‘Hands off Africa,’ Pope Francis tells rich world

  • The Pope embarked on a trip to DR Congo and South Sudan
  • Francis to visit war victims in Congo
  • The Pope’s trip to July was postponed due to a knee ailment

KINSHASA, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Pope Francis, who began a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, condemned the “poison of greed” fueling conflicts in Africa, saying the rich world must understand that people are more valuable than minerals. The land beneath them.

Tens of thousands of people cheered as he traveled from the airport to the capital Kinshasa in his Popemobile, some breaking out to follow, others chanting and waving flags.

But the euphoric mood, one of the most energetic receptions on his foreign trips, was disturbed by the 86-year-old pope as he spoke to distinguished guests at the presidential palace. He condemned Congo’s “terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity,” where vast mineral wealth fueled war, displacement and hunger.

“Give up the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Give up Africa. Stop suffocating Africa: it is not a mine to strip or a land to plunder,” Francis said.

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Congo has some of the world’s richest deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium, but they have fueled conflict between militias, government troops and foreign invaders. Mining is linked to the inhumane exploitation of workers, including children, and environmental degradation.

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“It is a tragedy that these lands, and the entire African continent in general, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” the pope said, reading his homily in Italian. People listening to a French translation clapped repeatedly.

“The poison of greed has bled into its diamonds,” he said, referring specifically to Congo.

Eastern Congo’s problems have been exacerbated by violence related to the long and complex fallout from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebel group fighting government troops in the east. Rwanda denies this.

“Along with armed armed forces, foreign powers hungry for the minerals of our soil, with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbor Rwanda, are committing barbaric atrocities,” said Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi. A hot, muggy afternoon.

The Pope did not name Rwanda or take sides in the dispute in his address.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo dismissed Shisekedi’s comments. “This ludicrous obsession with scapegoating Rwanda is clearly an election strategy by President Shisekedi – a distraction from his government’s poor performance and failure to deliver for its citizens,” she told Reuters.

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‘Violence Devoured’

According to the United Nations, 5.7 million people are internally displaced in Congo, and 26 million are facing severe hunger, largely due to the impact of the armed conflict.

Roman Catholics make up half of Congo’s population of 90 million, and the church plays a critical role in running schools and health facilities and promoting democracy in the sprawling central African nation.

The Pope criticized rich countries for ignoring the tragedies in Congo and elsewhere in Africa.

“One gets the impression that the international community has practically resigned itself to the violence engulfing (Congo). We cannot get used to the bloodshed that marks this country, which has caused millions of deaths,” he said.

Tshisekedi made a similar point: “More than 10 million people have been tragically killed while the international community remains passive and silent.”

The papal trip, originally scheduled for last July, was postponed due to a flare-up of chronic knee disease. Francis had originally planned to go to Goma in eastern Congo, but scrapped that stop because of renewed fighting between M23 rebels and government troops.

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In an apparent reference to the M23 and other militias active in Congo’s east, the Pope said the Congolese people were fighting to preserve their territorial integrity “against despicable attempts to disintegrate the country.”

On Wednesday, Francis will celebrate Mass at Kinshasa airport, which is expected to draw more than a million people. He will also meet the victims of violence in the East.

Francis will stay in Kinshasa until Friday morning before flying to South Sudan, another African country wracked by conflict and poverty.

For the first time, the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the global Anglican Communion and moderator of the Church of Scotland, will accompany him on that leg of his journey. The religious leaders described their joint visit as a “pilgrimage of peace” to the world’s youngest nation.

South Sudan gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan in 2011 after decades of fighting. Two years later the conflict between the clans escalated into a civil war that resulted in the deaths of 400,000 people. A deal in 2018 averted the worst of the fighting.

Additional reporting by Justin Makangara, Benoit Nyimba, Sonia Rolli, Stanis Bujakera and Philbert Girinema in Kigali; By Estelle Shirburn and Philip Pullella; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Barbara Lewis, Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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