Politics & Government

Obamas toast 'new Africa' at White House dinner

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined under a tent on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday night with 50 African leaders and a slew of other notable guests, including the chairman of the African Union.

The Obamas welcomed them all to the White House as part of the first-of-its-kind U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that kicked off in the nation’s capital Monday to boost trade between the two regions.

“I stand before you as the president of the United States, a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa,” Obama told the attendees, drawing applause. “The blood of Africa runs through our family, so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents are deeply personal.”

Obama spoke of his trip to Africa last year in which and his family stood in the Door of No Return, where slaves were shipped west from Africa, and former South African leaders Nelson Mandela’s jail cell.

And then proposed a toast to the new Africa.

“The Africa that is rising and so full of promise. To our shared task to keep on working for the peace and prosperity and justice that all our people seek, that all our people so richly deserve,” he said. “Cheers. Enjoy your dinner everybody.”

The 400 guests were treated to a traditional American meal infused with a touch of African flavor before enjoying a performance by award-winning singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, who was taking a break from his global tour to appear at the White House. (His first song was “Easy Like Sunday Morning.”)

The Obamas were accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden.

Other notable guests: former president Jimmy Carter, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, actor Robert DeNiro, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Bloomberg Philanthropies co-hosted Tuesday’s session, and current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Several Cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, attended. As did members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is engaged in a public spat with the White House over a report on interrogation tactics used after Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

They dined on chilled spiced tomato soup, chopped farmstand vegetable salad, grilled dry-age beef with a roasted sweet potato puree and braised collard greens made with chilies and coconut milk and cappucino fudge cake with papaya, scented with vanilla from Madagascar.

“This is one of most exciting things I’ve ever seen,” Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. said. “To think that the son of an African man is hosting this event in a house built by African slaves...”