Washington – Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Egypt: Melania Trump flies Monday for a week-long trip to Africa.
A “First Lady” who travels abroad without the President is not, in itself, extraordinary: Michelle Obama has done so on several occasions, in South Africa, China or Cambodia.
But the perfume of mystery that still surrounds the discreet Melania, almost two years after her husband’s election, and the latter’s words about the African continent, which have provoked a wave of indignation, give this journey a particular significance.
This is the first time in his life that the 48-year-old former model of Slovenian origin will set foot on the African continent.
Will it break the ice a little? Will it venture, even in an allusive way, into the political arena?
For this “diplomatic and humanitarian” visit, according to its spokesperson Stephanie Grisham, the American President’s third wife intends to focus on children.
“Whether it is for education, drug addiction, hunger, internet safety, bullying, poverty or disease, it is too often children who are the first victims in the world,” she explained a few days ago from New York.
Beyond meetings with other First Ladies, she intends to highlight the work of USAID, the U.S. development agency.
But, Stephanie Grisham insists, she is not going on an official trip. “It’s her journey, her initiative,” she explains to AFP.
Indeed, in the United States and internationally, the First Lady has so far kept her distance, in a form of neutrality, from her husband’s initiatives, in marked contrast to many of those who preceded her in this position.
To date, “she has not been the lawyer, or the spokesperson for her policies,” Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff of Laura Bush, wife of George W. Bush, who now teaches at American University in Washington, told AFP.
“Many First Ladies have been political assets to their husbands, even when they were very unpopular,” she recalls, citing among others the case of Lady Bird Johnson, wife of Lyndon Johnson, who had traveled throughout the southern United States during the 1964 presidential campaign.
Melania Trump, “the woman of few words”, is “very independent, she meant it from the beginning, right after the election, when she indicated that she would not move to Washington right away,” adds Anita McBride.
– “We love Africa” –
However, the move could be tricky.
“We both love Africa,” Donald Trump told the UN a few days ago. “Africa is beautiful. The most beautiful place in the world in many ways.
Beyond this formula from a president fond of superlatives, Donald Trump has never, since he came to power in January 2017, shown any marked interest in the continent.
And on the few occasions he mentioned it, the controversy was violent.
In January, at a meeting at the White House, he was outraged, speaking of Haiti and African countries, at the immigration from “shitty countries”. He never explicitly challenged these remarks, which were made during an in camera meeting with elected officials and left their mark.
Another major controversy in August. The only time he was openly involved in the internal affairs of an African country was to denounce… the fate of white farmers in South Africa, victims according to him “large-scale murders”.
In a country engaged in agrarian reform aimed at repairing, more than 20 years after the fall of apartheid, the blatant injustices inherited from the segregationist regime, the words went wrong. “Let him take care of his America, we will take care of South Africa,” replied South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, scathing.
Notable fact: Melania Trump is leaving Washington in the heat of the moment, in the run-up to crucial parliamentary elections for the second half of Donald Trump’s term. So far, it has remained completely out of the debate.
This is in stark contrast to the last mid-term elections in 2014.