Obama’s night with Africa’s presidents
What did President Jacob Zuma say to President Barack Obama as they dined on prime, grilled, dry-aged Wagyu beef, and were entertained by singer and songwriter Lionel Richie?
It isn’t clear, but they were spotted talking on Tuesday night when Obama went up to Zuma and second wife Nompumelelo Ntuli’s table.
The dinner was held in a marquee, lit in warm orange on the south lawn of the White House.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said jokingly he believed “they were talking about the weather”, but he did not attend the dinner.
The informal one-on-one chat with Obama was important because there was no formal time during this week’s US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, DC, for other bilateral meetings. During the dinner, it was Zuma’s former wife, African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who stole the limelight.
She was the first to arrive – alone – on the red carpet that was rolled out at the White House’s north entrance. She also got one of the best seats at the dinner – next to US First Lady Michelle Obama at the main table.
Among the guests who made an impression on arrival were South Sudan’s cowboy hat-wearing president, Salva Kiir; Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, and his wife, Chantal, sporting one of her legendary big hairdos; and Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, with his statuesque daughter Ange. It took 90 minutes for guests to arrive and be greeted by US chief of protocol Peter Selfridge, who wore a suit and had to mop his brow regularly in the muggy summer weather.
Richie (65) entertained guests all night long.
“Tonight, we are going to have a party,” Richie reportedly said as he took to the stage.
He accompanied himself on the piano and opened with the song Easy, performing hits like All Night Long, Hello and Say You (Say Me).
Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, tweeted: “At #USAfricaSummit, leaders singing along with Lionel Richie at White House dinner was a lot of fun!”
Also at the dinner were International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who entered through a side entrance with others who were not heads of state, and businessman Patrice Motsepe and his wife, Precious Moloi-Motsepe.
Standard Bank joint CEO Sim Tshabalala was also on the guest list, but it is not clear if he made it.
Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of the Academy Award-winning drama 12 Years a Slave, Robert De Niro and Meb Keflezighi, the Eritrean-born US winner of this year’s Boston Marathon, were also invited.
The menu offered largely Americanstyle food with vegetables from the White House garden. Hints of spices and dishes from a few African countries were sprinkled throughout.
The wine was from black American wine makers. There was no sign of the South African Graham Beck sparkling wine with which Obama marked his inauguration in 2009.
President Jacob Zuma