In her first solo foreign trip as first lady, Melania Trump is visiting visit four African countries to highlight her work on children’s issues. Wednesday morning, she was reminded of a painful part of America’s history when she toured a castle whose dungeons were formerly used to house slaves awaiting transport across the Atlantic. Mrs. Trump described the visit as “really touching,” reports CBS News.
Her four-nation African tour follows the traditional path of a goodwill gesture by the first lady. Though in the countries she’s visiting, many say she’ll have to overcome the baggage of the belittling comments her husband made about the continent earlier this year.
In January, President Trump questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “sh*thole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway, in rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal.
When Mrs. Trump arrived on her outreach to Africa as part of her “Be Best,” campaign she was welcomed in colorful style and greeted by Ghana’s first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo.
Africa is well-travelled terrain for U.S. first ladies. Michelle Obama focused on empowering young girls through leadership and education. Hillary Clinton highlighted U.S. support for African democracy and Laura Bush made many trips to the continent in support of her HIV and AIDS projects.
Laura Bush’s former chief of staff Anita McBride says the first ladies are often more popular than their husbands when travelling abroad.
“This is the perfect role for the first lady of the United States to really be a softening tone, or a gentler tone, and to build bridges,” McBride said.
Mending those bridges might well be the unspoken subtext of Mrs. Trump’s African tour. After her husband’s disparaging remarks about the region, many of Mrs. Trump’s planned events highlight programs funded by USAID money — even though the Trump administration has proposed cuts to the agency’s budget.
“It might appear to be at odds with the president’s overall policies, but it’s important that she try and do what she can to sort of change that impression as much as she can,” McBride said.
There are still several more opportunities for the first lady to repair the relationship with Africa, with stops ahead in Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.