Connect to share and comment
Michelle Obama, descendant of slaves, can bring hope and support worthy causes in Africa.
ACCRA, Ghana — Michelle Obama is wildly popular at home and recently charmed Europe, but it’s possible she would go unnoticed at Mabel Ofosuhene’s breakfast stand in the capital of Ghana, the West African state hosting the Obamas in July.
“I don’t know anything about her,” the 26-year-old said of America’s first lady. Not everyone, it seems, has fallen under Michelle Obama’s spell.
It may well happen during the scheduled two-day visit, the president’s first official stop in sub-Saharan Africa. But even some Ghanaian women who recognize America’s first black first lady want a closer look.
“I’m not expecting a whole lot,” University of Ghana professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, head of the school’s Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy, said of both Obamas, “and certainly not from the first lady. This is a tiny country in a huge continent. I’m not sure we loom large on the radar.”
The July visit to one of Africa’s few functioning democracies is the final leg of a trip that includes stops in Russia and Italy. Europeans got their first glimpse of Michelle Obama in April, and the reviews were dazzling.
Obama, a descendant of slaves brought from Africa, is a Harvard-educated lawyer and one-time work supervisor of her future husband. She inspired London schoolgirls, describing her humble beginnings and telling them their success “will be determined by your own confidence and fortitude.”
She survived a breach of royal protocol — gasp, she touched the back of Queen Elizabeth II, who reciprocated the gesture — and scored fashion points alongside Carla Bruni, a former model who married French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
Michelle Obama has embraced causes domestically, including supporting military families. A trip to a developing state like Ghana — 30 percent of its people live in poverty, down from 40 percent a decade ago — would be an ideal time to unveil an international cause. But Obama’s spokesperson declined to comment on the first lady’s plans in the former British colony. There is, however, a scheduled visit to Cape Coast, home to former slave forts.
There's no shortage of causes to promote.
Felicia Darkwah founded a health clinic on the rural outskirts of Accra after her 28-year-old daughter died from an aneurysm late in her first pregnancy. Her granddaughter, now 11, was delivered and is healthy.
“Ninety-nine percent are preventable,” she said of maternal deaths in childbirth. “Sometimes the negligence is right in the hospital. A lot of them are due to lack of knowledge about what is happening and what they should do for themselves while pregnant.”
More than half of the 536,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2005 were in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. One in 26 women in Africa will die from a childbirth-related problem. Bacterial infection is the major cause.