< Jill Biden Visits Africa for First Time as First Lady
By Dan Novak
22 February 2023

Jill Biden arrived in Namibia Wednesday for her first visit to Africa as first lady, the wife of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Biden's trip will bring attention to women's rights, children's issues and food insecurity.

Judd Devermont is senior director for African Affairs with the U.S. National Security Council. On Tuesday, he told reporters: "Dr. Biden's trip builds on last year's U.S.- Africa Leaders' summit and as another demonstration of President Biden's commitment that the United States is all-in on Africa..."

First lady Jill Biden watches a dance performance as she arrives during the first leg of her African visit, at the Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, in Namibia, Feb. 22, 2023. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
First lady Jill Biden watches a dance performance as she arrives during the first leg of her African visit, at the Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek, in Namibia, Feb. 22, 2023. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

With this visit, Jill Biden is also the first first lady to visit Namibia since the southwest African nation became independent in 1990.

National Security Council spokesperson Becky Farmer said Biden will bring attention to the food security crisis in the Horn of Africa. The area is having the "worst drought that this region has experienced" in many years, she said. Farmer added that over 20 million people are experiencing food insecurity in the area.

President Biden discussed the situation in December when he announced aid for the area at the African Leaders summit in Washington. He discussed it again Tuesday while talking about the effects of Russia's war in Ukraine on world food supplies.

"Putin tried to starve the world," he said. President Biden accused the Russian leader of blocking ports on the Black Sea and preventing Ukraine from exporting grain to Africa.

"And this week my wife, Jill Biden, is traveling to Africa to help bring attention to this critical issue," Biden said.

The Biden administration is making efforts to get Africa to support Ukraine instead of Russia. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently visited Senegal, Zambia and South Africa. Russia's foreign minister has visited many African nations with ties to Russia like Mali, Sudan and Angola.

China sent its new foreign minister to Africa for his first overseas trip. Observers say it is a sign of China's interest in Africa.

Warm receptions are normal

Presidential-spouse visits are different from the strategic policy moves of the presidency. Jill Biden herself points out that she is not an official of the U.S. government.

"As spouses, we serve the people of our countries, too. Don't we?" she said in December, at a gathering of spouses of African leaders.

U.S. first ladies are generally well received in Africa, said Katherine Jellison. Jellison is a professor of U.S. women's history at Ohio University.

"There's just going to be warmer feelings toward a nonpolitician who's visiting than a politician," she said.

First lady Laura Bush was welcomed during her several visits to Africa. She supported the programs of her husband George W. Bush's administration, which aimed to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria. She also attended the swearing in of the Africa's first female president, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in 2006.

The first Black first lady Michelle Obama's travel to Africa was filled with deep meaning. She used her trips to push for girls' education.

Jill Biden visited Africa five times when her husband was vice president. In 2011 she visited Africa's largest refugee camp at Dadaab in Kenya. During a speech there, she made a plea she may repeat on this trip.

"Mothers are bringing their children from Somalia, walking sometimes 15, 20, 25 days and they lose their children along the way, the children die," she said. "So what I'm asking is for Americans just to help ... because the situation here is dire."

I'm Dan Novak.

Anita Powell reported this story for Voice of America. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

summit — n. a meeting of high-level leaders

commitment — n. a promise to do or give something

drought — n. a lengthy period of little or no rain

region — n. an area of a country or the world that is different from others for some reason

spouse — n. someone who is married

strategic — adj. related to a plan or goal that is large and extends over a long period of time

plea — n. a serious or emotional request

dire — adj. very bad, a cause for worry

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