Although the event wasn’t billed as a state dinner, it most certainly had an air to it.
Dignitaries and heads of state in attendance for the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit were feted Tuesday night at the White House. Chief of Protocol Peter Selfridge told the Washington Post that he was prepared to pull out all the stops for the guests, including official greeting duties. He shook hands and walked the VIPs up and down the red carpet as they pulled up in black town cars. The roll call lasted more than an hour.
“We strive to throw out the red carpet, both literally and figuratively, from their arrival at the airport to the end of the summit,” Selfridge said. “Just multiply everything by 50.”
The gala concluded an action-packed day of economic talks between U.S. and African officials and representatives from close to 100 American and African companies, which culminated in a pledge of $14 billion by the Obama administration in U.S. corporate economic investment on the continent.
President Barack Obama kicked off the feast with a brief toast. “Never before have we hosted a dinner at the White House like this, with so many presidents, so many prime ministers all at once,” he told the esteemed guests. “Tonight we are making history, and it’s an honor to have you all here.”
Obama spoke about his pride as an American with immediate blood ties to Africa, his family’s homecoming to Kenya, and alluded to the three-day summit’s theme, “Investing in the Next Generation.” He lifted his glass and proposed a toast to “new Africa.”
The Obamas circulated the tent, exchanging pleasantries with the African leaders and other high-profile guests like former President Jimmy Carter, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, actors Robert De Niro and Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others, over the course of the night. First lady Michelle Obama, with her hair swept into a bun, stunned in a Prabal Gurung-designed, canary-yellow gown with front-and-back cutouts.
The peak of the soiree arrived when Lionel Richie took to the stage, telling the audience, “Tonight, we’re going to party.” He serenaded the guests with his hits “All Night Long,” “Easy,” “Hello” and “Say You (Say Me).”
Erin C.J. Robertson is a summer intern at The Root.