THE ROLE OF MISSIONARIES IN THE COLONIZATION OF AFRICA | The role of MISSIONARIES in the colonization of Africa pdf | The role of MISSIONARIES in the colonization of Africa essay | AGENTS OF COLONIALISM | The role of MISSIONARIES in the colonization of Africa in Tanzania


Agents of colonialism were the Europeans who penetrated Africa to prepare the Africans to meet the industrial demands such as raw materials, markets for manufactured goods, areas for investments, and cheap laborers in the 19th century.

Colonialism is the direct and overall domination of one country by another on the basis of state power being in the hands of a foreign power. For example, the direct and overall domination of Nigeria by Britain between 1900-1960.

The first objective of colonialism is political domination. Its second objective is to make possible the exploitation of the colonized country. When we talk of colonialism in Africa we are talking of a phenomenon that took place between the 1800-1960s.

It is a phenomenon that is part and parcel of another phenomenon called imperialism. In fact, colonialism is a direct form of imperialism. This is why it is often said that “all colonialism is imperialism, but not all imperialism is colonialism”.

Colonialism began as a result of changes in the mode of production in Europe (For example, the emergence of the industrial revolution). The industrial revolution ushered in a new process of production in place of the earlier slave-based economy.

There were about three groups of agents of industrial capitalism in Africa namely:

  1. Explorers
  2. Missionaries
  3. Traders


This was the second group of colonial agents which had several organized societies which operated in East Africa between 1840 to 1914.

The first arrivals were German Missionaries working for the Church Missionary Society, they were Johan Krapf (1884), Johan Rebman (1886) and Johan Erhad (1849).

In 1863 a group of Holy Ghost Father (French) arrived from Re-Union and established a station at Bagamoyo.

What to note here is that, it is from those early centers that Christian missionaries started expanding their influence throughout East Africa and in so doing they ended up acting as agents/forerunners of colonialism.

Missionaries were the second group of fore runner’s who came to Africa with the mission of spreading the Christianity and Western civilizations. Missionaries came to Africa under the support of their missionary societies in Europe.

Examples of such societies in Africa include:
  • Christian Missionaries  Society (C.M.S) of England worked in Buganda, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, Lagos and Yoruba
  • Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA).
  • Holy Ghost Fathers
  • London Missionary Society (L.M.S)
  • French White Fathers(Catholic)
  • Church of Scotland Mission worked in Calabar in Nigeria
  • Basel Mission worked in Fante

The prominent Missionaries were:

1. Ludwig Krapf

Johann Ludwig Krapf (11 January 1810 – 26 November 1881) was a German missionary in East Africa, as well as an explorer, linguist, and traveler. Krapf played an important role in exploring East Africa with Johannes Rebmann.

They were the first Europeans to see Mount Kenya with the help of Kikuyus who dwelled at its slopes and Kilimanjaro. Krapf also played a key role in exploring the East African coastline especially in Mombasa.

2. Johannes Rebman

Johannes Rebmann (January 16, 1820 – October 4, 1876) was a German missionary, linguist, and explorer credited with feats including being the first European, along with his colleague Johann Ludwig Krapf, to enter Africa from the Indian Ocean coast. In addition, he was the first European to find Kilimanjaro.

News of Rebmann’s discovery was published in the Church Missionary Intelligencer in May 1849, but disregarded as mere fantasy for the next twelve years. The Geographical Society of London held that snow could not possibly occur let alone persist in such latitudes and considered the report to be the hallucination of a malaria-stricken missionary

3. Cardinal Charles Lavigerie

Charles Martial Allemand Lavigerie (31 October 1825 – 26 November 1892) was a French cardinal, archbishop of Carthage and Algiers and primate of Africa. A Catholic priest who became a bishop in France, Lavigerie established French Catholic missions and missionary orders to work across Africa.

Lavigerie promoted Catholicism among the peoples of North Africa, as well as the Black natives further south. He was equally ardent to transform them into French subjects. He crusaded against the slave trade, and he founded the order of priests called the White Fathers, so named for their white cassocks and red fezzes.

