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Thumbs Down on a Nelson Mandela Speech

Nelson Mandela is justifiably revered, but not every act or speech by the Nobel Peace laureate was universally acclaimed.  American diplomat Tom Krajeski, who served as our ambassador to both Yemen and Bahrain, gave Mandela a candid — and negative — assessment of his speech after both addressed a conference in Dubai.  Mandela asked for Krajeski’s opinion, and they shared a laugh when Krajeski gave it.  Krajeski concluded that Mandela was indeed “a remarkable man.”

Read Tom Krajeski’s full oral history HERE.

For more about U.S. diplomats and Nelson Mandela, check out our other moments HERE


“Mandela came up to me and said, ‘What did you think of my speech?’ I said, ‘I hated it…’”


Meeting Nelson Mandela in Dubai: “Dubai – we used to call it the ‘city of the exes’ because ex-presidents, ex-prime ministers, fading movie stars, folks not at the top of the game but up there, would come to visit. My favorite one was Nelson Mandela. He had just stepped down from the presidency of South Africa, this is probably 1999. Clinton was president. They invited Mandela to come to be the keynote speaker at a conference. So the night of the conference, the opening day, there’s 2000 people in the hall. And for reasons I don’t understand, Mandela spoke near the beginning. It was Mandela and then I was going to read the president’s address. So Mandela got up – talk about personal charisma and performance, he’s a performer in public. He gave a 35-40 minute speech in which he excoriated the United States of America and the evils of capitalism and the racism of the United States and how we were responsible for all the economic and social problems of the world. It was pretty hard-hitting stuff, and I’m sitting in the front row next to the sheikh with my canned speech in my hand.


The cameras are on me and I’m getting steamed up, I’m getting angrier and angrier. Finish the speech, standing ovation for Mandela, these are all folks who had 156 businesses in the U.S., huge U.S. investment there, they were more capitalist than the most rapacious Carnegie or Rockefeller, but they love Mandela so they were cheering him. Right after the session, we had a dinner, downstairs in one of these incredibly beautiful places overlooking the bay. Mandela came up to me and said, “What did you think of my speech?” I said, “I hated it, it was terrible!” He said, “Yeah, it’s all politics, it’s just a game. Forget about it.” And he then proceeded to entertain the table for an hour-and-a-half. A remarkable man.”


Drafted by Tyler Ventura



     BA in Russian language and literature, University of Massachusetts at Amherst            1975

     MA in Russian language and literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill     1977

Entered Foreign Service                                                                                                             1979

     Kathmandu, Nepal – Foreign Service Officer                                                                           1980-1982

     Republic of Yemen –  Ambassador                                                                                             2004-2007

     Bahrain – Ambassador                                                                                                                  2011-2014

     Senior Advisor for Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters                                   2015-2016