Pope Francis strongly denounced the “economic colonialism” which “is unleashed” in Africa and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on the first day of his visit to the country.
“After political colonialism, an equally enslaving economic colonialism was unleashed. This country, largely plundered, therefore fails to take sufficient advantage of its immense resources”, he lamented Tuesday in Kinshasa. His very political speech in front of the authorities and the diplomatic corps was met with applause.
“Take your hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo, take your hands off Africa! Stop suffocating Africa: it is not a mine to be exploited nor a land to be plundered,” he said again in the gardens of the presidential palace.
This appeal resonates particularly in the DRC, a country with immense wealth and fertile soil, where two thirds of the approximately 100 million inhabitants live on less than €2.07 a day.
“Economic colonialism” was the work of multinationals and distant countries, but neighbouring countries of the DRC are now also accused of having taken over from the plundering of the resources of the DRC, which benefits them economically and fuels the conflicts which bloody the country.
It was an eagerly awaited response to the endemic conflicts that plague the east of the country, particularly in North Kivu.
The pope urged the Congolese not to “slide into tribalism and confrontation” and encouraged the ongoing peace processes “so that commitments are kept”.
Angola has initiated mediation to try to ease tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, accused of supporting the M23 rebellion which has seized portions of North Kivu territory since last year. The fighting continues to oppose loyalist forces and armed groups.
For its part, Kenya is trying to encourage dialogue between the authorities in Kinshasa and the dozens of armed groups that have been active in the east for almost 30 years. But these processes have so far not been accompanied by concrete progress on the ground.
The Argentine pope also did not spare the country’s ruling class, calling for “favoring free, transparent and credible elections” in the face of the threat of corruption, as the country prepares for a decisive presidential election in December.
“We do not allow ourselves to be manipulated, and even less bought, by those who want to keep the country in violence in order to exploit it and do shameful business”, he insisted in the presence of President Félix Tshisekedi, a candidate for re-election who came to power in early 2019 after a controversial election.
Some organisations already consider the process for the next elections very badly started, deploring the desire to seize power over the electoral bodies.
Comparing the DRC to a “diamond”, the pope addressed a wide range of themes such as education, environmental protection and religious proselytism – plus “the scourge of child labour”.
“Too many of them die, subjected to enslaving work in the mines,” the Pope added.
Like dangerous and unworthy working conditions and corruption, accusations of child labor weigh on the artisanal exploitation of minerals such as the highly sought-after cobalt, of which the DRC provides some 70 per cent of the world’s production.