Pope Francis arrived in Kenya on Wednesday on his first-ever trip to Africa and urged Kenyans to work for peace and forgiveness amid a wave of extremist violence on the continent that threatens to disrupt his trip, reported AP.
Francis was received at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International airport by President Uhuru Kenyatta and a throng of traditional dancers and singers at the start of a six-day pilgrimage that will also take him to Uganda and the Central African Republic, a country wracked by fighting between Christians and Muslims.
Asked if he was concerned about the violence, Francis responded with his typical wit: “I’m more worried about the mosquitoes.”
In his speech to President Uhuru and the country’s diplomatic corps at Nairobi’s State House, Francis urged all Kenyans to work for peace and forgiveness and to heal ethnic, religious and economic divisions.
“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” he said. “Ultimately, the struggle against these enemies of peace must be carried on by men and women who fearlessly believe in, and bear honest witness to, the great spiritual and political values which inspired the birth of the nation.”
“As we fight this war, recent events around the world have indeed taught us that we must do even more to bring unity and understanding between faiths, between ethnicities, between races but also between nations,” he said.
Francis is aiming to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to Africa but is also stressing some issues close to his heart including the need to fight poverty, protect the environment and encourage good governance.
Francis urged Kenya’s political, social and economic leaders to work with “integrity and transparency” for the common good, a clear reference to Kenya’s poor record with corruption. Transparency International ranked Kenya a lowly 145 out of 174 countries in its 2014 corruption perception index, and Kenyatta this week described corruption as a national security threat to East Africa’s largest economy.
“I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country,” Francis said.
Kenyatta, for his part, said corruption was the major challenge facing the country. His rule has come under criticism for a lack of high-level prosecutions of officials accused of corruption.
On the eve of Francis’ arrival, he replaced six ministers who vacated office after they were accused of corruption.
“Kenya’s future depends on upholding the highest standards of integrity in governance, in inclusivity and in the protection of peace,” Kenyatta said.