By Philip Pullella and Hereward Holland
ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Pope Francis, on a visit to Madagascar, on Sunday condemned what he said was its clan culture of privilege and corruption that allows a very few to live in wealth while the vast majority languish in grinding poverty.
He spoke in a homily at a Mass on a sprawling field on the outskirts of the capital Antananarivo for hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had spent the night outdoors in unseasonably cool weather. The Vatican said local organizers had estimated the crowd at about a million people.
As he has since the start of his three-country swing through sub-Saharan Africa, Francis spoke out about the gap between the haves and have-nots on the continent. He has already visited Mozambique and will move on to Mauritius on Monday.
He decried a clan culture that provided a boost only to those connected to it while leaving many others permanently excluded, or at best marginalized without opportunities to improve their lives.
“When ‘family’ becomes the decisive criterion for what we consider right and good, we end up justifying and even
‘consecrating’ practices that lead to the culture of privilege and exclusion: favoritism, patronage and – as a consequence – corruption,” the pontiff said in his homily.
Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and one of its poorest countries.
The U.N. World Food Programme estimates that more than 90% of Madagascar’s 26 million population live on less than $2 a day, with chronic child malnutrition widespread.
Corruption is rampant among the country’s political and business class, according to organizations such as Transparency International, which ranks Madagascar in the lowest quarter of its global Corruption Perceptions Index.
President Andry Rajoelina, 45, a Catholic who was elected last year and sat in the front section at Sunday’s Mass, has vowed to fight corruption in the Indian Ocean island nation after his inauguration in January. He said in a tweet after the Mass that he supported the pope’s call for transparency.
General Richard Ravalomanana, secretary of state in charge of the Gendarmerie, told Reuters that the country still lacked a system of meritocracy and positions were given to those who know high-ranking people or those who have money.
“We must break with the practices of the past,” he said, adding that 56 people in his department had been jailed for bribery and influence peddling.
While in Antananarivo, Francis’s motorcade passed by people plying trades like metalworking and carpentry on the sides of dusty roads, followed minutes later by walled-off, European-style villas with gardens and pools.
“As we look around us, how many men and women, young people and children are suffering and in utter need!” the pope said.
(Additional reporting by Lova Rabary; Editing by Mark Heinrich/David Evans and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)