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 will hear as Mrs. Obama visits South Africa and Botswana in her second solo tour abroad. “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.
Mrs. Obama, accompanied by her two daughters, a niece, a nephew and her mother, received a warm welcome upon her arrival Monday night at the air force base in the capital of South Africa, Pretoria, after 18 hours and more than 1,800 miles of travel. The weeklong visit is intended to improve relations between the U.S. and Africa and promote youth engagement, education, health and wellness.
It was during Mrs. Obama’s first solo trip outside the U.S., to Mexico in April 2010, that she 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 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. 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.