‘Popemania’ in East Africa has souvenir-sellers excited
November 21 2015 12:17 AM

A street artist mixes paint as he works on a painting of Pope Francis in Nairobi yesterday.


A week before Pope Francis lands in Uganda on the second leg of his Africa tour, the country’s Catholics and souvenir-sellers alike are getting excited.
As “Popemania” builds, images of the pontiff are giving the ubiquitous pictures of strongman President Yoweri Museveni a run for their money in the capital Kampala.
On the glass shelves of Jude Colour Solutions—a self-declared “one stop centre for promotional items”—four dollar computer mouse pads with the Pope’s picture sit side-by-side with the usual bestseller bearing the presidential portrait.
“I’m very excited,” said Catholic shop manager Bernard Ssenyondo, 32, when asked about the papal visit from November 27 to 29.
Francis will be the second Pope Ssenyondo has seen, after John Paul II’s visit in 1993, “when I was in primary school”.
In pride of place on a high shelf sits Ssenyondo’s prized possession: a trophy for “The Best Branding, Printing and Promotional Items Exhibitor in Uganda”. And next to it, a Pope Francis vase. Only one of these items is for sale.
“We are earning money from this!” said Ssenyondo, whose company began printing thousands of key rings, mugs, T-shirts and other souvenirs earlier this month, after being chosen as official trinket supplier by the local Catholic Church.
“I get international exposure, and our tourism industry is going to earn more,” he predicted.
Uganda is the second of three African countries the pontiff will visit, after spending two days in neighbouring Kenya.
Kenya too is busy preparing for the visit, cleaning the streets and trimming trees, with giant billboards erected to welcome the Pope.
Bishop Alfred Rotich, who is heading the church’s preparations in Kenya, has said they are planning for a tenth of all Kenyan Catholics to see the Pope - around a million people.
After two days in Uganda, he will travel to Central African Republic, where his trip will end on November 30, according to a Vatican itinerary.
The three countries—which have significant Catholic communities—have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence, leading to increased security concerns surrounding the Pope’s visit.
Acting president of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba Panza has said she hopes the Pope will go ahead with his visit to the conflict-hit country this month despite security concerns.
In Uganda, around two-fifths of people are Catholic.
The chairperson of Catholic organisation, the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Archbishop John Baptist Odama, said preparations—including road improvements, better street lighting, a massive security presence and tourism marketing—were “going well”.

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