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Michelle Obama says husband 'would love to be here'

Jeff Mason

US First Lady Michelle Obama rejected criticism that her husband's administration had not paid enough attention to Africa.

US First Lady Michelle Obama rejected criticism that her husband’s administration had not paid enough attention to Africa, saying on Friday her trip was a direct reflection of his commitment to the continent.

Michelle Obama’s visit to South Africa for the Young African Women Leader Forum has created a media frenzy. Listen to the full speech she delivered at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto on Wednesday morning.
Obama arrived in Botswana early on Friday after spending the past days in South Africa promoting health, education and youth leadership.

She met President Ian Khama and young people who have or are affected by HIV/Aids.

Her husband, President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, has faced criticism for not spending more time on the continent himself. His only trip as president was to Ghana in 2009 for one night.

“There are a lot of expectations for this president. And so there’s bound to be people who feel like it’s never enough,” Obama said in a group interview with four reporters travelling with her on the week-long African trip.

“But this trip is ... a direct reflection of his support and his interest and his view of the importance of Africa to the world and to the future of the world. That’s why I’m here.”

President Obama is in the middle of tough talks with congressional Republicans to agree a deal to raise the US debt limit and reduce the deficit. With the 2012 election looming, his primary political focus has been domestic.

“This is his trip. He would love to be here. But there’s a lot of work to do on the domestic front, and particularly at this time there are a lot of critical issues,” Mrs Obama said.

“I think his record and the number of senior officials who have spent so much time in Africa are ... a reflection of this administration’s commitment to this continent.”

Jennifer Cooke, Africa Programme Director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: “The fact that he’s only taken one short trip—I think people have been disappointed, Africans and Africa policy watchers alike.

“People are hoping for a trip and one a little longer than his Ghana sojourn.”

Obama is on her second official solo journey abroad, along with her daughters, their cousins, and her mother.

The White House hopes the first lady’s trip to South African and Botswana will highlight strong democracies on the continent and serve as an example for others.

In a nod to that goal, Obama praised Botswana during remarks at a meeting of young women leaders.

“It is a pleasure to be in this beautiful country that embodies what my husband has called ‘a vision of Africa on the move’,” she said. “That is Botswana, a thriving democracy, a vital society, a fast-growing economy, and more importantly a kind and generous people.”

Obama and her family are scheduled to take a safari on Saturday and head back to Washington on Sunday. - Reuters

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