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Mrs. Obama keen to stir African youth

Michelle Obama’s daughters, Sasha (left) and Malia, were given blankets when they landed in Pretoria last night; she received flowers. Michelle Obama’s daughters, Sasha (left) and Malia, were given blankets when they landed in Pretoria last night; she received flowers. (Charles Dharapak/ AP Pool Photo)
By Darlene Superville
Associated Press / June 21, 2011

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PRETORIA — Michelle Obama is fond of saying there is no magic to her being first lady.

She does not come from a wealthy or well-connected family. She came from the South Side of Chicago and is a descendant of slaves. But she and President Obama share a passion for education and a willingness to work hard that helped them succeed, she has said.

It’s a message young leaders in Africa will hear as she makes her second solo trip abroad as first lady, visiting South Africa and Botswana.

Obama received a warm welcome upon her arrival last night in the capital of South Africa, Pretoria.

The weeklong visit is intended to improve relations with African nations and promote youth education, health, and wellness.

In the centerpiece speech of the trip, Obama will appear tomorrow before a US-sponsored forum of young women leaders from sub-Saharan Africa.

During her first solo trip outside the United States, to Mexico in April 2010, Obama started an effort to encourage young people to become involved in their communities and countries and not shy away from trying to solve global problems.

The youth population in many countries is growing fast, with 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,’’ 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.’’

Many of the stops on Obama’s trip will highlight South Africa’s past under apartheid, the system of white-minority rule.

She will also pay tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his role in the antiapartheid movement. He later became South Africa’s first elected black president.

Today in Pretoria, she will meet with Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, one of President Jacob Zuma’s three wives, at his official residence. Zuma was scheduled to be out of the country. In Johannesburg, she will meet with Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and tour the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Apartheid Museum.

A meeting between America’s first black presidential wife and the 92-year-old former president is hoped for but remained in doubt, given his fragile health. Mandela had an acute respiratory infection in January. He retired from public life after leaving office in 1999 after one term, but remains a larger-than-life figure in his country and around the world.

Obama delivers her speech tomorrow at Regina Mundi Church in the black township of Soweto, one of many churches that became hubs of activity for political gatherings after such meetings were banned during the antiapartheid struggle.

She will also view a memorial honoring a 13-year-old boy shot and killed by police during a June 1976 student uprising in Soweto.

In Cape Town on Thursday, Obama will ride a ferry to Robben Island for a visit to the closet-size cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

She will invite disadvantaged students to spend the day at the University of Cape Town, before meeting with groups that work to stem HIV/AIDS in South Africa, including by using soccer to reach out to children with information about the deadly disease.

Obama is also scheduled to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a key figure in the struggle against apartheid and in later helping South Africa overcome its past.

She heads to Botswana on Friday to call on President Ian Khama in Gaborone, the capital, and drop in at a combination clinic and center for teenagers that teaches about leadership and HIV/AIDS.

With business concluded by Saturday, Obama and her mother, two daughters, a niece and a nephew will have some private time, including an overnight stay in an animal park.

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