March 20, 2009 / 5:44 PM / in 10 years

Africans must excise corruption, pope says

* Pope urges Africans to root out corruption for good

* Free media, judiciary, essential to transform continent

(Recasts with address to diplomats, government leaders)

By Philip Pullella and Henrique Almeida

LUANDA, March 20 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict urged Africans on Friday to rid their countries of the scourges of corruption and violence and support a free media if they wanted to truly transform the continent.

The pope, on the second and last leg of his first African trip, arrived in the Angolan capital to a tumultuous welcome by tens of thousands of people who broke through police cordons to mob his popemobile as it made its way from the airport.

At a meeting with government authorities and diplomats, Benedict pulled no punches as he went straight to the heart of some of Africa’s most pressing problems.

"Armed with integrity, magnanimity and compassion, you can transform this continent, freeing your people from the scourges of greed, violence and unrest and leading them along the path marked with the principles indispensable to every modern civic democracy," he told the leaders and diplomats.

He listed these as "respect and promotion of human rights, transparent governance, an independent judiciary, a free press, civic democracy, a properly functioning network of schools and hospitals and — most pressing — a determination born from the conversion of hearts to excise corruption once and for all."

Many African countries have huge mineral and hydrocarbon deposits whose value is, in theory, enough to finance infrastructure projects, create jobs and raise living standards.

But critics say senior officials use these resources to enrich themselves, depriving treasuries of much-needed cash.


Angola ranks 158 out of 180 countries on corruption watchdog Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. A daughter of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos this month accused business oligarchs of damaging the economy, in a rare sign of division within the oil-rich African nation’s elite.

A few hundred people close to the president and Angola’s ruling MPLA party control most of Angola’s wealth, while an estimated two-thirds of Angolans live on less than $2 a day.

In Nigeria, state oil firm Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has been plagued by corruption for decades, with billions of dollars of oil money going to a handful of influential Nigerians.

In his address, the pope said Africa needed "an ethical approach to development" to bring about deep-seated change.

In Cameroon, the first country on his tour, the Vatican released a document which said "outside forces" were complicit with corrupt leaders to fuel wars, traffic weapons and back politicians irrespective of human rights and democracy.

The Angolan civil war, which claimed over half a million lives and displaced millions, ended in 2002. Since then the former Portuguese colony’s economy has been growing rapidly on the back of record oil and diamond exports.

In his speech, the pope also said the Catholic Church’s charities, priests and nuns in Africa would continue to do all they could to help families, including victims of AIDS. At the start of his trip the pope caused a storm of controversy when he said the use of condoms "increases the problem" of AIDS.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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