He also established similar orders of brothers and nuns. He sent his missionaries to the Sahara, Sudan, Tunisia, and Tripolitania. His efforts were supported by the Pope and German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Although anti-clericalism was a major issue in France, the secular leader Léon Gambetta proclaimed that “anti-clericalism is not an article for export,” and supported his work

4. John Smith Moffat

John Smith Moffat (1835–1918) was a British missionary and imperial agent in southern Africa, the son of missionary Robert Moffat and Mary Moffat. He was the brother-in-law of missionary explorer David Livingstone. He is known for his various publications and essays detailing his journeys and experiences in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Like his famous father, Moffat was a Congregationalist minister affiliated with the London Missionary Society but he became involved in British colonial expansion particularly in Matabeleland, later part of Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

His missionary work included helping to start the first mission in Matabeleland in 1859 at Inyati. In 1865 he took over the running of his father’s mission in Kuruman. In 1879 he resigned from the missionary society and joined the British Bechuanaland colonial service.

In 1888 at the instigation of Cecil Rhodes he was sent to Matabeleland to use his father’s reputation to persuade its king Lobengula to sign a treaty of friendship with Britain and to look favorably on Rhodes’ later approach for the Rudd Concession mining rights


1. They acted as interpreters and propagandists at the time of treaty making by learning tradition languages: John Moffat stayed among the Ndebele for about 30 years serving the British South African company (B.S.A.C) for treaty making between the companies (B.S.A.C) and King Lobengula.

2. They acted as advisors to African chiefs: The British missionaries of the church missionary society convinced Kabaka to accept protectorate.

3. They introduced Western civilization to the interior through education and schools: This aimed to prepare people of low ranks to serving colonial masters at the time of colonization.

4. Missionaries softened the minds and the hearts of Africans: Their activities were influenced by European imperialists’ interests by preaching and emphasizing the spiritual beliefs such as “give to God what which belongs to God,” and “give to Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser”. In the long run this preaching weakened African opposition and shaped the regions for future colonial administration.

5. They converted Africans to Christianity: They were easily employed as puppets to extend colonial rule. Typical examples are the converts of Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana who were able to protect the British economic interests and paved the way for future colonization by the British.

6. Missionaries reduced resistance among African societies: This was done by converting some societies and preaching obedience to administrators.

7. They helped in the abolition of slave trade: They planned for successful Christianization of the freed slaves as they preached the word of God. They wanted to create the conducive and peaceful environment for the development of legitimate trade which was exploitative in nature and was after capitalist’s interests.

8. They provided western education through building of missionaries schools and taught western education to Africans. They taught reading, writing and counting skills. Example of schools were like Kigurunyembe T.T.C, Pugu secondary school, St. Mary’s Tabora, Minaki secondary school etc The people who adopted this education adopted European culture by speaking foreign languages like English, French, Portuguese or Germany

9. They signed bogus treaties with the African rulers example John Moffat signed a treaty with King Lobengula over Ndebele land

General Roles played by colonial Agents in colonizing Africa

Missionaries often invited their home governments to occupy areas they worked.

In case they faced resistance or hostility from Africa they would be assured of security. In society like Buganda Christian Missionaries helped to overthrow Kabaka Mwanga who was then replaced by his son Daudi Chwa because Mwanga hindered in promotion of British colonial interest.

1. The colonial agents facilitated the spread of Christianity.

Missionaries for example soften the hearts and minds of Christian African converts to the extend not resisting colonization.

2. In some societies they contributed to internal division and weakening the state.

Example in Buganda they divided people along religious lines. This caused conflicts and war between Catholic and Protests.

3. They were in the forefront in promoting legitimate trade

In order to protect the economic interest of their home colonial powers as they increased desire for cheaper sources of raw materials and markets.

4. The explorers mapped the interior of East Africa

Example the publication of Jacob Erhadits in 1856 also in 1872, David Livingstone sent several maps to London giving the location of Caravan routes, lakes and major rivers of Tanganyika.

5. They provided important geographical information

for example Rebman discovered Mount Kilimanjaro in 1848, Krapf became the first European to see Mount Kenya in 1849 and John Speke discovered the sources of river Nile in 1862.

6. Explorers established good working relations with African

As they came across with which eased the work of Christian Missionaries, Traders and Chartered Companies. For example through Henry Morton Stanley, the Kabaka of Buganda requested for Christian Missionaries to come and operate on his Kingdom.

Krapf write the first Swahili Dictionary and grammar also translated the New Testament into Swahili, making it easy for the later Christians Missionaries groups.

7. They signed many treaties with African leaders.

8. The agents acted as propagandists and interpreters. For example, Moffat a missionary who stayed in Ndebele land for more than 30 years was a useful interpreter to British South Africa Company (BSAC).

9. They fought for abolition of slavery and slave trade and established legitimate trade which replaced slave trade.

10. Missionaries provided education to the people who later became instruments in the colonization process of Africa


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