama neighborhood and set about establishing new routines and post-White House identities. Here's what he did in 2017:


On December 15, the former first couple joined Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, and actress Meryl Streep and her husband, Don Gummer, for dinner at Fiola Mare, according to the Washington Post. Streep and Spielberg were in the nation's capital to promote their new Pentagon Papers film, The Post.

On December 27, Barack Obama joined Prince Harry for a BBC radio interview that was taped at recorded at the 2017 Invictus Games in Canada. (The audio is below.)

Obama addressed life after the White House and said, among other things, that the issues he cared about while in office are still important to him:

"I still care about making sure that the United States and the world is a place where kids get a decent education. Where people who are willing to work hard are able to find a job that pays a living wage. That we’re conserving the amazing resources of our planet so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of this place. Like we did."

When Prince Harry was asked whether the former president would get an invitation to his upcoming nuptials, he demurred.


On November 8, the former president returned to his hometown of Chicago not to make a major speech or launch a high-profile initiative but because he had jury duty.

As you can see in this video posted by Twitter user Angel Martinez, Obama went business casual in a white shirt and sports coat, and shook hands and cracked jokes with his fellow Chicagoans, while a Secret Service and security team stood guard.

Cook County is apparently the same place where Oprah Winfrey and Mr. T do their public duty, so world famous jurors are par for the course, but Obama is the highest-ranking former public official to be called for jury duty in Chicago history. Like other former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, President Obama was not actually selected for a jury.

According to CBS Chicago, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced he had been dismissed for the day; he had been picked for a panel that wasn't needed on Wednesday, and his entire panel got to go home that afternoon.

On November 27, Obama addressed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement on Twitter, wishing the couple "a lifetime of joy and happiness together."


On October 10th, the Obamas issued a statement on Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment and assault reports. The former president and first lady said they are "disgusted" by the allegations and believe that "we should celebrate the courage of women who have come forward to tell these painful stories."

Here is their full statement:

"Michelle and I have been disgusted by the recent reports about Harvey Weinstein. Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be condemned and held accountable, regardless of wealth or status. We should celebrate the courage of women who have come forward to tell these painful stories. And we all need to build a culture — including by empowering our girls and teaching our boys decency and respect — so we can make such behavior less prevalent in the future."

Weinstein has been one of the Democratic Party's most prolific donors, Business Insider reports. He raised money for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign in 2012, including hosting a $35,800-per-person fundraising dinner for Obama at his Westport home that year. The Obamas' older daughter, Malia, also interned for Weinstein's film company during her gap year before starting college at Harvard this fall.

In the first week of October, Obama also issued another statement, this time in response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern American history. The former president posted a tweet expressing his condolences to the victims and families.


Obama broke his silence about President Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy with a post on social media early in the month.

"To target these young people is wrong—because they have done nothing wrong,” Obama wrote on Facebook on September 5. “It is self-defeating—because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel.”

See the full statement below:

Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill...

Posted by Barack Obama on Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On September 20, the former president delivered the keynote address at an event hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in New York City.

Here's a video of the full speech and question-and-answer session:

"The world has never been healthier, or wealthier, or better educated or in many ways more tolerant or less violent," Obama told the audience at Lincoln Center. And despite calling the efforts to repeal his health care law "frustrating," he said Americans should be optimistic about the future: "Not blind optimism, but hard-earned optimism, rooted in very real progress."

The following week, Obama spoke at a health care conference in New York City sponsored by the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, the New York Times reports. Obama has delivered at least nine paid speeches since leaving office and he reportedly makes as much as $400,000 per speech. (In the past month he also spoke to clients of the money-management firm Northern Trust Corporation and the private-equity firm Carlyle Group.)

Barack Obama joins Melinda and Bill Gates at an event for their foundation in New York City on September 20.

An Obama spokesman told the Times that the speaking fees have helped to allow the former president to contribute $2 million to job programs for low-income young people in Chicago (more on that later): "Since leaving office, President Obama has spent his time doing public and private events, both paid and unpaid, that are true to his values and his record,” Kevin Lewis, wrote in an email to the Times.

The same day, September 25, Obama surprised 600 attendees this week when he joined his vice president at a fundraiser for the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children in Wilmington, Delaware. "I am here just to lend my voice and my support to a family that I care deeply about, to honor a man that I thought the world of, and to say thank you to all of you for supporting this wonderful cause," he said.

