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Michelle Obama, Laura Bush reunite on Africa ties

06 August 2014, 11:57

Washington — Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, U.S. first ladies of different generations and opposing political parties, are uniting for the second time in just over a year to promote their country's relations with Africa.

They are taking the stage at the Kennedy Center for a program Wednesday with spouses of the dozens of African heads of state and government who are participating in the third and final day of President Barack Obama's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

The two women will share their experiences in the high-profile role of first lady, reprising an event they held in Tanzania last year. The joint appearance will also put on rare public display the warm relationship the two women have developed since the change of power at the White House.

During last year's event, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush showed flashes of humor as they joked about prison-like aspects of White House life and the scrutiny that women and girls, including first ladies, are subjected to over their looks.

"It's a really nice prison," Mrs. Obama quipped about her home since 2009.

"But with a chef," added Mrs. Bush, who lived there for eight years.

When the talk turned serious, they urged their African counterparts to use their unique positions to help their countries.

Former President George W. Bush's institute organized the July 2013 gathering of African first ladies and invited Mrs. Obama to participate after learning that she and her husband would be in Tanzania at the same time. After Obama decided to hold a U.S. summit with African leaders, Obama aides reached out and proposed a repeat collaboration with Mrs. Bush.

Wednesday's program will highlight the role of first spouses and focus on public-private partnerships and investments in education, health and economic development. George W. Bush and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, are also scheduled to speak.

As with the group of former presidents, which has just four members, the group of former first ladies is also exclusive. And its five members — Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush — are the only ones who understand what it is like being married to the president of the United States.

That experience accounts for some of the mutual admiration between Mrs. Obama, a 50-year-old Democrat from Chicago and her immediate predecessor, Mrs. Bush, a 67-year-old Republican from Texas.

In Tanzania, Mrs. Obama said Laura Bush was one of the reasons she wanted to participate in the program, although it took place the day the Obamas were departing Africa for home.

"I like this woman," the first lady said, gesturing toward Mrs. Bush. "It's hard to find people who know what you're going through, who understand the burdens and the fears and the challenges ... it's kind of therapeutic."

- AP


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