Melania Trump has left for a solo tour of Africa, months after Donald Trump reportedly complained about the continent’s “shithole countries”.
The US first lady is expected to visit Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt over five days in her first international tour without her husband, with the purpose of the trip centred on child welfare.
It comes after the US president was widely condemned in January over the alleged slur, which he denies ever using.
He was alleged to have used the derogatory phrase to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations during a bipartisan Oval Office meeting to discuss the immigration policy known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, who was present at the gathering over immigration reform, said it was the “exact word used by the president, not just once but repeatedly”.
He claimed the president said “things which were hate-filled, vile and racist”.
But on Twitter, Mr Trump hit back, insisting “this was not the language used”.
Judd Devermont, the Africa programme director at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Mrs Trump now had some “heavy lifting” to do in order to strengthen Africa’s ties with the US.
“It’s a little bit unfair because that’s not what a first lady’s trip should be about,” he said.
However, Joshua Meservey, a senior Africa policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, noted Mr Trump’s “positive engagements” with some African leaders, including Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who visited the White House in August.
He said: “I think the US-Africa relationship is much bigger than the president’s comments, and it’s been going on for decades and decades.
“Frankly, I suspect the vast majority of average Africans have not heard of any of those dust-ups. It’s very much an elite preoccupation.”
Days before Mrs Trump’s trip, which will include visits to hospitals, schools and shelters, Mr Trump spoke at the United Nations and said he and his wife “love Africa”.