First Lady on Goodwill Trip to Africa

After a safari weekend, Laura Bush (search) stepped out of a dusty SUV with her twin daughters on Monday to serve as a goodwill ambassador in Africa for President Bush.

The first lady's whirl through South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda this week comes on the heels of a Scotland summit where British Prime Minister Tony Blair made alleviating Africa's mass suffering the top agenda item for Bush and leaders of other wealthy countries.

Mrs. Bush and her 23-year-old daughters, Barbara and Jenna, spent the weekend at the Madikwe Game Reserve on the South African-Botswana border. The 30,352-acre conservation area is known for lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, white and black rhinos, antelopes and hundreds of species of birds.

The first lady's staff asked photographers to refrain from shooting the twins as they boarded the plane in Gaborone, Botswana, for the flight to Cape Town, on grounds that they were not part of the official delegation. Photographers complied in Botswana but did not hold back in Cape Town.

Beginning here on Tuesday, Mrs. Bush will visit with South African women plagued by domestic violence to advertise a new initiative to provide legal protections for abused women.

She also will comfort Tanzanian children orphaned by AIDS (search) who are cared for partly with U.S. money and talk with disenfranchised Muslims in a part of the world key to the anti-terror war. She will talk with Rwandans trying to rebuild their genocide-wracked country with support from Washington.

The former teacher and public school librarian also is pursuing some of her personal interests -- promoting the rights of women in developing countries by standing with female legislators in Rwanda and advocating reading by announcing the donation of 20,000 books by U.S. publishers to a teacher training school in Zanzibar.

Mrs. Bush arrived Saturday with daughter Jenna, who had accompanied her parents to the Scotland summit. They joined with Jenna's sister, Barbara, who has been volunteering to help with young AIDS sufferers and other patients at a Cape Town children's hospital.

Bush said his wife's mission was to show that his administration has a good record of helping the world's poorest continent. He made no effort to conceal the White House calculation that Laura Bush can accomplish that better than just about anyone else.

"She's a darn good diplomat," the president told reporters before the trip. "She speaks clearly and she's a compassionate soul when she speaks."

It's hardly Mrs. Bush's first turn in the spotlight this year. In May, she promoted America's image in the Middle East -- and made news for commenting on Egypt's elections and stepping into tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. In March, she took a solo trip to Kabul, Afghanistan's dangerous capital.

At home, she has launched an initiative that urges at-risk children -- particularly boys -- to shun gangs and drugs.