Pope Francis Engages President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali on Sahel Crisis

Pope Francis and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of the Republic of Mali.
Credit: Vatican Media

A statement released by the Vatican Press Office on Thursday, February 13 revealed that Pope Francis received in audience, in the Apostolic Palace, the President of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and that the two discussed, among other subjects, the humanitarian and security issues in the West African country.

The statement said that during the discussions, which took place in a cordial atmosphere Thursday morning, the two leaders expressed satisfaction for existing good bilateral relations. 

They went on to focus on the situation in the West African country, with particular reference to humanitarian and security issues, endangered by the spread of religious radicalism and terrorism.

Mali is one of the countries in West Africa that has reportedly experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2016, with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier.

Other countries experiencing similar violence in the Sahel region include Burkina Faso and Niger.

Last year, after Sunday's Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square on March 24, Pope Francis called for prayers for the numerous victims of "brutal violence" in Mali and Nigeria, a day after at least 134 Fulani herders were attacked and killed by gunmen in central Mali. 

"May the Lord receive the victims, heal the injured, bring consolation to the families and convert cruel hearts," Pope Francis said referencing attacks in the West African country.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has since called upon stakeholders in the African Sahel region to go beyond military intervention and address the root causes of the region’s conflicts including “extreme poverty, high youth unemployment, and a lack of education.”

On January 13, leaders of France, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania met in France’s northwestern town of Pau to discuss military cooperation in the Sahel region. The six Presidents agreed to put their forces under a single entity dubbed “the Coalition for the Sahel.”

“Beyond a military intervention, we need to address the root causes of conflict such as extreme poverty, high youth unemployment, a lack of education – all of which have led to an erosion of a once strong social fabric,” CRS Director for West Africa, Jennifer Overton has said in a statement sent to ACI Africa January 16.

In the meeting between Pope Francis and President Keita, reference was also made to various matters of regional and international interest, including growing food insecurity in the Sahel region, the phenomenon of migration, and peacekeeping in western Africa.

President Keita subsequently met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State.

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Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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