Melania Trump forges ahead as first lady with Africa trip

WASHINGTON (AP) — First lady Melania Trump heads for Africa on her first big solo international trip, aiming to make child well-being the focus of a five-day, four-country tour that will take her to every corner of the vast and impoverished continent.

Departing on Monday, she opens her first-ever visit to Africa on Tuesday in Ghana in the West, followed by stops in Malawi in the South, Kenya in the East and Egypt in the Northeast.

Her first extended turn on the world stage outside the shadow of President Donald Trump could still be complicated by her husband, who has spoken of the continent in impolite and even vulgar terms.

That leaves the first lady with some fence-mending duties.

"She's got some heavy lifting to do on this trip and it's a little bit unfair because that's not what a first lady's trip should be about," said Judd Devermont, the Africa program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. First ladies usually practice a softer form of diplomacy, showing interest in a host nation's schools, hospitals and arts programs, and avoiding thornier issues.

Joshua Meservey, a senior Africa policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, countered by noting the "positive engagements" the president has had with some African heads of state, including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who met with Trump at the White House in late August. Trump also met last week in New York with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt.

Meservey also noted that the U.S. spends considerable amounts on public health and development initiatives in Malawi, which is among the world's least-developed countries.

See more on Melania Trump:

15 PHOTOS
A history of Melania Trump's most controversial outfits
See Gallery
A history of Melania Trump's most controversial outfits

As part of her first solo international trip as first lady, Melania visited Nairobi National Park in a white pith helmet, which drew criticism for its colonial-era past. 

Read more here

Melania Trump attended the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations alongside her husband. Her black dress was thought to be a slight towards President Trump as many people on the internet saw her outfit as a gesture of support for sexual assault survivors.

Read more here.

The Trumps welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda to the White House in September. The problem? Melania was wearing a wool coat while it was still 80 degrees outside. Furthermore, she didn't remove her coat while dining inside with the Polish first lady, which Twitter deemed not the best hostess tactic. 

Read more here

Melania Trump tried her hand at gardening for the second time to plant an Eisenhower Oak at the White House in August. The $4000 skirt and sky-high Louboutin heels she wore to dig soil sent the internet aflame. 

"Melania is launching her new line of Gardening Attire, accompanied by the standard 4-inch heels," joked one Twitter user. 

Read more here

FLOTUS stepped out on August 20th in Maryland to promote her Be Best initiative and discuss cyberbullying. To the event, she wore the once-controversial pussy-bow blouse -- the same style she sported during the 2016 presidential debate after the Access Hollywood leak. 

Read more here.

Arguably her most controversial outfit yet, Melania sported a jacket emblazoned with the words "I Really Don't Care Do You" to visit migrant children separated from their parents in Texas. The Zara jacket retails for $39.

Read more here.  

Melania arrived at POTUS' State of the Union at the start of the new year in a white Dior pantsuit. Many members of Congress chose to wear black in solidarity with sexual assault survivors and in protest of the Trump administration: Melania stood out in all white. 

Read more here

Following Ivana Trump's controversial interview in October, Melania donned an emerald green shirtdress from British brand Cefinn to an official visit to Lily's Place to visit with families affected by addiction. It's the first non-profit infant recovery center in the world. 

The dress was designed by former first lady of Britain Samantha Cameron. Is she reminding everyone of her status? 

Read more here

Alongside President Trump, FLOTUS arrived in Vegas in October to pay their respects to the 50 victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Her all-black, closed-off look drew some major criticism on Twitter. 

"I'm making a public plea to Melania Trump: stop with the sunglasses (and the heels at disaster areas)," one Twitter user wrote.

Read more here

Twitter had a lot to say about this picture of FLOTUS getting down and dirty in the garden established by former first lady Michelle Obama. 

Her $1380 Balmain shirt wasn't the most appropriate choice for the event.

Read more here

Though this photo was taken at the White House Congressional Picnic in June, the Trumps tweeted a photo from the event to wish the country a happy Labor Day the following September. 

"We are building our future with American hands, American labor, American iron, aluminum and steel," POTUS wrote. Ironically, Melania's dress was designed by Mary Katrantzou, a Greek-born British designer. Twitter had *a lot* to say. 

Read more here.

Off to help Hurricane Harvey victims, Melania made headlines when she boarded Air Force One in sky-high stilettos.

"God grant me the serenity not to comment on the shoes," wrote one Twitter user.

Read more here

FLOTUS turned heads in a $51,500 floral jacket by Dolce & Gabbana for the G7 summit in Italy. 

Read more here

While visiting Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial, Melania sported a white sleeveless dress. Twitter wasn't happy with her sporting bare shoulders at the memorial.

Wrote one user, "Melania cover your arms up, show some respect."

"Geez. The lambasted Michelle Obama for baring her arms and her is Melania Trump in conservative Israel with a sleeveless dress," said another. 

Read more here

Just days after President Trump landed in hot water following the leaked Access Hollywood recordings, Melania sported a pussy bow shirt to the second presidential debates.

Read more here.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"I think the U.S.-Africa relationship is much bigger than the president's comments, and it's been going on for decades and decades," he said. "Frankly, I suspect the vast majority of average Africans have not heard of any of those dust-ups. It's very much an elite preoccupation."

"Africans are, generally speaking, very gracious hosts" who will "roll out the red carpet and do their absolute best to be hospitable," Meservey said.

Days before the first lady was to board a U.S. government airplane for the flight across the Atlantic, Trump declared at the United Nations that he and his wife "love Africa."

Mrs. Trump's five days on the continent will feature a mix of visits to hospitals, schools and shelters as she focuses on the well-being of children.

Child welfare is a top issue for Mrs. Trump, the mother of a 12-year-old son. She focuses on the issue in the United States through an initiative she launched this year named "Be Best." This week's trip will mark her first extended period promoting the program and its goals abroad, separate from an event she held during a stop in London with the president in July.

A former fashion model born in Slovenia and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, the 48-year-old Mrs. Trump has traveled extensively with the president, including to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, Brussels, France, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. She was in Finland for the president's July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin but did not go to Singapore for Trump's June meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Her only other international foray was brief: a September 2017 day trip to Toronto to join Britain's Prince Harry at a military athletic competition.

Often seen as a reluctant first lady — she did not fully move into the White House until nearly six months after Trump took office, due to her son's schooling in New York — Mrs. Trump has kept a low profile in comparison to her immediate predecessors. She was sidelined for several weeks following kidney surgery in May.

Immediate predecessors Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama all made multiple trips abroad without their spouses during their administration's two terms. Such travel has become expected of first ladies, and a similar excursion was viewed as a next step in Mrs. Trump's evolution in one of the world's most scrutinized roles.

Former first ladies Clinton, Bush and Obama also made repeat solo trips to Africa.

"The first lady, when she travels to a foreign country, can carry the flag and there's a great deal she could do to engender good feeling about the United States and I hope she can do that," Myra Gutin, who studies first ladies at Rider University in New Jersey, said of Mrs. Trump.

President Trump raised ire across Africa earlier this year after his private complaint about the continent's "s---hole countries" was leaked to journalists.

He later offered a partial denial in public but privately defended his remarks, The Associated Press reported in January. He also didn't deny the comment when he was asked about it while hosting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the White House in April.

The president further roiled South Africa when he recently claimed on Twitter that the country is seizing farms and that high numbers of farmers are being killed. He pushed "send" on the tweet after watching a Fox News segment about land issues in South Africa. While killings of farmers have been taking place for more than 20 years and are widely seen as part of South Africa's high crime rate, experts say white farmers have not been the target. Nor are there signs of widespread killings, they said.

___

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.