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First lady defends Obama's level of commitment to African region

Visiting Africa on a goodwill mission, first lady Michelle Obama defended her husband Friday against criticism that he isn't paying enough attention to the continent. She said her weeklong trip to South Africa and Botswana is proof of the president's commitment to Africa.

"This trip is a reflection, a direct reflection, of his support and his interest and his view of the importance of Africa to the world and to the future of the world," she said. "That's why I'm here."

Given that Obama is America's first black president and his father was from Kenya, many had hoped to see stepped-up U.S. involvement on the vast continent during his presidency. Africans also longed for Obama to visit so they could welcome home a U.S president they consider one of their sons.

He did visit, stopping in Ghana in 2009. But he stayed less than 24 hours and has not been back to Africa.

The first lady said people expect a lot from her overworked husband and that some won't ever think what he does is enough.

"He would love to be here but there's a lot of work to do on the domestic front," she told four American reporters traveling with her. "And as president it's hard to predict and plan internationally because you've got domestic stuff hitting you left and right."

"Africa's absolutely important to him," she added. "I understand why people feel like they want more. It's a big continent, a lot of challenges. But I think his record and the number of senior officials who've spent so much time in Africa that is a reflection of this administration's commitment to this continent."

White House officials previously have pointed to the president's involvement in Libya, Sudan and Ivory Coast as examples of his commitment to Africa, along with repeat visits by such senior administration officials as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs. Obama said she is her husband's "direct representative" and as such she was the one who met Friday with Botswanan President Ian Khama. The two emerged from his office after about 45 minutes and shook hands for the news media. They made no remarks.

Mrs. Obama opened the second leg of her trip in Botswana on Friday by wielding a paint brush to help create a mural at a children's HIV/AIDS clinic sponsored by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The facility treats more than 4,000 children and their families.

The first lady is traveling with her daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10; her mother, Marian Robinson; and a niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, 15 and 19, respectively. She began the trip Monday, spending two days each in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa before moving on to Botswana.

She is due back at the White House early Monday, after a private safari this weekend.