Pope Begins Three-Nation Africa Tour Amid Tight Security

  • Government deploys 20,000 people to keep pope safe during stay
  • Pope will also travel to Uganda, Central African Republic

Pope Francis arrives at the University of Nairobi for a public mass in Nairobi on Nov. 26, 2015.

Photographer: Nichole Sobecki/Getty Images

Pope Francis arrived in Kenya amid heightened security in the East African nation that has suffered a spate of attacks by Islamist militants over the past two years.

The pontiff landed in the capital, Nairobi, Wednesday afternoon on the first leg of a three-nation tour of Africa, his first to the continent since his papacy began almost three years ago. He will visit neighboring Uganda and the Central African Republic later this week.

The government closed roads in the city and is deploying 20,000 people, half of them security personnel, to help keep Pope Francis safe during the visit that ends Friday. Two years ago, Islamist militants attacked an upmarket shopping mall in the city and killed at least 67 people. Attacks across the country since then have left about 500 people dead, according to Verisk Maplecroft, a Bath, England-based risk consultancy.

“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” Pope Francis said in a speech broadcast on national television. “Ultimately, the struggle against these enemies of peace and prosperity must be carried on by men and women who fearlessly believe in, and bear honest witness to, the great spiritual and political values which inspired the birth of the nation.”

Nairobi’s population is expected to swell by 1 million people during the papal visit, Manoah Esipisu, spokesman for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, said in an e-mailed statement. Many of those expected to welcome the pope will come from neighboring countries on a continent that accounts for about 16 percent of the Catholic Church’s 1.1 billion members.

The pope is the highest profile dignitary to travel to Kenya since U.S. President Barack Obama’s three-day visit in July.

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