Heat, hair and hankies: the best red-carpet moments from the White House’s Africa summit dinner

Peter Selfridge deserves a standing ovation — or, at the least, a glass of water.

On a near 90-degree night Tuesday, Selfridge and his trusty hankie worked overtime as the chief of protocol shook dozens of very important hands, trekking up and down the red carpet as the White House welcomed 51 African leaders and their plus-ones.

Beginning not long after 6 p.m. with the arrival of Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, and ending more than an hour later with King Mswati III of Swaziland (and one of his wives, who looked unhappy to be there), Selfridge and an honor guard gamely greeted black car after black car. The staged repetition (and the sun) had to be tedious, lacking the rarefied pomp and circumstance of an official state dinner.

There were some bright spots, particularly when it came to the fashion of Africa’s first ladies. Mauritania’s chic Lady Tekber Mint Melainine Ould Ahmed made wearing aviators at night look cool. And of course, Cameroon’s eccentric first lady Chantal Biya arrived with her devil-may-care hair.

The only real bump in the red carpet came when one member of the honor guard appeared to get sick on the job. Standing stock-still for more than an hour in uniform, while holding a heavy rifle as the heat refuses to let up, can’t be easy. Neither is watching the whole thing on TV. So to save you from watching all the proceedings, we’ve highlighted the greatest moments from the red-carpet arrivals.

1.  Lady Tekber Mint Melainine Ould Ahmed of Mauritania, her stunner shades, her designer bag, her all around diva-ness — oh, and her husband, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and his wife Lady Tekber Mint Melainine Ould Ahmed upon arrival for a dinner for the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and his wife Lady Tekber Mint Melainine Ould Ahmed upon arrival for a dinner for the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


2. The first lady of fierce, Cameroon’s Chantal Biya, did not disappoint as she arrived swathed head to toe in pink — with her husband, President Paul Biya. 

Cameroon2

3. Don’t mind me or my big wooden scepter. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, president of the Republic of the Gambia, arrived with his wife, Zineb Jammeh. 

Gambia2


4. A member of the honor guard appears to succumb to the heat while standing at the North Portico entrance to the White House. 


5. Never leave home without it: Peter Selfridge, the chief of protocol, and his hankie. 

PeterSelfridge2

Follow more of the big dinner’s news here from Lionel Richie’s pseudo-African song lyrics to what 1600 Penn. will have on the menu.

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

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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