Like many first ladies before her, Melania Trump has gone abroad on a goodwill tour of part of Africa. She left on Monday, visited Ghana, and arrived in Malawi on Thursday; next she’ll go to Kenya and Egypt. The president seems to feel that her tour is going very well so far: On Thursday, Donald Trump tweeted that Melania’s Africa trip shows that “the people love her.”
“Our country’s great First Lady, Melania, is doing really well in Africa,” he tweeted on Thursday. “The people love her, and she loves them! It is a beautiful thing to see.”
The first lady has, indeed, received some praise for her performance on the tour. The New York Times‘ Katie Rogers wrote that she has “looked more comfortable” on the trip “than she has perhaps ever looked in Washington” and that she is showing “another side of herself: the happy one.”
She’s also received criticism. CNN’s David McKenzie and Brent Swails suggested that her tour is hypocritical because it seems to promote goodwill when the Trump administration is pursuing policies that hurt many African countries. They noted that the administration has implemented a so-called “global gag rule” blocking all aid to foreign health-related charities that either promote or provide abortions. A family planning charity director in Malawi told CNN that the rule has been “denying women and children critical health assistance” since it was implemented in early 2017.
Then there are Trump’s travel bans, which have included the African countries of Somalia, Chad, and Libya. He’s also asked his secretary of state to investigate the (false) claims from a white South African farmers lobby that they’ve been the victims of large-scale and race-based violence. Perhaps most infamously, Trump made headlines around the world when he reportedly called some African countries “sh*tholes” in January. When Melania entered Malawi on Wednesday, she passed people on the roadside holding a sign saying, “Welcome to Malawi #notashithole!,” according to Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Jacobs.
Late night comedy host Trevor Noah also argued that Melania’s trip is hypocritical. “This is yet another instance of the first lady publicly undermining her husband’s message,” he said this week.
Describing Melania’s upcoming trip, her spokesperson told CNN, “This is a diplomatic and humanitarian visit, which will include stops focusing on healthcare, education, conservation and tourism. As with all that the first lady does, the well-being of children will be a focus at most of the stops.”
At her first stop in Ghana, Melania went to Cape Coast Castle, a fort built by Europeans that, until 1814, was used to hold enslaved Africans before they were sent across the Atlantic. The Obama family visited the site in 2009. After she left, Melania tweeted that her visit to the fort “was a solemn reminder of a time in our history that should never be forgotten.”
Melania also visited a baby clinic at Ridge Hospital, Emintsimadze Palace, and the U.S. embassy in Ghana. On Wednesday she arrived in Malawi, where — according to a statement to CNN from her spokesperson — she will “highlight USAID and its efforts in education and skill development, as well as conservation and disease prevention.” Next she’ll go to Kenya, where she’ll also focus on USAID, and then Egypt, where “she will focus on tourism.”
“This will be my first time traveling to Africa and I am excited to educate myself on the issues facing children throughout the continent, while also learning about its rich culture and history,” Melania said in a statement before leaving. “We are a global society and I believe it is through open dialogue and the exchanging of ideas that we have a real opportunity to learn from one another.”