First Lady Michelle Obama and predecessor Laura Bush combined their star power to draw attention on Tuesday to efforts to improve women's health and welfare in east Africa.
Michelle Obama is visiting Tanzania on the last day of President Barack Obama's eight-day tour of Africa. She helped Laura Bush open a summit of the wives of African leaders, saying Africa was "at the hub of global development." The summit aims to promote women's well-being on the continent.
In Tanzania, Michelle Obama joked about the "prison-like elements" of being first lady. "But it's a really nice prison," she said. "You can't complain," the Weekly Standard reported.
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Sitting next to former first lady Bush, Michelle Obama said that wives of presidents "have probably the best job in the world, because while our husbands ... have to react and respond to crises on a minute-to-minute basis, we got to work on what we're passionate about. ... I have just found it a very freeing and liberating opportunity. ... [Laughing] There are prison-like elements, but it's a really nice prison. You can't complain. There are confining elements. ...
"While people are sorting through our shoes and our hair ... whether we cut it or not ... we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things the world needs to see," Obama added. "And eventually people stop looking at the bangs, and start looking at the things we're standing in front of. That's the power of our role."
But Obama also expressed some sorrow at how fleeting her role would be.
"You get your teeth into the issues, and it's time to go," she said. "We are not going to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in eight years. ... There is still power in the position as a former first lady. ... We are always role models, particularly in the eyes of young girls. ... There are girls around the world ... watching us for decades to come," she said.
The unusual Obama-Bush combination spotlights U.S. interest in the continent and the importance of Africa to the legacy of the president and his predecessor George W. Bush.
For Obama, his three-nation tour has given him a break from a row over spy agency eavesdropping and a chance to promote U.S. commercial interests to a receptive African audience.
Bush, who launched a widely praised program to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa when in office, was due to join Obama for a ceremony to remember the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in the Tanzanian capital.
An expansion of a program to detect and treat cervical and breast cancer, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, is due to be announced on Wednesday, organizers said. Former President Bush is due to speak at the first ladies' summit the same day.
The United Nations and nongovernmental groups, including Bush's foundation, launched Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to provide health services to women in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, building on the U.S. HIV/AIDS prevention program.
Material from Reuters was used in this story.
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