Obama revealed that he got emotional when dropping his oldest daughter Malia off for her freshman year at college. “For those of us who have daughters, it just happens fast,” Obama said. “I was proud that I did not cry in front of her but on the way back, the Secret Service was looking straight ahead pretending they weren’t hearing me as I sniffled and blew my nose. It was rough.”

Obama ended by thanking the Biden Foundation, which raised $400,000 at the event, for its work in protecting and advocating for children, and mentioned again how important family was to him. "At the end of our lives, whatever else we accomplish, the thing that we'll remember are the joys with our children and hopefully, way later, our grandchildren."

Later in the same week, Obama accompanied fellow ex-presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at the kick-off of the Presidents Cup golf tournament at the Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.

Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton at the Presidents Cup on September 28.

First held in 1994, the Presidents Cup is a biennial PGA Tour event that pairs an American team against an international team representing the rest of the world minus Europe. Each of the three former presidents served as honorary chairmen of the tournament while they were in office, and on Thursday they sat overlooking the first tee box at the Jersey City course.

Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters in 2015, told ABC News that he and the other players "should feel lucky" for getting "three presidents in one place." Spieth, who's played with Bush, said all three are "avid golfers and have done a lot for the game of golf, too."

He jetted north to Toronto on September 29 to reunite with his vice president, Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and Prince Harry at the Invictus Games.

Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Barack Obama, and Prince Harry cheer on basketball players at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

The former president wanted "to once again express his gratitude for their service and his admiration for their courage and resilience," his spokesperson told the Toronto-based Star. He also delivered a speech to a group of young people in which he again pleaded for optimism: "If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were, you’d choose right now," Obama said. "This moment."


Barack and Michelle Obama were spotted on Harvard University's campus on August 23, moving their oldest child, Malia, into her dorm room. The former first daughter is a freshman at the college this fall.


The former president went to Bali where he and his wife and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, are in the middle of what looks like an epic family vacation.

The Obamas went rafting together down the Ayung River over the weekend, and on Thursday Sasha, Malia, and their mother visited the Tirtha Empul temple wearing matching yellow sarongs. Visitors are reportedly expected to wear the cover-ups before entering a Balinese temple, and the Obamas' Secret Service agent sported one too.

Sasha and Malia Obama

The former first family stayed at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, according to the Daily Mail. The property includes 18 suites, 42 private villas, and about 1,000 different species of birds.

Prior to their river adventures, the family toured the Jatiluwih rice terraces, which have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Travel + Leisure reports. 

Barack Obama has a deep connection to Indonesia; he lived there as a child starting in 1967 when he and his mother moved to the country's capital, Jakarta. Obama moved back to Obama's birthplace of Honolulu in 1971.

Barack Obama and his entourage visit the Jatiluwih tourist site in Bali on June 25.

Before his Balinese sojourn, the former president appeared in a recorded video honoring Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) at a ceremony inducting him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 15.

After recognizing the other inductees, Obama called Carter "a friend of mine" and continued, "I'd like to think Mr. Carter and I understand each other. Nobody who met us as younger men would have expected us to be where we are today."

He also talked about how much he and Carter love their daughters and hinted at the sex of the twins Carter and his wife, Beyoncé, are expecting: "Jay and I are also fools for our daughters, although he’s going to have me beat once those two twins show up."

The former president also referenced his love of Carter's music: "I'm pretty sure I'm still the only president to listen to Jay-Z's music in the Oval Office," he said. "That may change at some point but I'm pretty sure that's true now."

Before that, Obama's most recent public appearance was his first post-presidency trip to Canada, where he gave a speech to a crowd of nearly 6,000 people at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce on June 6.

Immediately after his speech, Obama was spotted having dinner with his old pal, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the Obama Foundation confirmed on Twitter:

According to the Montreal Gazette, Obama and Trudeau ate at Liverpool House in Montreal's Little Burgundy district. On Twitter, Obama and Trudeau revealed that they discussed how to develop "the next generation of leaders," and how to encourage "young leaders to take action in their communities." As the crowd waiting outside the restaurant indicates, people were very excited to catch a glimpse of the political power couple.


The former president kicked off the month in Chicago on May 3, where he unveiled plans for his own future presidential center there. He painted a picture of a buzzing hub for youth and community programs on the city's South Side where he raised his family and launched his political career.

Obama fielded questions from residents at a forum near the site, delving into nitty-gritty details of traffic patterns, green space, and job creation, while avoiding any mention of his successor in the White House.

"What we want this to be is the world premiere institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world," he told the friendly crowd that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his one-time chief of staff.

