First lady takes high-profile role on trip

Michelle Obama will have a high-profile, separate agenda from President Obama during their six-day trip to Africa.

She will focus on youth and education during the visit — two noncontroversial issues that have become a signature for the first lady.

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She also will answer questions from readers of People magazine during stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Her first official event will be at a girl's school in Senegal. She'll also meet with students in Johannesburg and attend an African First Ladies Summit in Tanzania with Laura Bush.

It's a change of pace for Obama, who accompanied President Obama on his G-8 trip last week but took a much more low-key itinerary, with some critics noting it seemed more of a vacation.

The trip to Africa, which begins Thursday, marks her second time on the continent. Daughters Malia and Sasha will with be her as they were on her last visit. 

It's not unusual for first ladies to take a more high-profile international role during the second term. Laura Bush made a similar move.

And visiting schools has a special place in Obama's heart as does Africa, where President Obama has relatives.

It was her visit to a London girls’ school in April 2009 where she felt like she found her feet as first lady, according to Jodi Kantor’s book The Obamas: A Mission, a Marriage.

“She looked at the girls looking at her and saw herself through their eyes, noticing how they hung on her every word,” Kantor wrote. “She saw the responsibility, the impact, the potential, of her role.”

Obama will also go global during the trip. At the Johannesburg stop on Saturday, her discussion with youth will be in conjunction with MTV Base, an African youth and music channel, and Google+. At the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, Obama, through a Google+ hangout, will be joined by teenagers from across South Africa, as well as American students from Los Angeles; Kansas City, Missouri; New York City and Houston. 

On Tuesday, July 2nd, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Obama will participate in the African First Ladies Summit: “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” hosted by the George W. Bush Institute. Obama, Bush and African first ladies from across the continent will discuss women’s education, health and economic empowerment.

"I think that this will also speak to the bipartisan support that exists in the United States for support for sub-Saharan Africa, for deeper relations between the United States in sub-Saharan African countries, and of course, for the empowerment of women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said of the summit at a briefing on Friday.

Obama's itinerary also includes events with the president: including a visit to Gorée Island in Senegal, an official dinner with South African President Jacob Zuma, a visit to Robben Island and a dinner with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

The Obamas leave for Africa on Wednesday. It is President Obama's second visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president. He will focus on deepening trade and investment partnerships along with health and food security issues.