In actions and words on his first tour of the world’s poorest continent, Pope Francis has sent a message to African leaders that they could do with less pomp and a bit more humility.
In a region where presidents speed past slums in cavalcades of luxury vehicles and the public complain about corruption in high office, the pope was cheered as he drove in a small Honda and told national leaders to act with integrity.
Kenya’s prolific Twitter users were quick to notice the contrast. “Thieving politicians arrive in their SUVs and Mercs to listen to @Pontifex who will arrive in a Honda. Shameless ‘leaders’,” wrote @Kunj_Shah.
Francis, who has spurned many of the institutional perks of the Vatican, shunned the armored cars with tinted glass driven by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his entourage.
Nor did he follow the example of visitors like U.S. President Barack Obama, who turned up in Nairobi in July for an official visit with an army of security personnel and a bullet-proof limousine, dubbed “the Beast”.
Instead, the pope waved to rapturous crowds from his white popemobile with open sides despite pouring rain and was ferried around Nairobi in the Honda that local media said cost a modest 1.5 million shillings ($14,700).
“The pope is down to earth,” said Lucy Musyoka, 48, who braved a downpour to attend open-air Mass in a sodden Nairobi University sports field. “It is good for our leaders to notice.”
“They like the wealth of the world but they can’t understand the people of our country,” she said. “It is vanity.”