First ladies who lunch at National Museum of African Art … and those who stand around

At the National Museum of African Art, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the museum’s director, opened Tuesday’s brunch celebrating leading women from African nations with a cheer-worthy line. “We’re here celebrating girl power, woman power,” she said to the guests, who included the spouses (all wives in this case) of the African heads of state in Washington for this week’s White House summit. It was a packed house:  Chantal Compaoré, first lady of Burkina Faso,  Keїta Aminata  Maiga, first lady of Mali,  Gertrude Hendrina Mutharika, first lady of Malawi,  Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, first lady of Gabon,  Penehupifo Pohamba, first lady of Namibia, Charlotte Scott, wife of the Vice President of Zambia, Farida Sellal, first lady of Algeria, Chantal De Souza Yayi, first lady of Benin, Constancia Mangue de Obiang, first lady of Equatorial Guinea, plus their entourages, wives of the ambassadors, Nigerian artist Nike Davies-Okundaye, the first minister of culture from Morocco, Ingrid Saunders Jones, chair of the National Council for the Negro Woman, official translators, museum board members, journalists from “Arise” news, co-sponsors from the Caterpillar Foundation and Secret Service members (who weren’t so secret), all crammed into the museum’s upper hallway. “We know this is not an ideal space, but it’s okay. We just need many millions of dollars so we can build appropriate space to house you,” Cole half-joked in attempt to apologize for the heat and blocked views. But attendees weren’t as worried about the cramped quarters as they were about making sure the right people were acknowledged. The ambassador of Malawi’s wife stood to correct her title. The chairman of the Nigerian bank was introduced from the middle of the crowd. Just as more people were making their way to the front, Cole managed to rein in the crowd long enough to begin the speeches. “Every so often, the role of women in the continent is grossly underrepresented,” said a representative from Nigeria-based Access Bank. “Once the woman is educated, the whole family is educated and what’s true for the family is true for the community and the whole country.” Then the crowd was ushered downstairs for the meal, where a frazzled group of museum workers tried to check people in and manage seating arrangements. The group of people surrounding the rotunda? Staff members of the delegates, but not on the list. The Vice President of Zambia’s wife was seated next to the waiters’ station. Turns out, that’s a bad seat in any country. Finally, seats were found and food was served.   More from The Reliable Source: Lionel Richie will perform at the Africa ‘state dinner’ at the White House A playlist in honor of this week’s Africa summit in D.C. The first lady of Cameroon and her hair have touched down in D.C. Even more surreal estate, BOLO and Love, etc: Sign up for The Reliable Source newsletter. And follow us on Facebook and Twitter

CorrectionAn earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the title of  Charlotte Scott. This post has been updated.

Veronica Toney is a features digital editor and writer at The Washington Post.
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Helena Andrews · August 5, 2014