Politics

First Lady Speaks To Young Women In Africa

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Michele Norris talks to Krissah Thompson of The Washington Post about Michelle Obama's trip to Africa. Wednesday, the first lady spoke before a conference of young women from across sub-Saharan Africa.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

First Lady Michelle Obama is on an official visit to South Africa, and later this week, Botswana. The White House says this and trip is focused on youth leadership, education, health and wellness.

So far, Mrs. Obama has met Nelson Mandela. She's danced with local school kids, and she's read aloud from "The Cat in the Hat." And today in Johannesburg, she spoke to a group of young women who are leading social and economic initiatives throughout sub-Saharan Africa. She brought them a familiar message.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA (First Lady): If anyone ever tells you that you shouldn't or you can't, then I want you to say with one voice, the voice of a generation, you tell them: Yes, we can.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

Ms. OBAMA: What do you say? Yes, we can.

NORRIS: First Lady Michelle Obama speaking in Johannesburg.

Krissah Thompson of The Washington Post is traveling with the first lady, and she joins us now by phone. Welcome to the program.

Ms. KRISSAH THOMPSON (Reporter, The Washington Post): Thanks for having me, Michele.

NORRIS: First, let's talk a little bit more about that address the first lady delivered. I understand there's some significance, not just in the message but also in the venue.

Ms. THOMPSON: That's right. She was that Regina Mundi Church which is a landmark part of the anti-apartheid movement. Youth there protested the government 35 years ago. And so there was a real resonance in having young women there today in the audience and reflecting what happened 35 years ago in that same location.

NORRIS: Tell us a little bit more about the message she delivered.

Ms. THOMPSON: What she talked about was the same message she takes to youth in the U.S., in terms of empowering them, mentoring them, and telling them that they, too, have a cause that they should push ahead with; reflecting back on the apartheid movement and lions like Nelson Mandela whom she met, and telling youth that they too can make a difference.

NORRIS: Tell us a little bit more about that visit with Nelson Mandela. There are pictures that were released by the White House that showed she and the girls sitting with him. It looked like they were on the couch.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes, it was in Mr. Mandela's home. It was a private visit, so obviously press was not there. And Ms. Obama today described it as a big family gathering. She's traveling not only with her daughters, but with her mother, her niece and her nephew. And Mr. Mandela had his wife and several of their family members there. So she said it felt like home.

NORRIS: The First Lady is known for exercising a kind of soft power. Is this a case where she also is exercising a bit of soft power, delivering some sort of diplomatic message?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, that is definitely the way her aides and State Department officials have described it. They see it right in line with the policy that the administration wants to push here on the continent, in terms of looking at what they are calling a youth bulge in Africa; which just means that there are a lot of young people here, so there is a lot of attention being paid to what happens with this next generation.

NORRIS: This is quite a summer vacation for Sasha and Malia. I'm wondering how they have been greeted.

Ms. THOMPSON: It's been a mix of both the heavy and the light. They toured the Apartheid Museum. And Ms. Obama spoke about what it's been like for her to take not only her daughters but her niece and nephew, and show them history, not just in a book, but to meet Nelson Mandela; to meet children (unintelligible) and see that they are very much like themselves.

NORRIS: The first lady is known some for sometimes giving her children and assignment to do what you do, to write about what they see...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: ...and to document that in some way. Do you know if she's doing that on this trip?

Ms. THOMPSON: You know, believe it or not, I heard her say at Nelson Mandela's archives, which they visited before they met him, she was whispered to Sasha: There will be a reporting assignment on this - a book report due.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Krissah Thompson, thanks so much for making time to talk to us.

Ms. THOMPSON: Thanks For having me.

NORRIS: Krissah Thompson is with The Washington Post. She was speaking to us from Cape Town, South Africa. She's there because she's traveling with First Lady Michele Obama.

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