NEW YORK - First ladies in several African countries hope their American counterpart will find ways to tackle problems, with a nuanced understanding of the African experience, when she visits the continent next week.
The first ladies of Mozambique, Namibia and Sierra Leone spoke to VOA in New York during the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly and shared advice for U.S. first lady Melania Trump.
Isaura Nyusi, the first lady of Mozambique, told VOA through her interpreter and adviser that she looked forward to seeing Trump’s initiatives in the United States applied to African challenges. Trump would be welcomed in Mozambique, Nyusi added, although that country is not currently on the American first lady’s itinerary.
Trump is slated to visit Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt in what the White House is calling a trip about “maternal and newborn care in hospitals, education for children, the deep culture and history woven into each African country, and how the United States is supporting each country on its journey to self-reliance.”
Trump announced the itinerary Wednesday at a General Assembly reception. It’s her first major solo overseas trip as first lady.
Praise for USAID
On the trip, Trump will highlight the work of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), whose efforts in Africa focus on agriculture, health care, governance and climate change.
“I am so proud of the work this administration is doing through USAID and others, and look forward to the opportunity to take the message of my ‘Be Best’ campaign to many of the countries, and children, throughout Africa,” Trump said in New York.
USAID’s 2019 budget includes $16.8 billion in assistance for developing countries around the world.
“Be Best,” Melania Trump’s signature campaign, focuses on children’s physical and mental health, tackling two issues of particular concern in the United States: social media use and opioid abuse.
“Whether it is education, drug addiction, hunger, online safety or bullying, poverty, or disease, it is too often children who are hit first, and hardest, across the globe,” she added.
Monica Geingos, the first lady of Namibia, said she hoped Melania Trump would bring to her trip an understanding of Africa that breaks through stereotypes.
“I think the narrative that is generally crafted around African issues is really one of these poor, incapable, helpless Africans. And that’s not the narrative of Africa when you actually get to the continent,” Geingos told VOA.
“Even in the worst cases of poverty, you’ll find the most dignified Africans,” Geingos added. “And you can only treat them with dignities they deserve if you understand where they come from and what they deal with on a daily basis.”
Sierra Leone first lady Fatima Maada Bio contrasted the stature of the first lady’s role in the United States to the many African nations that don’t have an Office of the First Lady.
“We should be the voice of the people, but we should not be respected just by having an office where we could actually sit and understand people’s issues,” Bio told VOA.
“I think the first lady of America, what she can do is actually start talking to African heads of state to start empowering the first ladies’ offices, because the first ladies’ offices, as much as we are not an elected office, but we can make very big changes to society,” Bio said.
This story originated in VOA’s Africa Division, with English to Africa’s Haydé Adams FitzPatrick reporting; additional reporting and writing by Salem Solomon, with Karina Choudhury contributing. The Voice of America hosted a Facebook Live session Sept. 27 for its upcoming show, Our Voices, in which African women will discuss topics from around the continent. Watch the conversation with the first lady of Namibia.