Pope Francis heads to Mozambique to encourage the country’s fragile peace, starting a three-nation African tour where climate change, poverty and corruption will be high on the agenda.
The former Portuguese colony emerged from 15 years of civil war in 1992 and last month President Filipe Nyusi of the ruling Frelimo party and leader of the Renamo opposition, Ossufo Momade, signed a permanent ceasefire.
With elections scheduled for October, some fear violence.
“He is coming at a time when Mozambicans are trying to consolidate peace,” said Manuela Muianga, a biologist and disaster relief manager in Maputo.
“We Catholics feel he is a visionary who can help Mozambique strengthen hope and forget the fight against each other. The biggest concern is fighting between the two parties. I’m sure he will address this,” she said.
Francis is expected to talk about peace when he meets Mozambique’s leaders, mentioned his concern in a video message ahead of the seven-day trip, which will take him to Madagascar and Mauritius as well.
“I think he is going to give a forceful message to the leaders about their responsibility to bring about peace and reconciliation and about addressing the root causes of the conflict,” said Erica Dahl-Bredine, Mozambique country representative for Catholic Relief Services.
Climate change is expected to be a topic in Mozambique and Madagascar. Deforestation, along with soil erosion, made Mozambique more vulnerable when two cyclones hit the country this year.
Francis, making his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa, will not visit Beira because of the devastation.
According to the World Bank, Mozambique lost eight million hectares of forest, about the size of Portugal, since the 1970s.
Aides say the trip is a key opportunity for the pope to renew appeals enshrined in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si” on environmental protection.
Francis challenged governments to take “drastic measures” to combat global warming and reduce fossil fuel use, saying the world was experiencing a climate emergency.
In Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island, about 44% of forests disappeared over the past 60 years, according to the French agricultural research centre CIRAD. The environmental danger is aggravated because 80% of its plant and animal species are endemic.
Poverty and corruption will also loom large.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 80% of Mozambique’s population cannot afford an adequate diet.
The WFP says more than 90% of Madagascar’s population live on less than $2 a day and chronic child malnutrition is widespread.
Francis called for a fairer distribution of wealth between prosperous and developing countries and defended the right of countries to control their mineral resources.
He branded corruption “one of the most decimating plagues” in society.
Mozambique and Madagascar rank in the lowest quarter of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
“Corruption is huge. Many Mozambicans lost faith in their political leaders,” said Dahl-Bredine.
Francis makes an eight-hour stop in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island relatively rich compared to Madagascar and Mozambique.
Anti-poverty campaigners say Mauritius’ tax treaties and financial services industry facilitate tax avoidance, draining desperately-needed revenue.