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Michelle Obama in South Africa

President Barack Obama and the First Lady Mich...

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Michelle Obama is fond of saying there’s no magic to her being first lady. She didn’t come from a wealthy or well-connected family. She came from the South Side of Chicago and is a descendant of slaves. But she says it’s a passion for an education that she and President Barack Obama shared and a willingness to work hard that helped them become successful.  It’s a message that young leaders in Africa soon will hear when Mrs. Obama makes her second solo trip abroad as first lady, visiting South Africa and Botswana this coming week. “In so many ways, I see myself in you all. And I want you to see yourselves in me,” she recently told Washington high school students, hoping to inspire them with her personal story.

The weeklong visit, beginning with the first lady’s arrival Monday in Johannesburg, is intended to improve relations between the U.S. and Africa and promote youth engagement, education, health and wellness. In the centerpiece speech of the trip, she will appear Wednesday before a U.S.-sponsored forum of young women leaders from sub-Saharan Africa. Her family will join her on most outings, probably exposing her daughters to more of the media spotlight than they’re used to.

It was during her first solo trip outside the U.S., to Mexico in April 2010, that the first lady started an effort to encourage young people to become involved in their communities and countries and not shy away from trying to solve persistent global problems. The youth population outside the U.S. is growing fast, with young people ages 15 to 24 making up 20 percent of the world’s population. “The fact is is that responsibility for meeting the defining challenges of our time will soon fall to all of you,” Mrs. Obama told thousands of university students in Mexico City. “Soon, the world will be looking to your generation to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will fuel our prosperity and ensure our well-being for decades to come.” That message is likely to resonate in a place such as South Africa, where two of three residents are younger than 30, said Jennifer Cooke, an Africa scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. The first lady will be meeting with Julius Malema, recently re-elected leader of the ANC youth league.

Botswana is a regular stop for U.S. officials. Well governed, it is considered one of Africa’s best functioning democracies, Cooke said. Many of the stops on Mrs. Obama’s trip will highlight South Africa’s past under apartheid, the system of white-minority rule. She’ll also pay tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his role in the anti-apartheid movement. He later became South Africa’s first elected black president.

Although Mrs Obama is not visiting Zimbabwe, we will certainly watch her as does her rounds.

By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, June 20, 9:19 AM WASHINGTON —

Categories: General

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