Michelle Obama, accompanied by her two daughters, a niece, a nephew and her mother, received a warm welcome upon her arrival Monday night at the air force base in the capital of South Africa, Pretoria, after 18 hours and more than 1,800 miles of travel.
The weeklong visit is intended to improve relations between the United States and Africa and promote youth engagement, education, health and wellness. In the centerpiece speech of the trip, she will appear Wednesday before a U.S.-sponsored forum of young women leaders from sub-Saharan Africa.
Her family will join her on most outings, probably exposing her daughters, Malia and Sasha, to more of the media spotlight than they're used to. Also with the first lady are her mother, Marian Robinson, and a niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson.
The size of Mrs. Obama's traveling party is sure to invite comparisons to her vacation last August in Spain with Sasha and friends. The five-day trip to Spain's Costa del Sol stoked a bit of a firestorm about the wisdom of taking a glamorous trip with such economic hurt at home and raised speculation about who was paying the bill.
Attempting to head off similar criticism this time, the White House said Mrs. Obama is allowed to bring guests with her on the plane because she's on official U.S. business, as the president is allowed on his official trips. All other costs regarding her family are to be paid for privately.
Mrs. Obama's visit opens today in Pretoria, the South African capital, at a meeting with Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, one of President Jacob Zuma's three wives, at his official residence. Back in Johannesburg, Mrs. Obama meets with Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and tours the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Apartheid Museum.
A meeting between America's first black first lady and the 92-year-old former president is hoped for but remained in doubt, given his fragile health.