Pope Francis has demanded that foreign powers stop plundering Africa’s natural resources for the “poison of their own greed” as he arrived in Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] to a raucous welcome.
Francis plunged headfirst into his agenda upon arrival, denouncing the centuries-long exploitation of Africa by colonial powers, today’s multinational extraction industries and the neighbouring countries interfering in DRC’s affairs that has led to a surge in fighting in the east.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa!” Francis said to applause in his opening speech to Congolese government authorities and the diplomatic corps in the garden of Kinshasa’s national palace on Tuesday.
“Stop choking Africa: It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” said history’s first Latin American pope, who has long railed at how wealthy countries have exploited the resources of poorer ones for their own profit.
Tens of thousands of people lined the main road into the capital, Kinshasa, to welcome Francis after he landed at the airport.
‘Inaction and silence’
President Felix Tshisekedi voiced a similar line in his speech to the pope, accusing the international community of forgetting about DRC and of its complicit “inaction and silence” about the atrocities occurring in the east.
“In addition to armed groups, foreign powers eager for the minerals in our subsoil commit cruel atrocities with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbour Rwanda, making security the first and greatest challenge for the government,” he said.
Francis pointed the finger at the role colonial powers such as Belgium played in exploiting the present-day DRC until the country, which is 80 times the size of Belgium, gained its independence in 1960, and neighbouring countries are playing today.
Francis didn’t identify Belgium or any neighbouring country by name, but he spared no word of condemnation, quoting Tshisekedi as saying there was a “forgotten genocide” under way.
“The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” Francis said.
“May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent.”
“We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere,” he said.
At the same time, he urged Congolese authorities to work for the common good and not tribal, ethnic or personal interests; put an end to child labour and invest in education so that “the most precious diamonds” of DRC can shine brightly.
Francis will meet with a delegation of people from the east who will travel to Kinshasa for a private encounter at the Vatican embassy on Wednesday.