On Monday, first lady Melania Trump took off for Ghana for a solo trip around the African continent. When she landed on Tuesday, she began an itinerary packed with visits to hospitals, clinics, schools, and shelters where she is set to focus on child well-being. Although unlikely to repair damage done during Trump’s speech at the United Nations, where he pledged to reconsider U.S. foreign aid, the first lady’s visit is a great opportunity to bolster good will.
That good will is increasingly important as China makes inroads across the continent through heavy infrastructure investment and development. Although China has faced pushback for some of its projects and methods, overall the investment has bought Beijing political cooperation and support. For example, when Beijing hosted the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation earlier this year, only one country lacked representation: eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), which is an ally of Taiwan.
To be fair, the United States does invest lots of foreign aid in developing countries across the continent, including in the focus of Mrs. Trump’s visit, healthcare and education. That has made many countries there supportive of the United States, even if President Trump has not been entirely diplomatic about “shithole countries” in Africa.
And so a time when the U.S. could certainly use a little more diplomacy, Melania Trump is a much more diplomatic representative than her husband. Her visits should also help reinforce that Beijing is not the only option for assistance and public comments from the White House notwithstanding, the United States does care and is invested in developing Africa.
After visiting Ghana, the first lady is set to visit Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt where she will continue to advocate for child well-being. That’s a lot of ground to cover in just five days but she already seems to be off to a good start with a positive send off from Washington and a visit alongside Ghana’s first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo to a hospital.
For Mrs. Trump the trip is also her first major opportunity in the international spotlight on her own as first lady. She has traveled extensively with her husband but prior to touching down in Ghana, her only solo trip abroad was a day visit to Toronto. Now, on her own and out of Washington to promote her “Be Best” initiative, a different side of the United States will be on display.