Jill Biden on Wednesday made the first visit by a U.S. first lady to the southwestern African nation of Namibia — chosen, she said, because of its vibrant democracy. The Namibian president and first lady warmly welcomed her on the first stop of her first trip to the continent as first lady.
When asked why she chose Namibia — an arid, sparsely populated southern African nation — as the first stop on what the White House says is a show of support and respect for the African continent, Biden did not hesitate.
“We wanted to come because you know this is a young democracy, and we want to support democracies around the world,” she said. “We met each other in December, and we’re just continuing the relationship. Monica and I think it’s safe to say that we became good friends instantly.”
That friend — Namibian first lady Monica Geingos — agreed.
“There’s a lot in Namibia that we’d really like to show Dr. Biden. I know it’s her first visit to Namibia. I know it’s the first time an incumbent American first lady has come to the country, and I think what she talked about is very true. It is a very vibrant democracy. We’ve got a very large youth population, who drives that democracy, very energetic and fully enabled by our constitutional values but also by the personal values of our leadership. He may not look it, but he’s really the ultimate democrat.”
Jill Biden is the first White House official to visit the country after President Joe Biden last year pledged to send administration officials to the continent. She follows Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who visited earlier this year.
Visit highlights hunger
Like Biden, Thomas-Greenfield focused part of her visit around a food security crisis in East Africa — something Biden plans to highlight when she visits Kenya later this week. But these high-profile visits are also happening against the background of increased visits by top-level Russian and Chinese officials to the continent.
Geingos' husband, President Hage Geingob, waited alone in a foyer while the two first ladies were entertained by dancers from the Nama, Oshiwambo and Tswana people, who ululated and danced in a flurry of leopard print, white beads and hot pink springbok pelts. VOA asked him what he thought of the unprecedented visit.
“We are very happy and honored to have the first lady of the United States. It's a great honor to have her here,” he replied.
While the nation is a multiparty democracy, the same party — Geingob's South West Africa People’s Organization — has led since the nation won independence more than three decades ago. And that liberation struggle pulled in other countries for support. Earlier Wednesday, Biden laid a wreath at Heroes' Acre, a memorial to those who fought for the nation's independence.
That memorial, with its brutalist sculpture and wide expanses of stone, bears an uncanny similarity to the Heroes' Acre in Zimbabwe's capital, maybe because both memorials were built by the same North Korean company. That same firm built the imposing, modernist gray cement State House where Biden was so warmly received by the first couple.
Biden plans on Thursday to visit a U.S.-funded project in the capital that focuses on empowering women and children, and to lunch with Geingos. Then she heads Friday to Kenya, where she will use her popularity and platform to draw attention to women’s empowerment, children’s issues and the hunger crisis that is again ravaging the Horn of Africa.