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Christianity and Africa

10 Jun 2020 at 21:15hrs | Views
This article was supposed to coincide with Africa Day - the day we Africans celebrate our achievements and our being. Unfortunately, I was distracted by my work schedule and family commitments and failed to write the article. Writing this article after Africa Day has come and gone, allowed me to read many articles written to commemorate this very important day for any African worth the name. Most of the articles were mournful and engaged in self-denigration to the point of suggesting that as Africans we are a cursed race. The articles dismally failed to acknowledge that Africa finds itself in this mess because of the "coloniality of power, coloniality of knowledge and coloniality of being". However, this is not the focus of my article. Hopefully, I will address these issues in the future.

This article explores and analyzes the relationship and interaction between Christianity and Africa. Is Christianity a blessing or hindrance to the development of Africa? As Africans, did we make a humongous mistake of abandoning our Traditional African religions? Is Christianity a religion of the white man? Did Christianity play a role in the colonization and exploitation of Africa? Indeed, these are mind-boggling questions that deserve interrogation.

Before I can go any further, I should point out from the onset that I am a Seventh Day Adventist Christian (SDA). Growing up in Mberengwa district, under chief Nyamhondo, I attended Lutheran Schools (Mudzidzi Primary School, Musume Primary School, and Chegato High School) and was subsequently baptized, becoming a bona fide Lutheran. After high school, I drifted away from Christianity, partly because most of my questions could not be answered by the Lutheran doctrines. As a grown-up man, I was introduced to SDA doctrines by my wife's pastor Dr. Obed Dube (popularly known as Zero) a renowned theologian and scholar whose specialty is biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek). To my amazement, SDA doctrines which are biblically based, answered most of my questions e.g. the state of the dead, the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, temperance, prophecy, etc. As a historian, I was intrigued by the intricate relationship between history and prophecy. In history, we see the fulfillment of prophecy. History is crucial to the correct interpretation of the book of Daniel particularly Daniel chapters 2, 7, and 8.

The title of this article (Christianity and Africa) is largely motivated by Kayemb Uriel Nawej's book White Poison: A Black Christian a traitor to the memory of his ancestors-Africa Wake Up. Nawej (2006) is unequivocal, vociferous, and unapologetic that the source of Africa's social, political, and economic problems is Christianity, which he calls "white poison". According to Nawej (2007), Christianity is the cause of our "eternal" mental colonization and slavery. No wonder why Bob Marley sang that we need to "emancipate ourselves from mental slavery". Nawej asserts that "Christianity has been used as an instrument to enslave the conquered African nations, ensuring that they lose their identity" (p.9). He postulates that the domination of Africa by Europeans was made possible through religious assimilation. Nawej contends that the process of domination started by "religiously assimilating" Africans to "ensure that their authentic religions are removed and abandoned" and subsequently impose Christianity (p. 11).

In a nutshell, Nawej argues that Christianity was the pathway to economic exploitation and its "inevitable corollary political domination" of the African people. To illustrate his thesis, Nawej cites Jomo Kenyata: "When whites came to Africa, we had our land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed: when we opened them, the whites had our lands and we had the Bibleā€¦".

Noticeably, Nawej extensively quoted Leopold II the King of Belgium speech in 1883 when he was addressing Catholic priests who were being sent to the Congo (DRC) as missionaries, and some visceral racist statement from Catholic priests serving as missionaries in the Congo. Here is part of Leopold II speech:

"Priests, you will go of course to evangelize, but your evangelization must be inspired     above all by the interests of Belgium. The main goal of your mission in Congo is     therefore not to teach the Negroes to know God , because they know him already. Your     essential role is to facilitate the task of our administrators and industrialists. This means     you will interpret the gospel in the way it will serve and protect our interests in that part     of the world. For that purpose, you will make sure among other things that our savages     lose interest in the overflowing wealth of heir soil, in order to avoid that they get     interested in it, compete to death with us and dream one day to dislodge us. Your     knowledge of the gospel will allow you to find easily texts recommending the faithful to     love poverty, for example Blessed are the poor because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.     It is difficult for a rich person to enter heaven. You will do everything so that Negroes are     afraid of to get rich in order to deserve heaven. Sing every day that it is impossible for the     rich to enter heaven. (p. 13)

