Role of Missionaries in Colonization of Africans

robert moffat

European missionaries especially from Portugal, France, Britain, and Germany went to Africa under the premise of going to convert the locals to Christianity. However, they actually aided in the colonization of Africans by Europeans. In many cases Christian conversion looked more like European Capitalist conversion.

Robert Moffat, a famous missionary wrote about Mzilikazi and the Ndebele (Zimbabwe) in 1857, “His government, is one of tyranny and intrigue, lies and blood. I feel melancholy…. I often feel willing to suffer anything or die any kind of death it fit would only result in the moral renovation of the Matabele, their deliverance from their present awfully degraded condition.”

Missionaries came with the attitude that all things European were superior to all things African. Most missionaries like David Livingstone and Fabri of the German Missionary Society in Namibia believed that once Africans were colonized by European countries they would be more likely to seek after Western Education and Christianity which the missionaries controlled. It was their mission to do anything necessary to convert Africans who were viewed as uncivilized and barbaric. Missionaries often failed to distinguish between Christian principles and those of the colonialists. They misused biblical passages such as

The message preached by Missionaries encouraged Africans to rebel against everything that formed the foundation of African family and society. They even preached that salvation could only be obtained through formal work which meant one had to earn a paycheck. The only people who paid for labor at the time were Europeans colonialists. Most missionaries new to Africa believed Africans were lazy and were not using their land adequately so it was in their best interest for Europeans to use it. Some missionaries had developed friendships with local clans and used this to further European causes. Often African chiefs sought advice from missionaries on how to deal with other Europeans seeking treaties. However, the missionaries almost always betrayed their trust.

The question therefore remains if the missionaries’ views towards Africans were so negative how could they have been any benefit to Africans? In essence colonialism was partly a result of betrayal by missionaries. Even though we are grateful that they educated Africans and opened clinics in the most remote villages we cannot forget that their motives were impure and their actions very detrimental to African society.

It is amazing that Britannica describes Robert Moffat as, “Scottish missionary to Africa and Bible translator, who was known for his efforts to improve local living standards in Africa. He was also the father-in-law of the missionary and explorer David Livingstone (1813–73).” Improving local living standards to them means he aided Europeans in taking land that belonged to Africans and then forcing them to work for a living so that they would pay taxes for things that never benefited them.

21 Responses to Role of Missionaries in Colonization of Africans

  1. Bunmi says:

    Ok. How does this account for the problems Africa faces today? I think we Africans need to end the pity party about our colonial past- deal with it as part of our undeniable history and start to build Africa. A little review of the world’s history will reveal that even the colonial nations were once colonised.
    Your portrayal of past leaders give the impression that they were insipid and feeble minded- it doesn’t do us good.

  2. Anonymous says:

    the past definately does affect the future, how much damage has been done determines how much work and resources are needed to repair the damage, in Zim, even our culture has disappeared, everything now is of foreign customs which are still being taught even in our schools today. development is good but as a people we are identified by our culture and not the color of our skin. many things in our zimbabwean cultures were par excelent

  3. Anonymous says:

    ndimi ananiko mukudhisa madhara enyu

  4. Anonymous says:

    one thing for sure is that missionaries and the colonial powers worked together. the reason is that back home in england, they were sent by the british queen. and when they came to africa they pretended to be two different beings.ashi!! that a white man for you…

  5. Anonymous says:

    @ Bunmi: This a mere observation of a historical occurence, it’s sad you choose to call it a pity party…R you trying to say that people ought to stop learning history because some small minded person will look at the issues depicted with a minimalistic attitude and act like oh it all happened in the past and should be forgotten. Our past is what shapes us and you need to appreciate that being abused does not justify you going out to be a perpetrator. so what if the colonisers were once colonised? were we the ones who colonised them? No… they actually learnt from their abusers and perfected the techniques so l dont know if you want us to pity the “poor bastards”

  6. My family lived and served in Ghana for 14 years. It is amazing how ungrateful some people are. Africans were selling each other into slavery long before the European missionaries arrived. It was the missionaries who fought to end the wicked slave trade. Tribal warfare, genocide, and human sacrifices plagued African for generations. Native religions kept people in fear of going out of the homes at night. It was the missionaries that built the first hospitals, brought better farming techniques, introduced better hygiene and taught people to read and write. While some missionaries were racist, most left everything to tell the people that God had a son who loved and died for them.

  7. people in black history

    Your Global Black History – Role of Missionaries in Colonization of … is very good! Thanks!

  8. hoover says:

    missionaries were the saviors of the shona people since the ndebele were hostile towards them..however the missionaries tend to ill treat the shona aswell

  9. Azon Thirteen says: are actually over supporting the role of missionaries…revisit your tin of knowledge & come up with better response,you are naive.@hoover…l wld like to tell you that you are totally lost…you must know that shona-ndebele relations were designed by europeans in a way to justify their colonization,thus they nonsensically propounded that the ndebele were brutal to the shona which is not true…to say the ndebele were hostile to the shona is to prove that you are narrow minded when it comes to the knowledge of history,esp. to the history of zimbabwe….revisit your sources as well & come up with better argument.

  10. danai shasha says:

    but it is also historically naive to dismiss the fact that the Ndebele raided the shona since the is historical evidence which support that the ndebele raided the shona. The extent was only exagarated and it is only that the fact that the shona also raided the Ndebele was not established

  11. Piano Links says:

    Piano Links

    Thanks for taking time for sharing this article, it was fantastic and very informative. as a first time visitor to your blog Japan for Free

  12. Raphael says:

    @ lancehostetter…. Schupid!!! I’m still here, can’t even spell an insult right. Keep selling your people out, lets see who’s legacy remains.

  13. let us view Africa from a wider perspective

  14. Dj Badzo says:

    missionary work contributed to the rescue of the shona people from the invaders(the ndebele)who were ill treating them for their own land… i will say all shona speaking people should realise what the missionaries have done to you and all your up to date generations

  15. Mwabebe Michael says:

    missionary work in africa led to real colonization after the abolition of slave trade, what did they introduce? legitimate trade. That is the real colonization!!!!!

  16. chingaleon says:

    if it wz bcz they wanted to end Ndebele raids then why wld they go on to help in the colonization of Zimbabwe…ofcz they ended slave trade bt are yu aware of a thing called “mental slavery” i say “African solutions to african problems”… ApaibvaiApa

  17. Baraka Kasitu says:

    let us view Africa from a wider perspective is it true that the missionaries played the role of imperialists unconsciously?

  18. Soonga Fred says:

    This article is so good.

  19. […] work.Using Christianity for lynching, for raping, for enslaving Black people. Also for the colonization and decimation of L’Afrique. Using Christianity as a justification, in principle,  to do the […]

  20. […] to religious identities rather than moral behavior. Basically the British were the first to use their religious identity as Christian to claim to be superior, while engaging in morally bankrupt behavior: stealing resources, trading enslaved people, and […]

  21. kampamba says:

    Missionaries used the word of God to get land from the people…most of these historical conflicts concerning the Africans were European caused, whoever says Africans some people are ungrateful because the write the history based on the facts is so narrow minded as they are expressing their emotions towards the facts…the fact is Africans had a unique lively hood which wasn’t backwards . The Europeans were too Eurocentric…Africa would have been a better place without these colonialists.. who says our African herbs weren’t good medicine? their education led to selections in status,our form of education made sure everybody had a place in society.

Leave a Reply