Pope Francis demanded Tuesday that world powers stop plundering Africa’s natural resources for “the poison of their own greed,” upon arriving in Congo and receiving thanks from the population for having focused world attention on their forgotten plight.
Tens of thousands of people thronged along the main highway of Kinshasa, the capital, to welcome the pontiff after he landed at the airport. In the crowd, in the front row, there were even children in their school uniforms.
The scene recalled visits to countries with a Catholic majority, which have not been the norm in recent years, since the pope has preferred to go to smaller and closer countries, where Catholics are in many cases the minority.
“The pope is 86 years old, but he came anyway. It is a sacrifice and the Congolese will not forget it,” said Sultan Ntambwe, a bank employee in her 30s, as she waited to see the pontiff.
Francis entered his agenda fully upon arrival, denouncing the exploitation of Africa perpetrated by world powers for centuries, the multinational extractive industries and the interference of neighboring countries in the internal affairs of the Congo.
“Get your hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Get your hands off Africa!” exclaimed the pope in his first speech before the Congolese authorities and the diplomatic corps accredited to the country, in the garden of the Kinshasa national palace.
Calling Congo’s mineral and natural wealth “a diamond of Creation,” Francis demanded that multinational companies stop dividing up the country for their own interests and acknowledge their part in the economic “enslavement” of the Congolese people.
“Stop strangling Africa. It is not a mine to be exploited or land to be looted,” said the first Latin American pope, who has long denounced the way in which countries exploit the resources of the poorest.
The trip was originally scheduled for July, but it was delayed due to Pope Francis’ knee problems, which on Tuesday were so serious that they prevented the Pope from coming to greet the journalists who were traveling with him to Kinshasa and, upon arriving there, forced him to stay in a wheelchair.
In addition, the trip was to have included a stop in Goma, in eastern Congo, but the surrounding region of North Kivu has been plagued by heavy fighting between government troops and the M23 rebel group, as well as attacks by insurgents linked to the Islamic State extremist group.
The fighting displaced some 5.7 million people, a fifth of them last year alone, according to the World Food Program.