Pope’s visit inspires hope for peace, justice

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023 01:30 | By
Pope’s visit inspires hope for peace, justice
Pope in DRC. Photo/Courtesy

Pope Francis on Sunday ended a historic visit to two conflict-prone African countries with impassioned plea for peace and justice, bringing joy and hope to millions of citizens.

The Pope’s peace pilgrimage to war-torn South Sudan after visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), whose forces have been battling rebel militias for decades, delivered a clear message to Africa’s leaders – focus on ending conflict.

Although the papal message was directed at the leadership of South Sudan which has since independence in 2011 been wracked by civil war after President Salva Kiir fell out with his then Vice-President Riek Machar in 2013, it serves as a critical reminder to other African leaders.

Ethnic tensions, violence, political intolerance, human rights violations and other injustices remain the bane of nearly every African country. The Pontiff’s address at a mass in the capital Juba, delivered in his customary spiritual overtones, nevertheless touched on these issues.

Despite a peace deal in 2018, violence driven by ethnic tensions continues, leaving an estimated 400,000 people dead as a result of the conflict. Pope Francis told the overjoyed congregation to reject the ‘venom of hatred’.

South Sudanese people, happy that the Pope had hit the nail on the head, are hoping that their leaders, lieutenants and followers would heed the holy pleas to build peace and unity.

Conflict fueled by ethnic tensions has rocked many countries. Kenya may not have experienced the level of ethnic-induced conflict of the kind witnessed in South Sudan, but we have nearly approached that direction.

That is why peace-loving Kenyans cringe when they hear certain leaders make ethnic-laden utterances that could lead to conflict as they enjoy the peace that has been nurtured after a long process of political and constitutional developments.

However, that is a story for another occasion, since the focus here is on DRC and South Sudan, two countries that epitomise the critical issue of Africa’s extractive industries (oil in South Sudan and minerals in Congo). To be succinct, we are currently far from a situation where a majority of Africa’s oil and minerals are benefiting African people. Moreover, some natural resources continue to fuel armed conflict in Africa, as our recent research on the DRC and tin and coltan has revealed.

However, the two most potentially far-reaching policies that I have witnessed in 10 years of working on this issue are currently under debate. If they go forward, these US-led initiatives on natural resource transparency and accountability would have a very tangible impact in transforming incentives for corruption in Africa’s natural resources.

These initiatives would also be important for US national interests in promoting stable business environments and strengthening US energy security. Although few people realise it, more oil from Africa now goes into gasoline in the US than from the Persian Gulf.  According to the US Energy Information Administration, 23 per cent of US oil imports currently come from Africa - more than combined imports from the Persian Gulf, which are 18 per cent.

The largest oil-producing nation currently in Africa is Angola, which now ranks as the seventh largest oil exporter to the US - ahead of Kuwait, Russia, and Colombia combined. So nearly one-quarter of American gasoline comes from Africa. Yet the enormous wealth generated from oil and minerals has not trickled down to Africans, and in some areas, these resources continue to fuel armed conflict.

Global Witness field research in July and August 2008 uncovered substantial evidence of the involvement of armed groups, such as Rwandan Hutu Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda and commanders of the Congolese national army, in the exploitation and trade of minerals and metals in North and South Kivu. These economic activities are perpetuating instability in the region.

— The writer comments on political and constitutional affairs

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