Pope Francis, ending his visit to Mozambique, scolded political and business leaders in the resource-rich but poor East African country who allow themselves to be corrupted.
On his last day in the country, Francis visited a hospital for HIV-AIDS sufferers run by the Sant’ Egidio community and then said a mass for 60 000 people in Maputo’s national stadium.
At the hospital and in his homily, Francis spoke on the themes of his trip to Mozambique as well as Madagascar and Mauritius – peace, poverty, corruption and environmental protection.
“Mozambique is a land of abundant natural and cultural riches, yet paradoxically, great numbers of people live below the poverty level,” Francis said.
At the AIDS hospital, the pope saw a cross made of wood and shards of metal from the collapsed roof of an elderly woman’s home.
According to the UN World Food Programme, 80% of Mozambique’s population of about 30 million cannot afford an adequate diet.
“At times it seems those who approach with the alleged desire to help have other interests. Sadly, this happens with brothers and sisters of the same land, who let themselves be corrupted. It is dangerous to think this is the price to be paid for foreign aid,” Francis said.
Mozambique ranks in the lowest quarter of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
While the pope did not give specific examples of corruption, Mozambique is struggling to recover from the impact of a $2 billion debt scandal, which saw hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing guaranteed by the Mozambique government disappear. The money was borrowed ostensibly to develop shipyards, maritime security and a tuna fishing venture, but US authorities now say the projects were a front for a bribe and kickback scheme. Boats acquired for the projects are rusting in harbours. Criminal and civil court cases related to the scandal and spanning three continents ensnared international investment bank Credit Suisse, which helped arrange the loans, three of its former bankers, a former finance minister and the former Mozambique president’s son.
Credit Suisse says it continues to co-operate with regulatory and enforcement authorities on multiple investigations related to the Mozambique maritime transactions. It said bankers hid their misconduct from the bank.
Mozambique charged 20 people over the affair and is suing Credit Suisse and others.
Mozambique is still on the hook for the loans, some which government did not disclose. When it admitted to undisclosed borrowing in 2016 it prompted donors such as the International Monetary Fund to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and debt crisis.
Francis spoke earlier of his concern over environmental degradation in Africa, some caused by rampant deforestation and extraction industries.
He said assisting the poor could help put people in touch with the earth, also vulnerable and suffering from “symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life … the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”.
Deforestation, along with soil erosion, made Mozambique more vulnerable when two cyclones hit this year.