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Hollywood celebs had nothing on these African First ladies

April 23, 2009 |  1:40 pm

First ladies Adelcia Barreto Pires of Cape Verde, Hadija Laraba Tandja of Niger (second row), Chantal Biya of Cameroon and Ana Paula Dos Santos of Angola and Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza of Swaziland, from left, are shaded by umbrellas during a news conference in Los Angeles. The women's visit was designed to forge partnerships in the United States to improve health on a continent racked by AIDS, malaria and other scourges.

With the ascendancy of First Lady Michelle Obama, who has a higher approval rating than President Barack Obama these days and is well on her way to becoming a style icon for the ages, it’s no wonder other first spouses are dressing up and stepping into the spotlight. Fifteen first ladies from different African nations visited the Skirball Cultural Center in L.A. this week for a health summit.

They were on a serious mission, trying to forge partnerships with organizations here to fight malaria, AIDS and other health problems affecting women and children in Africa, but they made time for a little glitz and glamour -- dining at Wolfgang Puck’s WP restaurant Monday night, posing on the red carpet and hobnobbing with Sharon Stone, Sheryl Crow, Naomi Campbell and others.

Sia-Nyama-KoromaThe Hollywood celebs had nothing on these regal ladies. Some wore traditional garb (I would love to know how to wrap a scarf on my head the way Sia Nyama Koroma -- at right with Stone -- of Sierra Leone does), while others looked as if they could have stepped out of a Neiman Marcus catalogue.

At Monday's daytime event Ana Paula Dos Santos of Angola, (above, front row center) channeled Mrs. O and Jackie O in a fabulous double breasted pink coat, while Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza (above, front row second from right), one of at least 13 wives of Africa's last absolute monarch, King Mswati III of Swaziland, was more of a Mariah Carey look-alike in a shiny, sand-colored skirt suit and bold brooch, rhinestone encrusted sunglasses, strappy silver sandals and a tangle of perfectly done braids in her hair.

Chantal-Biya-of-CameroonBut let’s talk for a second about the hair on Chantal Biya of Cameroon (at left). Known as Africa’s most glamorous first lady, she looks like a lioness! (She could carry a few cubs in that mane anyway.) In a long, Pucci-esque print dress, purple pumps and matching purple Chanel quilted bag, Biya stole the first lady fashion show.

It’s encouraging to see these women facing up to the problems in their countries and trying to effect change. The African First Ladies Health Summit, organized by the L.A.-based US Doctors for Africa, is scheduled to happen every five years.

-- Booth Moore

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Photo, top: First ladies of countries throughout Africa pose for a photo at the African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

Photo, middle: Sia Nyama Koromo with Sharon Stone. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

Photo,  bottom: Chantal Biya. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images