The first lady is expected to visit Namibia and Kenya from 22 February to 26 February to focus on “empowerment of women and youth, efforts to address food insecurity, and promoting our shared democratic values”, according to a readout from the White House. She is the most senior White House official to travel to sub-Saharan Africa since the start of the Biden administration.
The five-day visit marks the third trip by a top US official since the US-Africa Leaders Summit in December, which promised to usher in a new era of engagement amid inroads by China and Russia.
Since then, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield have both stopped by, while Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and USAID Administrator Samantha Power are all expected to follow suit.
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“Biden’s trip builds on last year’s US Africa Leaders Summit and is another demonstration of President Biden’s commitment that the United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa,” a senior administration official told reporters on a background call previewing her visit.
Her choice to visit Namibia and Kenya “reflects President Biden’s intent to engage with countries across the continent and deepening our ties on a range of issues”, the official said.
Biden has her own ties to the continent, having previously visited six times, including two trips to Kenya in 2010-2011 when her husband served as President Barack Obama’s vice-president. Aid to refugees escaping the famine in neighbouring Somalia was a major focus at the time, and Biden is once again expected to focus on food insecurity in the Horn of Africa during her coming trip, including the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
On this trip, Dr. Biden will be engaging directly with both First Ladies and their respective organisations that focus on women’s and youth empowerment
A high school and community college teacher for more than 30 years, Biden is expected to use the trip to advance her own work “to empower women and young people”, a second official said.
The president’s wife bonded with fellow First Ladies Monica Geingos of Namibia and Kenya’s Rachel Ruto when she hosted a spousal program at the leaders summit.
“On this trip, Dr. Biden will be engaging directly with both First Ladies and their respective organisations that focus on women’s and youth empowerment, as well as a range of engagements with local organisations,” the second official said.
Biden’s stop in Windhoek will mark the most senior US visit to Namibia since Vice President Al Gore’s tour in 1996.
The trip will spotlight a rare democratic success story on the continent – Namibia is one of only eight African countries ranked “free” by Freedom House in 2022. Namibia’s president, Hage Geingob, currently chairs the South Africa Development Community’s organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
As such, “he plays an important role in overseeing the region’s responses to political and security crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ewastini, as well as the upcoming Zimbabwe elections”, the first administration official said.
The second official called Namibia an “increasingly important partner” for the US.
“Biden will really focus not just on the role that they have in the region, but the influence that their youth had in supporting and advancing democracy,” the official said.
In Kenya, much of the attention will be on boosting US trade and investment in the east African powerhouse as well as the food crisis.
“Kenya is also dealing with the devastating challenges of food insecurity, resulting from the fifth failed rains in the Horn of Africa and worsened by Russia’s war against Ukraine,” the first senior official said.
“Biden will have an opportunity to engage on a number of these issues as well as deepen our people to people ties.”
The war has exacerbated the effects of the worst drought the region has seen in decades, leaving 20 million people vulnerable to acute food insecurity and many more suffering from hunger.
“Over the past year under the leadership of President Biden, the United States government has mobilised significant resources in US government funding and other forms of support to support those countries hardest hit by the global food security crisis,” the second official said.
She’ll be engaging with organisations supported by US government funding, and also looking at ways that technology and innovative partnerships are being leveraged to drive solutions to the drought
Biden will be visiting to better understand the direct impacts of climate change that was compounded after the Russian invasion blocked food exports to the region, the second official added.
“In that capacity, she’ll be engaging with organisations supported by US government funding, and also looking at ways that technology and innovative partnerships are being leveraged to drive solutions to the drought.”
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