Thursday, December 12, 2013
The Associated Press
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican predecessor President George W. Bush found common ground in Africa on Tuesday, honoring the victims of a terrorist attack in an unprecedented encounter a world away from home.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, right, and former U.S. first lady Laura Bush talk each other as they participate in the African First Ladies Summit: “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” hosted by the George W. Bush Institute, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (
The U.S. presidents observed a moment of silence together at a monument to victims of the 1998 embassy bombing here in the east African city where Bush coincidentally happened to be as Obama wrapped up a weeklong tour of the continent. While the two leaders didn't say anything publicly, their wives engaged in a warm and chatty joint appearance at a summit on African women.
Initially the two presidents weren't even planning to meet while in town, but first lady Michelle Obama joked as she sat next to her predecessor: "They're learning from us."
The Obamas departed Africa for home shortly after crossing paths with the Bushes, who were hosting the summit promoting the role of African first ladies in bringing change to their countries. Bush ended up joining the current president for the wreath-laying ceremony honoring the Tanzanian victims of the simultaneous attacks at the U.S. embassies here and in Kenya masterminded by Osama bin Laden.
Both presidents have bin Laden in common. Bush's two terms were tinged by the 9/11 terrorist attacks carried out in New York and Washington by bin Laden's al-Qaida network; Obama ordered the U.S. military raid that ended with bin Laden' death two years ago in Pakistan.
Obama and Bush bowed their heads as a Marine placed the wreath of red, white and blue flowers in front of the large stone memorial on the grounds of the new U.S. Embassy. After a few moments, they shook hands with survivors of the attack and relatives of those killed before returning to the embassy together in private discussion.
At that very moment, their wives were putting on a public display of mutual affection in a discussion moderated by American journalist Cokie Roberts. Mrs. 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.
"It's sort of a club, a sorority, I guess," Mrs. Bush responded.
Their goal was to encourage African first ladies to raise their voices for causes they are passionate about, even if the public is sometimes focused on more trivial matters, the said.
"While people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair, whether we cut it or not ..." Mrs. Obama started.
"Whether we have bangs," Mrs. Bush interjected to laughter. Mrs. Obama expressed surprise that her change in hair style this year would prompt so much media coverage. "Who would have thought? I didn't call that."
"But," Mrs. Obama said, "we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of."
"We hope," Mrs. Bush joked. Mrs. Obama replied, "They do, and that's the power of our roles."
When it comes to the power of their husbands' roles, Obama has said he wants to usher in a new era of U.S.-Africa relations. Obama has praised Bush for helping save millions of lives by funding AIDS treatment. But, he said Monday, "We are looking at a new model that's based not just on aid and assistance, but on trade and partnership."
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