About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the press attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
Big events mean big names. VIPs, motorcades, and lots of staffers looking out for their “principals.” A normal big visit requires lots of meetings, site visits, and discussions with local government counterparts. Will there be a photo spray when exiting the limo or only a press conference after the meeting? How many staff can stay in the room during the meeting, and who warrants a seat at the formal dinner? Secretary Clinton's visit to South Africa in August 2009 started like that. Lots of how-do-we-make-this-work frenzied planning meetings, and in the end, it flew by as fast as the police motorcade (very successfully by all accounts). We embassy folks go through this sort of thing for any high level visit but doing such a visit for the opening of the World Cup is a whole new animal.
The South African media and others started flirting with the idea that President Obama would attend over six months ago. Our President is a real rock star here. He visited in 2006 when he was a junior Senator and while many South Africans did not know who he was, those who follow political rising stars certainly did. There's a group of South Africans these days who can proudly say, "I met him when…and I knew there was something special…" President Obama's election was a sea change in our relationship with South Africa -- the first African-American U.S. president with a father from Kenya and a real interest in the continent. People went nuts. Radio DJs gushed about our new leader in between kwaito and hip hop songs; academics organized conferences on the new U.S. relationship with Africa; and my office created a President Obama mobile platform (with a free ringtone) that reaches up to 12 million users.
In the end, the White House decided that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill would come for the opening. Ultimately, soccer is the focus of this week, and only one country gets to take center stage (at least until the trophy is awarded) -- the host nation. So we swung into high gear to pull this visit together, which has proven no small challenge in the face of FIFA rules, at least 50 other incoming heads of state and royalty, and 500 media outlets swarming around. While the Vice President holds official meetings, his wife will visit a day care center in Soweto accompanied by Kami, the HIV positive muppet from South Africa's version of Sesame Street. Both of them will attend the opening game and the U.S.-England game. This should be a feel-good visit with a solid message: the United States is South Africa's friend, partner and -- when it comes to hosting the World Cup especially -- enthusiastic cheerleader.
We've come a long way in our official relationship with this country in my three years here. Now our Presidents are easy colleagues; our Secretary of State and her equivalent, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, are committed friends; and our Ambassador dines with ANC leadership weekly. I'd have to say that we're in braai season with the South Africans -- the weather's great; the conversation is enjoyable and real; we trade off who hosts with ease; and everyone not only looks forward to, but also takes for granted, the next one.
Read more about Vice President Biden's visit to Africa on WhiteHouse.gov.To view photos from the U.S. Embassy Pretoria, click here.Follow the U.S. Embassy Pretoria on Facebook and Twitter.For information on the World Cup in South Africa, visit the U.S. Mission's website.See Sharon Hudson-Dean's previous entry: U.S. Soccer Team Connects With South African Youth.