By Florence Mafomemeh
First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden went on a 5-day visit to Africa making stops in Namibia and Kenya. The White House said the First Lady’s trip was meant to show the administration’s commitment to Africa.
Dr. Biden arrived in Namibia Wednesday, the first stop on her 5-day Africa tour and focused on how youth can contribute to Namibia’s democracy. Biden and Namibian First Lady Monica Geingos visited a war memorial and then traveled to the state house together.
Her second and final stop was Kenya where she addressed food insecurity and the drought situation currently plaguing the horn of Africa. FLOTUS also visited women empowerment projects in Kenya which has faced many droughts over the last 15 years, causing food shortages and public health issues.
This rare visit by a high ranking US official was seen as part of a larger push by the United States to strengthen its ties on the continent. Her visit was seen as a follow-up to the US-Africa leaders’ summit held in December last year where she hosted a 2-day program for Africa’s First Ladies who attended.
The first lady’s trip is part of a commitment by President Joe Biden to deepen U.S. engagement with the fast-growing region. The United States has fallen well behind China in investment in sub-Saharan Africa, which has become a key battleground in an increasingly fraught competition between the major powers.
Such visits to the continent by high-ranking US officials are rare especially against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war that has captured the attention of the United States for the last year.
It’s Biden’s sixth time in Africa, but her first trip as first lady. She is following in the footsteps of her recent predecessors, who all made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean in the name of trying to help foster goodwill toward the United States. Dr. Biden, who brought along her granddaughter Naomi Biden, previously visited Africa in 2010, 2011, twice in 2014 and once in 2016, all during her husband’s service as U.S. vice president. Two of those trips were with him.
Patricia Nixon was the first first lady to travel to Africa on her own. She went as President Richard Nixon’s “personal representative” to Liberia, Ghana and the Ivory Coast in 1972. According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Nixon addressed legislative bodies and met with African leaders about U.S. policy toward the country now known as Zimbabwe, and human rights in South Africa.
Melania Trump visited for the first time solo in 2018 for five days stopping in Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt to promote U.S. developmental aid and education, cradled babies and highlighted animal and historic preservation.
Traveling without President Donald Trump who had denied making disparaging comments about African countries, Mrs. Trump went from opening an infant clinic in Ghana to learning about Africa’s slave past during a tour of Cape Coast Castle, a former slave holding facility on the Ghanaian coast. She spent time inside the cramped dungeon once used to house male slaves and walked through the “Door of No Return,” from which the slaves were shipped to the New World.
In Malawi, the former model toured indoor and outdoor classrooms, observed lessons and watched students play soccer with U.S.-donated balls. She highlighted elephant preservation at Nairobi National Park in Kenya. She closed the tour in Egypt by touring the pyramids and the Great Sphinx to highlight U.S.-supported preservation efforts there.
Michelle Obama went to South Africa and Botswana on a goodwill mission in the summer of 2011 to promote youth leadership, education and HIV and AIDS awareness. The centerpiece of the weeklong trip by America’s first Black first lady was a 30-minute speech at a U.S.-sponsored leadership conference at a church in Soweto township. The church became a popular refuge during the South African people’s fight against apartheid, the now-abolished system of government-imposed segregation.
She was accompanied by her daughters, Malia and Sasha; her mother, Marian Robinson; and a niece and nephew. Mrs. Obama also took her daughters to visit with former South African President Nelson Mandela at his home.
Mrs. Obama made a second solo visit to Africa in June 2016, the final year of the Obama administration. In Liberia and Morocco, she promoted her “Let Girls Learn” initiative to encourage developing countries to educate girls.She also visited Ghana with President Barack Obama in 2009, his first year in office.
Laura Bush traveled to Africa five times on her own between 2005 and 2007 during President George W. Bush’s second term, in addition to two trips she took with him.
Her trips mostly focused on promoting the administration’s efforts to combat the spread of HIV, as well as malaria. She also emphasized literacy, drug prevention and national parks. During one stop in South Africa, she praised HIV-positive mothers for working to erase the stigma associated with the disease. She spoke openly with African women about taking control of their sex lives.
Mrs. Bush also announced millions of dollars in U.S. funding for programs to stem the spread of AIDS and mosquito-borne malaria. In Mozambique, Bush covered her face with a white mask to help illustrate the benefits of spraying homes with insecticides to combat malaria. She also passed out mosquito nets. She was accompanied on these trips by one or both of her twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.
Hillary Clinton took along her 17-year-old daughter, Chelsea, on her two-week visit in March 1997 to Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda and Eritrea.
Clinton opened her journey at Goree Island in Senegal, a hub for the Atlantic slave trade for 300 years. Mrs. Clinton had said she wanted to see the island because of its significance to Black Americans. She discussed violent crime in South Africa, along with the need to improve education for Black people in a country that recently had abolished its apartheid policy of racial segregation.
Mrs. Clinton returned in 1998 when President Bill Clinton made his first visit to Africa; it was also the first visit to the continent by a U.S. president in 20 years.