The plans revealed that the Obama Presidential Center will feature three structures, including a tower-like museum and tree-lined walkways. The Obama Foundation displayed drawings and a miniature model of the center, which will also include a public plaza and classrooms.

Obama said construction of the center—up to 225,000 square feet overall—would take about four years, but programming would begin this year. He said he and former first lady Michelle Obama, who also attended, would personally donate $2 million to summer job efforts in the city. He said Chicago has a lot to offer, but most people outside the city only see headlines about the violence.

"We don't want to wait for a building," he said. "This is about reaching out right now."

On May 7, Obama received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, a prize given to elected officials "who govern for the greater good, even when it is not in their own interest to do so." Specifically, he was honored for his passing of the Affordable Care Act, which secured health coverage for millions of Americans.

Obama receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

In his acceptance speech at the JFK Library in Boston, the former president called on current members of Congress to have courage in the current political battle over healthcare.

"It is my fervent hope … that today's members of Congress are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it bucks party dogmas," Obama said. "I hope that current members of Congress recognize it takes little courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential, but it takes great courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm."

The former commander-in-chief also logged quite a few frequent flyer miles in May. He traveled to Milan, where he delivered a speech at a food innovation conference on May 9 and said he is "confident that the United States will continue to move in the right direction" on climate change.

Obama speaks at the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit

"The good news is, in part because of what we did over the last eight years, the private sector has already made a determination that the future is in clean energy. Investments are moving into clean energy," Obama said at the Seeds&Chips Global Food Innovation Summit during his foreign political appearance since leaving office in January.

Before heading to the event, he went to see Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper."

"Even in our religion and in our art, food is important," Italy's culture minister, who accompanied the former president, said.

In addition to his cultural appreciation, Obama's style made headlines. He was spotted in Italy wearing a tailored suit, a button-down shirt sans-tie, and a pair of black shades.

Obama in Italy

The trip came on the heels of a May People cover story in which the former president's chief of staff Anita Decker Breckenridge revealed a few insights into what his life is like today. First, while the bubble surrounding him has shrunk significantly (when he travels, for instance, it's in a much smaller motorcade without a press pool in tow), Obama still can't drive himself because of security concerns.

"If he wants to go out to dinner on a Saturday, that doesn’t take teams of people and hours of advance," Breckenridge told the magazine. "You know? That’s really freeing."

She also confirmed that while he hasn't spoken to Hillary Clinton since the inauguration, his bromance with former Vice President Joe Biden lives on; the two have played a few rounds of golf and Biden attended a party to christen Obama's new office in Washington, D.C.

As for the cool leather jacket President Obama wore in March, channeling his law school style? He apparently had it all this time but kept it hidden away in his closet because he felt it wasn’t presidential enough to wear while he was in office.


The former president and first lady traveled throughout Tuscany. The couple reportedly flew into a military base in the Italian region on May 19 escorted by six fighter jets. They were expected to stay for six days.

Barack hit the golf course at the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco over the weekend of May 20 to 21.

On May 22, he went for a bike ride through the countryside with his security detail and reportedly met up with Michelle for a walking tour of Siena.

Borgo Finocchieto in the Tuscan countryside

During their six-day vacation, the two reportedly stayed at Borgo Finocchieto, a villa that was renovated by John Phillips, the U.S. ambassador to Italy during Obama's administration. The villa is an "800-year-old village unto itself, with 22 bedrooms, a formal dining room, a ballroom, a library, a professional teaching kitchen, and a wine tasting cellar," Travel + Leisure reports.

On May 25, the former commander-in-chief appeared with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to discuss democracy and urged a crowd to "fight those who divide us" and not "hide behind a wall."

Barack Obama in Italy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Barack Obama at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

After Germany, he headed to Scotland, where he played golf at the prestigious Old Course at St Andrew's in Scotland, and from the looks of the photos he had an absolute ball.

Barack Obama on the old course at St. Andrews.

Obama told Scottish reporters that he shot "in the 80s" and was offered a bottle of Irn Bru, a carbonated soft drink known as "Scotland's other national drink" (following Scotch whiskey).

He made his way to London the next day, May 27, and met with Prince Harry at Kensington Palace.

Prince Harry and Barack Obama at Kensington Palace

"They discussed a range of shared interests including support for veterans, mental health, conservation, empowering young people and the work of their respective foundations," Kensington Palace said in a statement. CNN reports that they also "talked about the terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England." Obama offered his "condolences to the victims and support for those recovering from injuries."


