At 7.40 a.m. the airplane with Pope Francis aboard has departed from the Fiumicino airport towards Nairobi, Kenya, the first stop on his apostolic journey to Africa. During the first stages of the journey, as usually, there was an exchange of greetings with the president of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. “At this moment when I am about to make an apostolic journey to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic, motivated by a strong desire to meet brothers and sisters in faith, and the inhabitants of those beloved nations – the Pontiff wrote – I am pleased to address to you, Mr President, my respectful greetings accompanied by my fervent prayers for the good and prosperity of the entire Italian people”.
Shortly after has arrived the response of the head of state. “Italy and the international community follow with great attention your first journey to the African continent, whose potential for growth and development is still hampered by wars, political instability, poverty and alarming social inequalities – the head of state wrote -. Your presence will support and encourage local Christian communities and will be an important signal of peace, fraternity and dialog for the countries you are going to visit, and the whole continent, providing also a valuable message of hope for the future. Your Holiness, I take the opportunity to renew the assurances of my highest consideration and esteem”.
THE POPE IN THE AFRICA OF THE POOR
Poverty and war, illiteracy and crime, disease and hunger. Africa shows itself to Pope Francis without being able to hide human and social misery of a beautiful land exploited, then abandoned by the West. 62% Of the rural population in the sub-Saharan region live on less than $1.25 per day, while in the cities grows the number of people who do not have access to water resources, sanitation, social assistance and education.
Besides, data concerning infant mortality are still among the highest on a global level (96 deaths for every 1000 children born) with Angola at the top of the world rankings (167 deaths for every 1000 births). The main causes of the phenomenon are premature births, pneumonia, and complications during pregnancy, as well as diarrhea and malaria. Pay attention! Not cancer, nor infarcts and other incurable diseases. But common diseases that could be resolved, but become a death sentence in Africa. And let us not forget about the tragedy of the child soldiers, ethnic cleansing going on in different States, and the shadow of terrorism which stretches from Mali to Kenya, from Nigeria to Niger, from Chad to Cameroon and Somalia.
A difficult and complex journey to the true outskirts of the World which was strongly desired by the Pontiff, despite fundamentalist threats and safety alarms set off these last days when the West is crying the same tears that are being shed almost every day at these latitudes. Three countries were chosen for this visit with a strong symbolic impact of which we want to draw a short profile below
KENYA – a country with over 40 million inhabitants, mostly Christians with 47% of Protestants, 23% of Catholics and 11% of Muslims. The economic hub of eastern Africa, with a growing entrepreneurial middle class, Kenya is an example of the vibrant new reality of Africa’s development. But it is also a country divided by strong ethnic rivalries, plagued by endemic corruption and strong social inequalities. Besides, it is a country threatened by Islamic terrorism from the neighbouring Somalia. Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, son to Jomo Kenyatta who brought the country to independence from Britain in 1963. His election, in March 2013, took place peacefully, after serious ethnic clashes which caused 1500 deaths after the vote in December 2007. A new constitution was adopted in 2010 and sought to impose greater securities for the different ethnic groups and granted more power to local authorities. Among the main threats to Kenya’s safety, there is Somalia’s instability, a neighbour from which arrive terrorist attacks at the hands of the Islamist group al Shabaab. Since October 2011, after a series of attacks and cases of kidnapped tourists, the Kenyan army is active against Islamists on the Somali territory. But this has not spared deadly attacks in Kenya, such as the assault on Westgate Mall in Nairobi (71 dead and 175 wounded) in September 2013 and the massacre of Christian students at the university of Garissa (148 dead and 79 wounded) in April last year.
UGANDA– a country with over 37 million people. It is a Christian-majority country with 42% of Catholics, 42% of protestants and 12% of Muslims. A former British colony independent since 1962, Uganda reached relative stability in mid-eighties, after years of civil war, political repression and human rights abuses under the dictatorships of Idi Amin (1971-1979) and Milton Obote (1980-85) which have caused almost half a million dead. The advent of president Yoweri Museweni in 1986 progressively brought most of the country back to normalcy, encouraging economic growth. The latter, however, still depends too heavily on the export of raw materials, among which stands out coffee. 2008 World economic crisis struck Uganda with great force, favoring the growth of opposition against Museveni, whose victory at the 2011 presidential elections was challenged by numerous protests against the cost of living and to ask for more democracy. Many controversies – also international – were created by the harsh laws which condemned homosexuals to life imprisonment, later rejected by the Supreme Court. The north of Uganda had remained highly unstable till 2005-2006, when Kampala governmental forces were able to chase away from the country the guerrillas of the Lord’s army (LRA), led by the fanatic Joseph Kony, which for the last twenty years had threatened the population. LRA is famous for kidnapping children, who are later transformed into soldiers and sex slaves. In difficult moments during the crisis, at least two million people were forced to abandon their homes. Expelled from Uganda, LRA has not been fully defeated and keeps raging in Central African Republic, South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda’s recent history has been marked also by the involvement in the 1998-2003 civil war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) – a country with over 5 million inhabitants, in the CAR there are 35% of animists, 25% of protestant, 25% of Catholics and 15% of Muslims. Among the poorest countries in the world, the former French colony has remained unstable ever since its independence obtained in 1960. After Jean-bédel Bokassa’s brutal regime (1966-1979) who had proclaimed himself emperor in 1976, there were several military coups. In March 2003, president Ange-Felix Patasse was overthrown by a coup at the hand of the general Francois Bozize. Who was to be elected president in 2005 and reconfirmed in 2011. But Bozize fails to control the whole country, where there are several rebel groups, whereas the south-eastern part of the country is destabilized by LRA fanatics coming from Uganda. In December 2012 a few rebel groups unite and give origin to the Seleka alliance that advances towards Bangui, the capital. In March 2013, Bozize had fled abroad and the rebels’ leader Michel Djotodia became president. Meanwhile, the country fell prey to ethnic, sectarian, and religious violence that caused more than 400 thousand refugees and one million internal displaced. After the intervention of the French troops, followed by peacekeeping forces of the United Nations, African Union and European Union, began a process of transition and pacification. Catherine Samba-Panza has become Interim President. She is supposed to lead the country towards new elections, originally scheduled for the month of October this year, but now they are put off till 2016.