‘Hands off Africa!’: Pope blasts foreign plundering of Congo

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Pope Francis demanded Tuesday that foreign powers stop plundering Africa’s natural resources because of the “poison of their own greed” as he arrived in Congo to a tumultuous welcome from Congolese people grateful that he was focusing the world’s attention on their forgotten position.

Tens of thousands of people lined the main road to the capital Kinshasa to welcome Francis after he landed at the airport, some standing three or four deep, with children in school uniforms occupying the front row.

“The Pope is 86 years old, but he still came. It’s a sacrifice and the Congolese people will not forget it,” said Sultan Ntambwe, a bank agent in his 30s, as he awaited Francis’ arrival in a scene reminiscent of some of Francis’ previous trips to similar heavily Catholic countries.

Francis plunged headlong into his agenda upon arrival, denouncing the centuries-long exploitation of Africa by colonial powers, today’s multinational extractive industries and the meddling of neighboring countries in Congo’s affairs, which has led to an increase in fighting in the east.

“Hands down from the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa!” Francis said to applause in his opening speech to Congolese government officials and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the national palace in Kinshasa.

Calling Congo’s vast mineral and natural wealth a “diamond of creation,” Francis demanded that foreign interests stop dividing the country for their own interests and acknowledge their role in the economic “enslavement” of the Congolese people.

“Stop suffocating Africa: it is not a mine to be dug or a terrain to be plundered,” said the first Latin American pope in history, who has long condemned how rich countries exploit the resources of poorer ones ones for their own profit.

The six-day trip, which also includes a stop in South Sudan, was originally planned for July but was postponed due to Francis’ knee problems, which were still so serious on Tuesday that he was unable to greet journalists on the plane headed for Kinshasa and forced him to use a wheelchair On the ground.

Also Read :  Nepal plane crash: At least 64 killed as Yeti Airlines aircraft comes down near city of Pokhara

It was also supposed to include a stop in Goma, in eastern Congo, but the surrounding North Kivu region has been plagued by intense fighting between the government troops and the M23 rebel group, as well as attacks by extremists linked to the Islamic State group.

The fighting has displaced some 5.7 million people, a fifth of them last year alone, according to the World Food Programme.

Instead of traveling there, Francis will meet a delegation of people from the east who will travel to Kinshasa for a private meeting at the Vatican embassy on Wednesday. The plan calls for them to participate in a ceremony, collectively committing to forgive their attackers.

Sylvie Mwita, an economics student in Kinshasa, said the pope’s arrival would focus the world’s attention and television cameras on Congo and the fighting in the east to show how its suffering is being forgotten by the rest of the world.

“This will allow the world to discover the atrocities that our brothers in the eastern part of the country are victims of.” And maybe for once the little humanity that is left in some people will cause an awakening and the international community will be interested not only in what is happening in Ukraine, but also in what is happening in this country,” she said.

President Felix Tshisekedi made a similar line in his speech to the Pope, accusing the international community of being oblivious to Congo and complicit in “inaction and silence” about the atrocities taking place in the east.

“In addition to armed groups, foreign forces hungry for the minerals in our bowels are committing brutal atrocities with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbor Rwanda, making security the first and biggest challenge for the government,” he said.

Also Read :  U.S., Japan, S. Korea warn of 'unparalleled' response if N. Korea holds nuclear test

Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 rebels operating in Congo, a charge it has repeatedly denied.

Francis’ strong words at the start set the tone for the trip, in which the pope seeks to bring a message of peace, a warning to the international community not to look the other way and a recognition that Africa is the future of the Catholic Church.

The continent is one of the few places on Earth where the Catholic flock is growing, both in terms of practicing faithful and fresh vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

And Congo stands out as the African country with the most Catholics: half of its 105 million people are Catholic, the country has more than 6,000 priests, 10,000 nuns and more than 4,000 seminarians – 3.6% of the total number of young men studying for the priesthood.

That makes Francis’ trip, his fifth visit to the African continent in his 10-year pontificate, all the more important as the Jesuit pope seeks to recast the church as a “field hospital for wounded souls” where all are welcome, poor people they have a special pride and rivals are urged to make peace.

Aid groups had hoped Francis’ six-day visit would shine a light on the forgotten conflicts in Congo and South Sudan and their rising humanitarian costs, and reawaken international attention amid donor fatigue caused by new aid priorities in Ukraine.

Francis answered their call by pointing the finger at the role that colonial powers like Belgium played in exploiting the Congo until the country, 80 times the size of Belgium, gained its independence in 1960, and neighboring countries play today.

Also Read :  North Korea says U.S. drills threaten to turn region into 'critical war zone'

Francis did not identify Belgium or any neighboring country by name, but he did not mince words of condemnation, quoting Tshisekedi as saying a “forgotten genocide” was currently taking place.

“The poison of greed has stained its diamonds with blood,” Francis said. “Let the world recognize the catastrophic things done over the centuries to the detriment of indigenous peoples and not forget this country and this continent.”

“We cannot get used to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain almost unknown elsewhere,” he said.

At the same time, he urged the Congolese authorities to work for the common good and not for tribal, ethnic or personal interests; and end child labor and invest in education so Congo’s “most precious diamonds” can shine bright.

The Congolese faithful flocked to Kinshasa for Francis’ main event, Wednesday’s mass at Ndolo Airport, which is expected to draw up to 2 million people in one of the largest gatherings of its kind in Congo and one of Francis’ biggest mass sometime.

Banners emblazoned with the pope’s image carried messages including “Pope Francis, the city of Kinshasa welcomes you with joy.”

Some women wore colorful dresses and skirts made of pania, a wax-printed fabric with images of Francis, the Virgin Mary or the Vatican keys, in a festive welcome.

Jean-Louis Maupina, 47, said he walked about 45 minutes to Kinshasa airport before the pope’s arrival on Tuesday.

“He came as a pilgrim sent by God,” Maupina said. “His blessing will give us peace in our hearts.”


Christina Malkia in Kinshasa and Christa Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.


Associated Press religion coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP bears all responsibility for this content.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Back to top button