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Michelle Obama's Africa Trip to Focus on Youth Leadership

  • James Butty

US first lady Michelle Obama (file photo)

US first lady Michelle Obama (file photo)

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, White House officials said the First Lady's trip will take her to South Africa and Botswana

The White House says first lady Michelle Obama’s forthcoming trip to South Africa and Botswana is a continuation of her work to engage young people.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday ahead of next week’s trip, Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff, said the first lady’s trip will emphasize youth leadership, education and health.

“Our trip from June 21st to June 27th is going to focus on youth leadership, education, health and wellness. It’s really a continuation of the work that Mrs. Obama has been doing on her previous trips abroad with the president where she has, throughout the trip, met with students, met with youth to encourage them to excel academically and serve and lead,” Tchen says.

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes says the first lady’s visit is also directly connected to President Obama’s policy to advance democracy in Africa.

“The president spoke at length about his approach to Africa when he was in Accra, Ghana, in 2009. I think he laid out a vision in which he saw Africa, not as separate from the world, but fundamentally connected to the wider world,” he says.

Rhodes says the United States has a common interest with Africa in fostering economic growth and development, healthy populations, democratic governance and a government that delivers for the people.

He says the United States believes it will be more secure when Africa is secure.

Expectations were high in Africa when President Obama took office in 2009 because Africans believed the new president, whose father came from Kenya, would visit a number of African countries during his time in office.

But, Rhodes says, while the president has not visited more African countries, the administration has found other ways to continue to speak to Africans.

“We strongly supported democratic governance in Africa through a variety of means ranging from speaking in instances such as the recent unrest in Cote d’Ivoire when democratic legitimacy was under threat, to building the capabilities and capacities of African institutions, so that democracy is strengthened,” he says.

Rhodes says the Obama administration pursued a range of development priorities such as food security and The Global Health Initiative.

While in South Africa, Obama will meet with President Jacob Zuma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.

The White House says, while President and Mrs. Obama have a personal admiration for former President Mandela, no meeting has currently been scheduled with the South African elder statesman. They say any such meeting would depend on Mr. Mandela’s ability to receive visitors.

On Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a U.S. sponsored young African women’s leadership forum.

Rhodes says the first lady’s speech would follow the theme of President Obama’s message to the young African leaders’ forum last year in Washington, in which he spoke of the extraordinary potential of young people and challenged them to reach for their highest aspirations.

“What we’ve seen in country after country is an undeniable trend that, in places where women are in power, the societies are more prosperous and democratic. And so, we believe that it’s a very important message to send that the empowerment of women and girls in Africa and around the world will help foster greater peace and prosperity,” Rhodes says.

Rhodes also says the Obama administration has not backed away from its commitment to fighting HIV/AIDs in Africa.

“We have actually increased resources for HIV/AIDS. Not only did we maintain the resources that made such a huge contribution under PEPFAR under President Bush, but we’ve actually gone over and above that in terms of the resources in combating HIV/AIDS on the continent,” Rhodes says.

From South Africa, Obama will visit Botswana, which Rhodes describes as another African country that is making great strides in building the long-term foundations of a stable democracy and pursuing an economic model that can deliver for its citizens.