The Washington Post

Michelle Obama heads to Africa next week

First lady Michelle Obama’s official visit to South Africa and Botswana next week will focus on engaging African youth and paying tribute to the cultural heritage and political struggles of both countries.

Obama’s schedule — which includes a hearty mix of public events, visits with local consulate officials and tourism — was released by White House officials Wednesday afternoon. She will be accompanied by her daughters, Malia and Sasha, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, on the five-day goodwill tour.

Their trip will begin June 20 in Pretoria, where Obama will meet with South African President Jacob Zuma’s wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma at Zuma’s official residence. The meeting will highlight one significant cultural difference: Zuma is a Zulu traditionalist and polygamist. Reports conflict on how many wives he has.

In Johannesburg, Obama and her entourage will visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where the anti-apartheid movement’s archives are housed. A visit with Mandela, who is 92 and battled a difficult respiratory infection earlier this year, is not on her schedule, but his wife, Graca Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique, will lead the family’s tour of the archives.

As in past trips, Obama will spend much of her time with children and young leaders, focusing her talks on education and wellness. Last year, in her first solo official visit overseas, Obama held a roundtable discussion with young adults in Mexico, hugged schoolchildren and visited earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Obama’s itinerary in South Africa similarly includes a visit to Soweto, the most populous black urban residential area in the country, where she will give a keynote address to 75 young women selected by U.S. officials for their leadership skills and lead them in a community service project.

During the latter part of the trip, Obama will visit Cape Town. She will meet with students at the University of Cape Town, visit an HIV/AIDS project that educates children about the virus, and travel to Robben Island, where Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists were held during the country’s years of racial oppression.

The family’s trip ends with a visit to Gabarone in Botswana and a safari in that country.

Both countries, which are democracies and have made progress on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, are well placed to be showcased with a visit by the first lady, said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, who has also served in South Africa.

“If you want to showcase countries that are moving in a democratic direction with a track record of credible elections and with governments that are actively wrestling with real issues that impact on their citizens, Botswana and South Africa are the right ones,” Campbell said.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.


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