It’s true, she’s taken her mother and niece along for the ride, as well has her own two children. She spent last night in a comfortable hotel in Dakar. But unlike her recent stop in the Republic of Ireland, which was an obscene adventure in tourism at taxpayer expense, First Lady Michelle Obama is not on vacation this week in Africa.
Whether the trip to Africa as a whole was worth it – up to $100 million – is a matter for debate. But Michelle is not misusing her time there.
Rather, she has a fairly busy schedule of substantive and symbolic events, and while she’ll get in her share of sightseeing, the spots she’ll appear at are historically and culturally significant and appropriate venues for the visiting dignitaries from the United States to hit. She’ll be playing the role a first lady is supposed to play on these trips – participating in the diplomatic effort by engaging in meetings with her counterparts and promoting the United States and its values to the locals.
Michelle’s day today in Senegal was consistent with a visit by a first lady of the United States, as opposed to someone looking to get in some vacation time. She had tea with the first lady of Senegal and then traveled with her to a school named for Martin Luther King, where she touted the importance of education on a continent where too few girls get enough of one.
She then traveled to Goree Island with President Obama, the last stop for many Africans on their way to slavery in the United States.
The rest of Michelle’s trip promises more of the same.
After flying to South Africa Friday, Mrs. Obama on Saturday will meet with the first lady of South Africa and then deliver remarks and participate in a discussion the young people that will be broadcast throughout the continent. Later, she’ll have a formal dinner with President Obama and South African President Zuma and his wife.
On Sunday, Michelle will travel her husband to Cape Town and visit Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment.
On Monday in Tanzania, Mrs. Obama will meet with the first lady of that nation and visit the memorial to the bombing of the embassy there by al Qaeda. She will also attend a performance by a troupe of underprivileged boys and girls, followed by a formal dinner hosted for her and President Obama the President of Tanzania.
On Tuesday, she will participate in the African First Ladies Summit, which is being staged by none of than the George W. Bush Institute. Bush was ironically far more focused on Africa than the current president, whose father hails from the continent, and Bush has maintained his commitment to improving conditions there during his years as an ex-president.
The theme of the summit will be, “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” with discussions of ways to promote women’s education, health and economic empowerment.
No doubt Michelle will have many enjoyable moments. But she’s in African as first lady, not as a tourist.