In November during a Nairobi, Kenya slum visit, Pope Francis used plain language to express home truths about African elites. According to UK media the Pope ascribed the “injustices” suffered by the slum residents to “wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy, and rundown peripheries.”
He also talked about the unjust distribution of land, a particularly sensitive issue among Kenya’s poor, where the perception is that the elites have helped themselves to the most productive land. The elites, he said, have established “new forms of colonialism.” He urged them to be more responsive to the peoples they rule.
Indeed, the indigenous “colonialism” described by the Pope is to be found throughout Africa, not least in Kenya and Uganda, two of the three countries he visited. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has ruled for 24 years and estimates of his net worth range from $1.1 to $11 billion. (According to the UN Development Program gross national income in Uganda is $1,335 a year). Uhuru Kenyatta, has been president of Kenya for less than two years. However, he is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, who ruled Kenya from 1964 to 1978. The son’s estimated net worth is $500 million. (Gross national income in Kenya is $2,158 a year). Gross inequality of income, with links between power and money, is to be found elsewhere: by comparison, Donald Trump’s estimated net worth is $4.5 billion according to Forbes. But, the direct relationship between the poverty of most and wealth of the few is particularly stark in Africa.
The celebrated Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, wrote that there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian character. Instead, he wrote, “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, the challenge of the personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” In Nairobi, the Pope was describing something of the same reality.