Monday, October 8, 2018

Working a White House Visit

We've had a crazy few weeks at U.S. Embassy Nairobi preparing to support what was my first White House visit. The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Melania Trump came to Kenya as part of her four-country Africa tour. You can read about her visit in more detail here.

So what did I have to do? I was the Embassy's press site officer for three events, meaning I worked closely with White House press staff to execute the media plan for each of my sites and manage our relationship with the journalists there on the big day. These journalists were a mix of traveling press, who actually accompany the First Lady on her plane and in her motorcade, international press based in Nairobi, and local Kenyan press. As you can see in the photo below, this added up to quite a few people to inform and assist and direct and keep happy (at least as best as we could).

Although I have worked quite a few visits during my first year as a Public Diplomacy Officer, this one was very different. The Embassy staff really took a backseat to our White House counterparts in the sense that, although we leveraged our on-the-ground expertise and contacts and provided our best advice, at the end of the day we deferred decision-making to the White House. In other words, we had more of a supporting role, especially once the advance team (i.e., the people who arrive before the visit to finalize plans and preparations) arrived.

By all accounts, Mrs. Trump was a wonderful guest. She truly seemed to enjoy spending time with Kenyan children and baby elephants. The Kenyans, as always, were splendid hosts - from Mrs. Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, to the institutions at each site. Thankfully, the trip went off without a hitch and it was all over before we knew it. Mrs. Trump had the opportunity both to learn more about Kenya and to champion her BE BEST initiative focusing on children's issues around the world. Now that's a success for everyone!

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