Obama began the month still in French Polynesia, where Michelle joined him on April 8, according to reports. The following day, Tahitian television station published photographs of Michelle paddleboarding and Barack swimming.

On April 18, Radio New Zealand reported that the Obamas had left the region, and the former commander-in-chief made his first public speech post-presidency (read the full transcript here) on April 24. During the speech to young leaders at the University of Chicago, the former president focused on both his time as a community organizer in Chicago as well as his optimism for the future of American democracy.

"We have some of the lowest voting rates of any democracy and low participation rates than translate into a further gap between who are governing us and what we believe," Obama said.

"The only folks who are going to be able to solve that problem are going to be young people, the next generation. And I have been encouraged everywhere I go in the United States, but also everywhere around the world to see how sharp and astute and tolerant and thoughtful and entrepreneurial our young people are."

He also shared that breaking down the barriers that inhibit young people from getting involved is one of his goals for life out of the Oval Office.

"The question then becomes what are the ways in which we can create pathways for them to take leadership, for them to get involved? Are there ways in which we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service?" Obama asked.

"And if there are, I want to work with them to knock down those barriers, and to get this next generation and to accelerate their move towards leadership. Because if that happens, I think we're going to be just fine. And I end up being incredibly optimistic."

That same day, Fox Business reported that Obama will receive $400,000 for a speech he plans to deliver at a healthcare conference organized by the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald in September.

The fee is equal to the salary Obama received as president and twice what former President Bill Clinton has received for speeches, according to the New York Times. Hillary Clinton's fees have varied, but the former first lady and presidential candidate received as much as $325,000 for a single appearance in 2015, the Washington Post reports. Former President George W. Bush is reportedly paid $100,000 to $175,000 for his speaking engagements.

Obama listens as participants speak during a forum at the University of Chicago held to promote community organizing on April 24.

The news of Obama's fee has drawn criticism from liberals and conservatives, and critics have pointed out how often the former president criticized big banks and the growing wealth inequality. "I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American," Obama said in a speech in December 2013.

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake published a story outlining "4 reasons Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speech is a bad idea." And Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote, "Obama’s $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee will undermine everything he believes in. To fight the rising tide of populism, mainstream leaders need to raise their ethical game."


The former president had a month-long, star-studded trip to French Polynesia during which he hung out with the likes of Oprah, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, and his wife.

He touched down in Tahiti on March 15 and reportedly checked into the Brando, a resort on the private French Polynesian atoll, Tetiaroa, which was once owned by Marlon Brando. It was a summer residence for Tahitian royalty before the late actor purchased it in 1967 after first visiting to film Mutiny on the Bounty.


Obama began the month with a memorable vacation arranged by his billionaire buddy Richard Branson in the British Virgin Islands. He learned to kitesurf with Branson hung out with Michelle.

Later in the month, he made a trip to Manhattan, where he spent a night dining with his eldest daughter Malia at Emilio's Ballato, an old-school red-sauce joint in the Nolita district that's popular with musicians and other celebrities.

Malia is currently on a gap year before she starts college at Harvard in the fall, and her recent activities include a glitzy trip to Aspen and an ongoing internship with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The ex-president really made a splash around midday on February 24, as he left a building in the Flatiron district holding a Starbucks cup. (Click play on the videos below to see that moment.)

A reported crowd of about 200 gathered on the block to witness Obama's exit from what TMZ reports is a building that houses Simons Foundation run by James Simons and his wife, Marilyn, who "are big-time philanthropists who reportedly donated around $700,000 earmarked" for Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.

A team of Secret Service agents stood guard as Casual Friday Obama (he forwent a tie) made his way to a waiting SUV and drove away, presumably bound for Gramercy Tavern, where the former president stopped for lunch and posed with the staff for a photo. (The restaurant's executive chef and his partner, Michael Anthony, posted the picture on Instagram with a #proud hashtag.)

On February 28, Penguin Random House announced that it had secured a record-setting $65 million deal with former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama for their upcoming books. The publisher also announced it would donate one million books to charitable organizations in the Obama family's name, and the Obamas plan to donate a portion of their earnings from book sales to charity.

The same day, former Attorney General Eric Holder told Politico he'd been talking to the former president about getting involved with the new National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which aims to help the Democratic Party win back state legislative seats beginning with next year's elections. Obama asked Holder to chair the committee last year, and last month he said the former president "will be a more visible part of the effort."

"It's coming. He's coming," Holder said. "And he's ready to roll."

With reporting from the Associated Press

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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