Obama welcomes African dignitaries for dinner and 'a little bit of fun'

With more than 400 guests, this is the most elaborate dinner President Obama and Michelle Obama have hosted. In a sense it was like a dinner for one head of state, multiplied 50 times.

Susan Walsh/AP
Rwanda President Paul Kagame stands with his daughter Ange Kagame upon arrival for a dinner hosted by President Barack Obama, Tuesday, Aug. 5.

President Barack Obama is hosting dinner at the White House on Tuesday for dozens of African leaders in town for a summit focusing on boosting US business and security ties with the continent.

Award-winning singer Lionel Richie was set to headline the formal dinner for more than 51 Africa leaders who are attending Obama's US-Africa Leaders Summit, a historic three-day conference that opened Monday.

Among the leaders who arrived at the White House one at a time were President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, the world's newest country, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Kiir was one of two leaders who wore a hat and he gave a dramatic wave of his hand to the assembled media. Egypt's ambassador and Libya's foreign affairs minister also attended.

Next to last to arrive was President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, the birthplace of Obama's late father. Kenyatta has pleaded innocent to charges including murder and persecution for his alleged role in organizing violence that left more than 1,000 people dead after Kenya's 2007 elections. The case is before an international criminal court, and Kenya pointedly was left off the itinerary when Obama toured three African countries last summer.

A guest list topping out at more than 400 people made it both the most elaborate and unusual dinner to be hosted by Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. In a sense it was like a dinner for one head of state, multiplied 50 times.

"The president is looking forward to hosting them here at the White House tonight for a dinner that, at least for a brief period of time in their visit here to the United States, they won't be focused on business and will have an opportunity to hopefully have a little bit of fun," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

But as large as the White House is, it cannot accommodate such a big group and so both the four-course dinner and the entertainment were being served up in a massive tent erected on the South Lawn.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, who last month visited Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, were attending, along with Obama administration officials, members of the delegations accompanying the African leaders, US lawmakers, and business leaders.

Some of the more notable faces expected were former President Jimmy Carter, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, a sponsor of a US-Africa business forum held earlier Tuesday. Also on the guest list were actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of the Academy Award-winning drama "12 Years a Slave," and Robert De Niro. Athletes NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and Meb Keflezighi, the Eritrean-born American winner of this year's Boston Marathon, were also on the list.

After greeting Obama at the White House, guests will board trolley cars for a ride down to the South Lawn. Obama will deliver a toast before the largely American dinner with hints of Africa in each course.

Guests will dine on chilled spiced tomato soup and socca crisps, made of chick peas; chopped farm-stand vegetable salad using produce from the first lady's garden; and grilled dry-aged Wagyu beef served with chermoula, a marinade used in North African cooking; and sweet potatoes and coconut milk.

Dessert is cappuccino fudge cake dressed with papaya scented with vanilla from Madagascar.

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