The Pope is in Africa, with a condemnation of injustice and inequality and “new colonialism” during his visit to Kenya. No pope has spoken out as forcefully on such issues, but in this case, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church has missed the mark on what the new colonialism means in Africa. The past, present and possibly future exploitation of the African continent is serious business, and now is the time for everyone to get their priorities straight.
In his visit to the East African nation, his last day before setting off to Uganda, the pontiff addressed a packed crowd at the St. Joseph the Worker Church, a tin-roofed parish located in the Nairobi slums and run by Jesuit priests, as Associated Press reports.
Before a packed congregation, the pontiff criticized minorities who amass wealth at the expense of the poor, and praised efforts by the poor to provide support to each other in impoverished neighborhoods. These values, the Pope said, had been forgotten by “an opulent society, anaesthetised by unbridled consumption” and were “not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation and have no market price.”
“I am here because I want you to know that I am not indifferent to your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows,” he added. “I realize the difficulties which you experience daily. How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?”
Such injustices were the result of “wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and rundown peripheries,” the Pope said during his enthusiastic welcome.
But while the Pope was busy castigating African leaders, he was in dire need of a history lesson. There are at least three things the Pope should have done if he truly wanted to have a meaningful impact on his visit to Kenya and Uganda:
1) Apologize for Christianity. First, the Pope should have apologized for what Christianity has done to indigenous populations in Africa and elsewhere across the globe. The human rights atrocities go back centuries. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, caused a great amount of damage when he suggested that Catholicism had purified indigenous populations, and condemned a resurgence in indigenous religions as a step backward. For over half a millennium, the church has promoted and codified the oppression of Black and Brown people.
There are three edicts that ushered in the system of organized crime the Church and the European colonial powers imposed on Africa, including the raping and pillaging, kidnapping, genocide and the global enslavement of millions.
The Dum Diversas, which was issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452, authorized King Alfonso V of Portugal to reduce any “Saracens (Muslims) and pagans and any other unbelievers” to perpetual slavery, paving the way for the West African slave trade.
The Romanus Pontifex, also issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1455, allowed for the seizure of non-Christian lands, and the enslavement of non-Christian people in Africa and the Americas. This edict gave the green light, in the name of Jesus Christ and profit, for white people to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed.”
Finally, the Inter Caetera, signed by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, paved the way for European colonization and Catholic missions in the New World, stating that “… we (the Papacy) command you (Spain) … to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents and dwellers therein in the Catholic faith, and train them in good morals.”
During his recent visit to the U.S., Pope Francis provided hope for Black Catholics who wanted him to address the problems they face, and apologize for the sins of slavery committed by the church. As a part of his address to the U.S. Congress, he invoked the name of Martin Luther King as one of four great Americans who, through “hard work and sacrifice — some at the cost of their lives,” built “a better future” and helped shape the country. Further, during a visit to Bolivia this past summer, the Pope apologized for the church’s colonial sins.
“I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God,” he said, as reported by the New York Times. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
2) Put Europeans, Chinese and others on notice. Second, even if corrupt leaders are eliminated in Africa, the neo-colonial powers remain. The Pontiff should have brought shame upon white people in Europe and the U.S. who, rather than repair the damage they have done to the African continent, have found new ways to rape and plunder Black people and their resources. One example includes France, which now forces 14 African nations to pay a tax for the “benefits” granted to them under colonialism, further using Africa’s own wealth to engender further enslavement and indebtedness.
Further, China has far outpaced the U.S. in its presence in Africa–with $200 billion in trade and $75 billion investment in Africa as opposed to $14 billion in American investments. China is exploiting natural resources and agriculture in Africa through a land grab, and even plans to establish its first military base on the continent in Djibouti. With 1 million Chinese migrants in Africa, it would appear the nation is building a new empire in Africa.
3) Offer help, then, condemn corrupt African leaders. After offering to assist African nations with the vast resources of the church, assets which were amassed through the plunder of populations in Africa and elsewhere around the globe, Pope Francis then could turn attention to corrupt leaders who need to be removed.
During his trip to Kenya in July, President Obama gave a “tough love” speech in which he criticized the African nation for its corruption, ethnic division and human rights, noting that Kenyans “will be familiar with the need to manage family politics sometimes.” Calling corruption “an anchor that weighs you down,” Obama said, “I don’t want everybody to get too sensitive, but here in Kenya it’s time to change habits.”
Similarly, in line with Pope Francis’ statements, African elites who have replaced white colonizers as the oppressors of Black people must be removed from power. While this line of discussion talk has its place, it should be noted that lectures without the commensurate infrastructural assistance—such as the billions of dollars in given to Israel—have limited mileage.
Many of these African nations have spent fewer than 40 years in a post-colonial world, and yet they are expected to go it alone and clean up the mess that hundreds of years of colonialism created.