- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2013

President Obama wrapped up his weeklong trip to Africa on Tuesday, attending a wreath-laying ceremony with former President George W. Bush and telling an audience in Tanzania that he’s “inspired” about the future of the continent.

Mr. Bush, in Africa to promote his presidential center’s health care initiatives, joined Mr. Obama at a memorial in Dar es Salaam honoring the victims of the 1998 terrorist bombing at the U.S. Embassy. Both presidents bowed their heads in silence as a U.S. Marine placed a wreath at a large stone memorial on the grounds of the new U.S. Embassy.

After a few moments, they greeted survivors of the attack and relatives of those killed before returning to the embassy together in private discussion.

While Mr. Obama commiserated with the man he has blamed for much of America’s problems, their wives were getting along well in public during a discussion moderated by journalist Cokie Roberts. First lady Michelle Obama said she wanted to appear with Laura Bush because “I like this woman” and it’s therapeutic to share the challenges of their roles.

Mrs. Obama joked that their husbands’ hadn’t planned to meet in Tanzania, adding, “They’re learning from us.”

Mrs. Bush said first ladies belong to a sort of “sorority,” and she said their goal was to encourage first ladies of African nations to be more vocal about the causes they support.

While first ladies have power, Mrs. Obama said, the role has “prison-like elements.”

“But it’s a really nice prison,” she said. “You can’t complain. There are confining elements.”

Mrs. Obama also spoke of the need to overcome the public’s fascination with a first lady’s appearance, saying she was surprised that she got so much attention for changing her hairstyle.

“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,” she said. “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.”

The president’s final event in Africa was a speech at a power plant in Tanzania, where he promoted a $7 billion U.S. effort to provide electricity to six countries and told the audience he has great hopes for Africa’s future.

About 70 percent of Africans lack access to reliable electricity, Mr. Obama said, and the U.S. can help provide more stable services.

“The first step that we’re going to take is to try to bring electricity to 20 million homes and businesses,” he said.

Mr. Obama reflected on his seven-day trip, recalling some of the people he met, including a female farmer in Senegal and young people in Soweto, South Africa.

“I’m inspired because I’m absolutely convinced that, with the right approach, Africa and its people can unleash a new era of prosperity,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what all our efforts are going to be about … making sure that Africans have the tools to create a better life for their people, and that the United States is a partner in that process.”

The president and his family returned to Washington on Tuesday night. Their trip, which is estimated to cost taxpayers up to $100 million, also took them to Senegal and South Africa.

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