Witty Pope drives anti-graft message home


Pope Francis ended the first leg of his premier African tour with a call to Kenyan youth to shun tribalism and corruption and to help those radicalised into extremism socialised back into society.

In an address to thousands of youth at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, he also asked Christians to defend the family and to take care of the poor, the abandoned, the ill, and those nobody feels they need.

His 45-minute speech was centred on tribalism, corruption and radicalisation, which were cited by the youth’s two representatives, Ms Linet Wambui and Mr Emmanuel Mwonga, as the main challenges Kenyan youth face.

It was also peppered with anecdotes around issues that would resonate with Kenyans – a young civil servant’s first encounter with corruption and a tale about a corrupt rich man who wanted to be buried with all his money.

The Pope was neither shy nor soft when discussing the vices and the rapt audience cheered as he made perhaps his strongest statements to an audience that included President Uhuru Kenyatta, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and a host of governors and the church’s leadership.

His audience had cheered him ecstatically when he arrived and did not need the prompts from the masters of ceremonies to sing, cheer or launch a Mexican wave. But when the Pope started speaking, they fell silent and when he made a point they liked, they applauded.

“If you don’t dialogue with each other, if you don’t discuss with each other, you’re going to have divisions like dust, like the worms,” he said.

He then asked all present to stand up and hold hands as a sign against tribalism and as he held the hands of the youth around him, President Kenyatta and the political leaders in the tent next to his did the same.

The thousands in the terraces also lifted hands in unison. Unlike Thursday, when those attending mass were drenched by the rain, Friday was pleasantly sunny and no umbrellas blocked the view.

“We are all a nation. That’s how our hearts must be. Fighting tribalism isn’t just raising our hands. We must carry out work against this tendency. Your ears are to listen as you open your heart,” he then said as he shook hands all round.

Noting that there is also corruption in the Vatican, the small State he heads, Pope Francis described the vice as an easy route that ends up eating not only those who steal but makes them and society sick.

He also reminded leaders that by stealing public money, they end up depriving the poor of the services they need.

“What will remain are the hearts of many men and women who are wounded by these acts of corruption. All that will remain is the lack of good you would have done. It will remain in those children who suffer because it will have brought them down,” he added.

His remarks about the vice, which regularly places Kenya high up in Transparency International’s Corruption Index and had been a trending topic before he arrived, were well received by the youth.

President Kenyatta struck a pensive pose throughout much of the address, with his head in his hand and his eyes on the Pope on his left.

“It’s easy, sweet like sugar, we like it and then we end up in a poor way. So much sugar that we end up being diabetic or our country ends up being diabetic. When we accept a bribe and put it in our pockets, we destroy ourselves,” said the Pope.

“Don’t develop that taste for that sugar which is called corruption,” he added.

One of the first requests the Pope received when he arrived on Wednesday was from President Kenyatta, who asked for his divine intervention in the fight against the graft.

That corruption is one of the biggest social ills in the country must have been communicated to the Pope since then, he spoke resolutely and unflinchingly against the vice, directing his remarks at the thousands of youth and the leaders with whom he later met separately after the event.

“If you don’t want corruption in your lives, in your country, start now yourself because if you don’t start, the next person won’t start. Corruption takes away our joy, our peace,” he said.

He used a story about a man who died in his home country, Argentina, whom everybody knew was corrupt to drive home his point: “I asked a few days afterward how the funeral went and a lady with a sense of humour said, ‘They couldn’t close the coffin properly because he wanted to put in it all the money he had robbed.”