Pope warns 'despair born of poverty, frustration' fuelling terrorism

Kenyans wait to see the convoy transporting Pope Francis.
Kenyans wait to see the convoy transporting Pope Francis.AFP

NAIROBI (AFP) - Pope Francis on Wednesday warned of the need to tackle poverty as a key driver of conflict and violence as he kicked off a landmark Africa trip fraught with security concerns.

And he urged Kenya's leaders to work with "transparency" to ensure a fair distribution of national resources as criticism grows over runaway graft in this east African country.

"Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust, and the despair born of poverty and frustration," the 78-year-old pontiff said, after talks with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta in the capital Nairobi.

His remarks were made at the outset of a six-day tour spanning Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR), which have significant Catholic communities but have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence.

In recent weeks, Islamist militants have stepped up a campaign of bloody attacks, killing hundreds of people in assaults in France, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Mali.

Both Kenya and Uganda have in recent years suffered major attacks by Al-Qaeda's East Africa branch, the Shebab, because they have troops deployed in Somalia.

In April, Islamist gunmen attacked a Kenyan university in Garissa, slaughtering 148 people. And in 2013, gunmen staged a deadly assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, killing 67.

In both cases, Christians were specifically targeted.

In Uganda, Shebab bombers killed 76 people in 2010 during attacks on restaurants in the capital Kampala.

The Pope also urged the Kenyan leadership to ensure the "just distribution" of resources in a country where 75 per cent of the wealth is owned by 1 per cent of the population.

"I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society," he said, in comments alluding to the corruption and inequality that blights the country.

"I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country."

The pontiff's remarks were made as the east African nation faces growing international pressure to rein in rampant corruption.

Since being elected in 2013, Francis has emerged as a champion of the poor and advocate of social justice, and the fight to tackle poverty will dominate both his trip to Kenya's vast Kangemi slum - a multi-ethnic shanty town home to some 100,000 people - and a Ugandan charity centre in Nalukolongo.

His Africa visit is to end in Central African Republic, one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa, which since 2013 has been mired in violence pitting Christian anti-balaka militias against mostly Muslim Seleka rebels. There he will visit a mosque in one of the most dangerous areas of the capital, Bangui.

Though he regularly visited slums in Buenos Aires in his native Argentina before becoming Pope, Francis' tendency to head off unannounced from secured areas to mingle with the crowds will likely prove to be a headache for his bodyguards.