According to Jean-Felix de Hemptinne the apostolic vicar of Katanga, the "Black race has nothing behind it. A people without written language, a people without history, without philosophy, without any sort of consistency" (p. 21-22). These statements evoke anger and frustration from the formerly colonized, and rightly so. It is such statements that make people have a negative attitude towards Christianity and its role in the colonization of Africa.

Undoubtedly, Nawej's argument is persuasive, convincing, and well supported and substantiated. As an African, you cannot dispute or refute his argument but agree with him. His verdict: Christianity did a lot of harm and brought so many injuries and scar to the continent of Africa. As far as he is concerned some missionaries were rabid and visceral racists. What is disturbing about Nawej's book is that he conflates Catholicism and Christianity. For Nawej, Christianity is Roman Catholicism, and Roman Catholicism is Christianity. He seems not to understand that Roman Catholicism is not representative of Christianity as a religion, but one of the many Christian denominations.

Christianity is not a white man's religion, neither is it "white poison" or responsible for the underdevelopment of Africa. Christianity did not originate from Europe, but from the Middle East, specifically in Palestine and spread to other parts of the world. Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, but distinctively different from Judaism. As a matter of fact, Christianity arrived in Africa earlier than in Europe (Acts chapter 8). It was Paul who took the gospel of Jesus to Europe, years after it spread to Africa. That the Europeans readily embraced Christianity, whereas seemingly Africans tended to resist or remain indifferent to it remains a contentious issue. Africa has immensely contributed to the growth and development of the Christian faith. It was in Egypt that Jesus' parents sought refugee when Herod the Great wanted to kill the baby Jesus. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross of Jesus at a critical moment when Jesus was too weak to carry the cross.    

Christianity is not and has never been a single race religion. It is a religion of all peoples. From its origins, Christianity welcomed people of all races, class, and social status. It sought to destroy the "middle wall of partition". It is how the biblical scriptures were interpreted ( and are still are) by some missionaries particularly during the period preceding the conquest and colonization of Africa that was way out step with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The interpretation of the Holy Scriptures by some missionaries was undoubtedly influenced by ethnocentrism and racism. Some of these missionaries were agents of European colonizing companies. In the post-colonial era, we need African prophets, pastors, lay preachers who correctly interpret the teachings of Jesus in the context of our experiences. In other words, the colonial gospel has no place in our current dispensation.

Christianity is not to blame for Africa's underdevelopment. We have reaped a lot of benefits from the Christian religion. The teachings of Christ have made us abandon some of our antiquated and outmoded cultural practices and traditions. Christian missionaries established schools and hospitals in most African countries. The majority of African nationalists were educated in mission schools. Without them, the political decolonization of Africa would not have taken place.

Moreover, Africans are not the only people under the sun who abandoned their traditional religions. Therefore, our acceptance of the Christian faith does not convincingly explain Africa's lagging behind in economic development. As Africans, we have failed to put development as an imperative, but focus more on the struggle for power and have failed to come up with endogenous economic agendas that take into account our institutional frameworks and cultural contexts ( Ake, 1996).  

We cannot deny that some people in the name of the Christian faith, have and still are the authors and perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity. The acts of a few cannot be used to denigrate and demonize the Christian religion. Christianity teaches about love, and that we were all created equal by our maker. Christianity as a religion values our Africaness and our ability to live an abundant and happy life. It does not enslave us mentally or physically. It liberates us from bigotry, prejudice, racism, and poverty.

Dr. Lovemore Sibanda is a historian, academic, and teacher educator in Texas, USA. He can be contacted on

Source - Lovemore Sibanda Ph.D.
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