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'Hands Off Africa:' Pope slams foreign plundering of DR Congo

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has condemned foreign powers' plundering of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR), demanding an end to "economic colonialism" in Africa.

The 86-year-old pontiff made the remarks on Tuesday, after he landed in the DCR as part of a trip to two African nations.

"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 during a speech to Congolese government authorities and other dignitaries at the presidential palace in the capital, Kinshasa.

He further denounced "terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity" in the Congo, where vast mineral wealth has fueled war, displacement, and hunger.

"It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation," he said.

Calling the Congo's vast mineral and natural wealth a "diamond of creation," the Pope demanded that foreign entities stop carving up the country for their own interests and acknowledge their role in the economic "enslavement" of the Congolese people.

He further said a "forgotten genocide" was underway in the DRC, adding, "The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood."

"May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent," he said, while pointing the finger at the role colonial powers played in the exploitation of the Congo until the country gained its independence in 1960.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the pontiff criticized rich countries for closing their eyes and ears to the tragedies unfolding in the Congo and elsewhere in Africa.

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

The Congo has some of the world's richest deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum, and lithium, but those have stoked conflict between militias, government troops, and foreign entities. Mining has also been linked to the inhumane exploitation of workers, including children, and environmental degradation.

Compounding these problems, the eastern Congo has been plagued by violence connected to the long and complex fallout from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Monitoring groups estimate that 122 different armed groups of varying sizes are active in the troubled eastern DRC.

According to the UN, an estimated 5.7 million people are internally displaced in the Congo and 26 million face severe hunger, largely because of the impact of armed conflict.

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