Melania Trump stepped off Executive One, the government plane assigned for her travel, Tuesday and arrived in Ghana on her first major solo journey as first lady.
The schedule for Trump’s trip has her spending about a week abroad, zig-zagging the continent to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.
Greeted on a tarmac red carpet by Ghana’s first lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Trump was presented with a bouquet of flowers wrapped in colorful kente cloth and treated to drum and dancing performances. She spent Tuesday morning visiting Ridge Hospital, where she greeted mothers and babies and passed out teddy bears and blankets.
She looked on nervously as a baby was weighed from a scale in a weighing bag, later picking up another baby, cooing to him and making faces and kissing him.
Trump and Akufo-Addo had tea behind closed doors at Jubilee Palace. She presented her hostess with a Chippendale tray etched with an image of the White House, and received a kente cloth and traditional Ghanian artifact in return.
She visited the United States Embassy later in the day, retiring to her hotel late Tuesday afternoon.
While Trump’s staff is keeping tight-lipped about specific details for security purposes, the first lady is expected to make stops at local schools and hospitals visiting with children and taking in regional cultural experiences.
In a speech in New York City last week, Trump said she would also be promoting her “Be Best” platform of helping kids in a broad spectrum of categories, ranging from wellness to cyberbullying.
“When I launched ‘Be Best,’ it was with the goal of combating some of the issues that children face today by shining a spotlight on successful programs and organizations that teach children the tools and skills needed for emotional, social and physical well-being,” Trump said. “Since the launch, I have had the opportunity to meet children all over the world, with the goal of talking to them about the importance of healthy living and responsible habits.”
In Ghana and Malawi, Trump said in her remarks that she will focus on health care and education, joining on the trip with USAID to see which programs are working to support each country. Similarly, in Kenya, early education and disease prevention and care are on her agenda, as is conservation. In Egypt, Trump will likely visit that country’s most popular tourism site, the Great Pyramids.
“I know that through USAID, we have worked with the people of Egypt to promote an environment in which all groups of society – including women and religious minorities – can lead productive and healthy lives,” Trump said, again noting USAID, whose chief administrator Mark Green will be part of the first lady’s delegation.
Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s communications director, told CNN the trip is primarily a diplomatic and humanitarian visit.
“I think she feels it is important that people around the world understand the United States cares about the prosperity and future generations of other countries,” said Grisham.
“Mrs. Trump has always envisioned her first international trip would be Africa. So, we’ve ‘known’ that we would be doing this since the very beginning,” Grisham said.
Last September, Trump made a day trip to Toronto to watch the Invictus Games, a sporting event for military veterans.
Planning for the Africa trip began back in February of this year, with details and logistics worked out over the summer. Barron Trump, who is 12, is not joining the first lady on the Africa trip.
While it has always been the case that first ladies of the modern era embark on goodwill tours around the world, the timing for this trip has, like most things with Trump, been on her own terms. She has waited more than a year-and-a-half into her tenure to embark on a significant solo journey.
All of her trips overseas thus far have been accompanying her husband, to Asia last year and, most recently, to Europe this summer, stopping in Belgium, England, and Finland.
For context, Michelle Obama took her first solo trip outside of the United States in April of 2010, going to Mexico; her second solo trip was to Africa, in June 2011. Laura Bush took several solo trips during her eight years as first lady, visiting dozens of countries. Her first major solo journey abroad took her to Europe in May 2002.
“It’s very important that a first lady be a global presence,” says Kate Andersen Brower, a CNN contributor and the author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.”
“While her role is mostly symbolic, most modern first ladies have proven they can make real change and have a genuine impact on the policies they choose to champion,” Brower said. “I think this upcoming trip to Africa sends a strong message that the US is engaged in the region and helps combat the statements reportedly made by her husband about the continent.”
In January, CNN reported President Donald Trump, speaking behind closed doors about illegal immigration, decried “shithole countries,” with an implication toward Africa.
Trump has shown herself to be an independent first lady, whose office and staff and agenda, have little to do with those of the President and his West Wing team. She remains a stoic and relatively quiet first lady, weathering without comment a barrage of challenging headlines this year as a result of various personal scandals allegedly involving the President.
The President has not spoken or posted on social about her trip since his wife departed, but he told reporters at the UN last week: “I love Africa.”
Her visits to children’s hospitals and schools, as well as her two trips in June to the United States and Mexico border, are oftentimes overshadowed by the news cycle vacuum created by her husband and a political cycle that has dominated the national conversation.
Additionally, in May, Trump underwent a significant kidney procedure that kept her out of the public eye for three weeks.
This trip will be a chance for the first lady to make a global impression on the world stage, without the President by her side.
“She speaks five languages, she was not born in the US, and she is generally viewed as more compassionate than her husband, so this is an important moment for her to show a more empathetic side of her husband’s administration,” said Brower. “It’s important that people see her Africa trip in the best possible light, not as pandering or trying to deflect attention away from the scandal in the White House but as a genuine effort to help showcase accomplishments made there and the work that still needs to be done.”