From the DRC, Pope Francis tells the world: 'Hands off Africa'
In his address to Congolese authorities, his first in a journey that will also take him to South Sudan, the pontiff issued a harsh warning against "economic colonialism". From the country of "blood diamonds", scene of a "forgotten genocide", he called for "a diplomacy that is authentically human, for a diplomacy where peoples are concerned for other peoples, for a diplomacy centred not on control over land and resources.” Likewise, “May violence and hatred no longer find room in the heart or on the lips of anyone, since these are inhuman and unchristian sentiments”.
Kinshasa (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis landed this afternoon in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the first leg of an apostolic journey that will take him also to South Sudan.
In his first public statement, the pontiff issued a harsh warning to the great world powers, including those in Asia, that continue to look at this continent only as a reserve of raw materials to be exploited for their own interests.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo, hands off Africa,” Francis said. The continent “is not a mine to be stripped or a land to be plundered. May Africa be the protagonist of its destiny.”
Speaking at the National Palace (Palais de la Nation), before Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, other authorities, civil society representatives, and the diplomatic corps, the pope focused on diamonds, an asset but also a curse for the country where a forgotten war has claimed the lives of more than six million people in the past 30 years.
"A forgotten genocide," the pope called it. “[I]f the geography of this verdant lung is so rich and variegated, its history has not been comparably blessed. Torn by war, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to witness within its confines conflicts and forced migrations, and to suffer from terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity and of creation. This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath.”
Francis explained that the country’s most precious diamond is its people, more than 100 million. He called on each Congolese to get up and do their part. “May violence and hatred no longer find room in the heart or on the lips of anyone, since these are inhuman and unchristian sentiments that arrest development and bring us back to a gloomy past.”
The pontiff could not remain silent about the responsibilities of those who continue to plunder the country, fuelling its conflicts. “Political exploitation gave way to an ‘economic colonialism’ that was equally enslaving. [. . .] The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood. This is a tragedy to which the economically more advanced world often closes its eyes, ears and mouth.”
He urged everyone to remember the “things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples [. . .]. May Africa, the smile and hope of the world, count for more. May it be spoken of more frequently, and have greater weight and prestige among the nations!”
Similarly, he called “for a diplomacy centred not on control over land and resources, expansionism and increased profits, but rather on providing opportunities for people to grow and develop.”
Addressing the international community, almost resigned to the violence that is devouring the country, the pontiff said: “We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere. What is happening here needs to be known.”
He warned against the dangers of tribalism, another evil that has contributed to bloodshed in the country. “A partisan spirit that stubbornly promotes one’s own ethnic group or particular interests, thus nurturing spirals of hatred and violence, is detrimental to everyone.”
In reality, “the problem is not human nature or the nature of ethnic and social groups, but the way in which they choose to live together: their willingness or not to encounter one another, to be reconciled and to start anew makes the difference between the grimness of conflict and a radiant future of peace and prosperity.”
The pope asks religious groups to contribute to this encounter with their own wealth of wisdom, renouncing “every form of aggression, proselytism and constraint, for these are means unworthy of human freedom.”
Turning to diamonds and their chemical composition, which combines carbon atoms in an admirable way, creating the miracle of a clear body instead of dark graphite, Francis used this crystalline clarity to warn people in authority, beginning with the DRC’s own leaders, to stay away from authoritarianism and easy gains, and extend instead the peace process even further, to “women, to young people, to different groups and to socially marginalized groups.”
“May no one be manipulated, much less bought, by those who would foment violence in the country, and exploit it in order to make shameful business deals. This leads only to discredit and disgrace, together with death and misery. It is better to stay close to people, be aware of how they live.”
Citing the suffering of children and women in the country’s long war, he lamented the fact that “many children receive no schooling. How many of them, instead of receiving a good education, are exploited! All too many of them die, subjected to servile labour in the mines. No effort should be spared to denounce and finally end the scourge of child labour. How many girls are marginalized and their dignity violated! [. . .] Children, young girls and all young people are” our “hope: let us not allow that hope to be stifled, but instead cultivate it with passion!”
Protecting and preserving creation in one of the world's largest green lungs is a major challenge. “[i]n this area there needs to be an ample and fruitful cooperation that can permit an effective intervention without imposing external models that are more useful to those who help than to those who are helped.”
Diamonds are hard and know how to resist. The “name of Christ, who is the God of hope, the God of every possibility, who always gives us the strength to begin anew” is the power to which the Congolese must turn to undertake a “courageous and inclusive social renewal.”
It is also what “the splendid yet wounded history of this country” demands, in particular, “its young people and children [. . .]. I stand with you and I accompany with my prayers and closeness every effort made to achieve a peaceful, harmonious and prosperous future for this great country.”