JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - First lady Michelle Obama arrived in South Africa on Monday on her second official solo journey abroad with a goal of advancing U.S. policies on education, health, and democracy.
The first lady arrived at a military airport in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, shortly before 1930 GMT. She was welcomed by U.S. ambassador Donald Gips and his family.
She will make stops in Johannesburg and Cape Town and later in the week visit Botswana.
Her trip will be rich with imagery, as the wife of the first black U.S. president and a descendent of African slaves.
In South Africa she will meet Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela. She will also visit the island where Mandela was imprisoned under apartheid and Soweto — South Africa’s biggest black township and site of bitter battles with apartheid police in the 1970s and 80s.
Mrs. Obama’s visit to South Africa could boost the image of President Jacob Zuma and his government, independent political analyst Nic Borain said.
“I think any president who hosts her gets to bask in the glory. So a president of the newish South Africa, the site of the last great struggle by black people against colonialism and apartheid hosting the first black First Lady, is going to take on a symbolic quality that will be quite blinding,” Borain said.
In Botswana she will meet President Ian Khama and women leaders. She will also see a nature reserve.
Her trip comes as the United States starts gearing up for the 2012 presidential election, when her husband, President Barack Obama, hopes to hold on to the White House. Pictures of Mrs. Obama in Africa could appear in the campaign to appeal to black voters, a critical voting bloc for Obama’s Democrats.
White House officials said her visit would advance her husband’s foreign policy goals.
“This trip by the first lady is very directly connected to the president’s agenda in Africa and the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Africa,” Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser told reporters last week.
“It’s no coincidence that she would be visiting countries that have embraced democracy, (and) in many respects, have shown that not only does their democracy deliver for its citizens, but it can provide a positive example for the neighborhood that these countries are in as well.”
The first lady’s previous official solo trip abroad was to Mexico.
She is joined on this trip by her two daughters, Sasha and Malia, two of their cousins and Mrs Obama’s mother. The girls were given large blankets with colors of the South African flag to wrap up in as they got off the plane.
Writing by Marius Bosch; editing by David Stamp