Pope Francis during his visit to the DRC: “Political exploitation has given way to an equally enslaving economic colonialism

Pope Francis has condemned “economic colonialism” in Africa, denouncing the “poison of greed” for mineral resources as he began a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tens of thousands of people cheered, chanted and waved flags as he travelled from the airport into the capital, Kinshasa, in his popemobile.

But the mood changed when the pope gave a speech to dignitaries at the presidential palace, condemning “terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity” in Congo, where vast mineral wealth has fuelled war, displacement and hunger.

In the speech, Francis said the DRC’s history had been hobbled by conflict and a history of foreign domination.

'Hands off Africa' says Pope Francis in Kinshasa speech

“Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,” he said.

“As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources,” he told an audience of Congolese politicians and other dignitaries, speaking in Italian.

“It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” he said. “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” he said, referring to Congo specifically.

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” he said, to applause.

The 86-year-old is the first pontiff to visit Congo since John Paul II in 1985, when it was still known as Zaire. About half of Congo’s population of 90 million are Roman Catholics.

His message will resonate well in the DRC, a vast central African nation of about 100 million people, which won independence from Belgium in 1960.

Despite its vast reserves of minerals, timber and freshwater, the DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world. About two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank.

Conflict also ravages the east of the country, where M23 rebels have captured swathes of territory since late 2021. The violence in the east is connected to the long and complex fallout from the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

An estimated 5.7 million people are internally displaced in Congo and 26 million face severe hunger, largely because of the impact of armed conflict, according to the United Nations.

Francis, in his speech, encouraged ongoing regional peace efforts and said that “we cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades”.

The pope criticised rich countries for closing their eyes and ears to the tragedies unfolding in Congo and elsewhere in Africa.

“One has the impression that the international community has practically resigned itself to the violence devouring it [Congo]. We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths,” he said.

Francis will stay in Kinshasa until Friday morning, when he will fly to South Sudan, another country grappling with conflict and poverty.

In a first, he will be accompanied for that leg of his journey by the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the global Anglican communion, and by the Church of Scotland moderator. The religious leaders have described their joint visit as a “pilgrimage of peace”.


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