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Obama Foundation Leader Gift Ostallos Introduces President Obama at the Democracy Forum

Gift works as a political scientist and organizer in Zimbabwe and holds on to the ideals that President Obama long demonstrated

Today, Gift Ostallos, the national deputy spokesperson for the Citizens Coalition for Change, introduced President Obama at the Obama Foundation’s first-ever Democracy Forum. Below are his remarks as prepared:

The year is 1993, 13 years after the nation of Zimbabwe was birthed from a long and brutal war of liberation from Rhodesian colonial rule, 4 years after a genocide against the Ndebele speaking minority that claimed the lives of over 20,000 people.

This is the year I made my entrance into the world, born to a gardener and housemaid in the township of Tshabalala in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. They named me Gift, calling forth my future from their dreams filled with hope for a better future. Little did they know that those hopes and dreams would be future thorns in the flesh.

2008 brought with it an economic crisis that laid to rest any hopes of a better future as it ravaged the fortunes of ordinary Zimbabweans, my family included. At the age of 15 years, I was employed at a grinding mill but still the income was insufficient to finance my education which I believed was my gateway out of poverty. In those hard times what drove me was the pursuit of an idea that could transform my family, my nation and perhaps the Africa I loved.

The idea of freedom with dignity.

Freedom with equality.

I took action to bring my hope and my ideas to life. I worked hard in school. I got good grades, and I was awarded the prestigious Joshua Nqabuko Nkomo Scholarship funded by the African Billionaire Strive Masiyiwa. A man who also believes in the power of ideas.

Decades of experience with poverty, repression, deplorable inhuman living conditions and evidence of a failed state became the fuel for my journey as an advocate for human rights and democracy.

Venturing into the political landscape of my country, and constantly having to battle against those who believe that age defines our ability to lead has oftentimes been a lonely and discouraging experience.

I decided that in spite of my youth, I would use my abilities, knowledge and conviction to speak truth to power. I would use the power of ideas and the beauty of language to speak on behalf of the oppressed people of Africa. If we use our voice we can find our power, and with our power we can change the world.

That is why today I am working as a political scientist and organizer in Zimbabwe – because we know that building a healthy democracy requires young people to get involved. I am not alone in pushing beyond the confines of age to pursue the ideal of democracy. The struggle is long and hard but we will not capitulate to despair. We will not despair because we are inspired by those who have come before us and held the beacon of audacious hope high in the sky.

In 2009, a man many considered to be too young to lead was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

President Obama has been an inspiration to so many young people working to advance democracy across Africa, including myself. His political campaign and time in office were built on the promise of a democracy where there was equality of opportunity and equality before the law, and the ideals of self-government and individual freedom. Last year I became a member of the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa program, where I have connected with peers from across the continents who are seeing up close how democracy works, and that if we invest in building democratic resilience and fostering diversity as a strength there’s no limit to what we can achieve. It’s one of the reasons why throughout my experiences in politics and my work in Zimbabwe, I’ve continued to hold on to the ideals that President Obama long demonstrated.

The idea of hope.

The idea of a world where we will learn to live together, cooperate with one another, and recognise the dignity of others. I run with that idea, running boldly because I know I am not alone, I run with that idea because it is an idea whose time has come! And as we all know NOTHING can stop an idea whose time has come!

I am honored to welcome to the stage, President Barack Obama.