US First Lady Jill Biden will this week visit Namibia and Kenya, making her first trip to the continent as First Lady as the White House looks to strengthen ties with the region.
The White House said the visit, the first by a White House principal this year to sub-Saharan Africa, begins on Wednesday and ends on Sunday. It comes ahead of expected visits by President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials later this year.
“The purpose of her trip is to reaffirm the US government’s investments in Africa, not just in their governments, but in their people and to continue her work to empower women and young people,” a senior administration official previewing the trip said.
Another senior administration official described the trip as a “demonstration of President Biden’s commitment that the United States is all in on Africa and all in with Africa.”
The first lady will arrive Wednesday in Namibia, where “her efforts are really focused on the role of young people in continuing to shape their democracy and advance health cooperation,” one official added.
Biden then will make her way to Kenya, where food insecurity and the impact of drought in the Horn of Africa will be front and center as she aims to “draw attention to what is a dire and immediate food crisis that cannot wait for further intervention and mobilization from the international community,” the official said.
She will also meet with the first ladies of each country and engage with organizations that work on youth engagement and women’s empowerment, including issues relating to gender-based violence.
Biden visited Africa five times as second lady, including a 2011 stop at the largest refugee camp in Kenya as thousands fled Somalia. This will mark her third trip ever to Kenya and first to Namibia, making her the most senior US official to travel to the country since then-Vice President Al Gore visited in 1996.
The Biden administration has sought to bolster its relationships with African countries at a time when Russia and China have made inroads in the region, which is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
“Our policy towards Africa is about what we do with Africans,” one senior administration official said. “That doesn’t mean that we are not aware of the strategic moment we’re in, but we are not defining our policy by the role of China in Africa. … Many of our officials have conversations with Africans about China, but I don’t anticipate that to be a focus of this conversation.”
Last year, the president hosted nearly 50 African leaders at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, where he announced billions of dollars of investments relating to financing and bolstering democracy.
President Biden also said he was “eager” to visit Africa in 2023, adding, “‘Some of you invited me to your countries. I said, ‘Be careful what you wish for because I may show up.'”
The White House has yet to detail when President Biden might visit Africa. Vice President Kamala Harris is also expected to travel to the continent in the coming months.