Poverty, strife-hit Madagascar welcomes Pope Francis

Antananarivo, Sept 7 (AFP/APP):True to his reputation as “pope of the poor”, Pope Francis begins a visit Saturday to Madagascar, one of the world’s most impoverished nations.

Arriving from Mozambique, where he pleaded for understanding and the renunciation of violence in a country riven by 16 years of civil war and now hit by jihadist attacks, the Argentine pontiff’s first port of call on Saturday was to be a mass and prayer vigil with at least 12,000 young scouts.

Tafika Fanomenza, 39, who is helping to coordinate the scores of volunteers involved in the preparations, as well as in the pontiff’s security, hoped Francis’ visit would help bring about change in Madagascar.

More than half of young people on the world’s fifth-largest island are out of work, even if many boast good qualifications.

In a population of 25 million, nine out of ten people live on less than $2 a day.

Political instability has done nothing to help the development of an economy largely dependent on agriculture, and the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.

Liberal-leaning president Andry Rajoelina, elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing, will meet for one-on-one talks with Francis early Saturday.

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