How Church subjugated Africans

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By Ashwert Kugara HISTORY shows that Christianity in Africa was designed to serve colonialism during the scramble for Africa by European imperial countries. In other words, Christianity was as an appendage of European colonial conquest in Africa. This is substantiated by a speech by Jules Jenkins, the governor of Kinshasa, to the first group of missionaries sent to the Congo in 1883 to preach and spread the ‘Gospel’. Jenkins said through preaching ‘the Gospel’, they should first be inspired by the interest of the Belgium state in repossessing indigenous mineral rich resources. Through their ideological biblical teachings, the missionaries were tasked to “interpret the Gospel in a way to protect and serve the interests of Belgium in that part of the world”. “… see that our savages be not interested in the riches that their soil possess in order that they will not want them…”, said Jenkins. Missionaries were told to focus their teachings on the ‘Beatitudes’ such as “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” in a bid to pacify the African while looting his vast resources. The success of this project depended on the premise that the black people romanticised poverty on earth as a prerequisite to inherit the abundant wealth in heaven. Whilst Jenkins revealed that the colonial administration could use violence, the missionaries emphasised the scriptures that whoever used violence was not a child of God and would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “Teach the Gospel to the negroes in an African style in order that they are kept submissive to the white colonialist,” Jenkins said, adding that they were to use money obtained from the poor through tithes to expand their business investments. The missionaries were also told to conceal African heroes (history) in order for them to worship and give praise to Western heroes. The adage, “a man without history is like a tree without roots”, best explains the predicament of the African people. Part of the speech acknowledged the peaceful environment that prevailed in Africa before the advent of colonialism. He thus urged missionaries to desist from teaching that killing, stealing, adultery and blasphemy were sins since the Africans already knew that. The situation obtaining in the Congo is a microcosm of the role played by missionaries in colonial Africa. In Zimbabwe, the first missionaries worked hand-in-glove with the colonial administration in the exploitation of mineral resources while at the same time telling the oppressed to be subservient to the colonial system since it was ‘God ordained’ as Paul preached. In Chishawasha, the Jesuit missionary, Father Hartmann, wrote that “among the Mashonas there are only very faint traces of religion,” adding that they were only united by their language. He further wrote to Lord Grey in 1896 that the Mashonas were ‘hopeless of mankind’ and that t exterminating the whole race, both male and female, over the age of 14 was the only way forward. This was part of the ideological apparatus used to justify the existence of a white settler regime in Southern Rhodesia. The massacre of the ‘native’ religious leaders, Mbuya Nehanda and Mlimo among others, in 1897 was a ploy to terminate Shona and Ndebele religious spirits in their attempts to lead the people while paving way for foreign religions. Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of the Kenyan nation, used to quip that the white settlers in Africa came with the Bible, preached and sang hymns, which entertained Africans. He continued: “When the white man came we had the land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed and when we opened them, they had land and we had the Bible.” Felloe countryman and author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, on the other hand, uses his writings to unmask the colonisers, and rejecting their distorted images of Africa. To this day, Europeans are still obsessed in carrying out research to unravel Zimbabwean religion, the ‘Mwari cult’ and the spirit medium hierarchy which were very influential and inspired later generations in the quest for total independence in Zimbabwe. Against this backdrop, missionaries were implicated in commercial exploitation through the search for gold by the British South Africa Company (BSAC), land repossession and other various human rights abuses perpetrated against Africans by some of today’s world superpowers. In short, Western ‘civilisation’ was not divorced from Christianity and it is ironic that the Bible is not inherently Western as most of the biblical events took place in Africa and Asia. Thus the missionaries colluded with colonial administrations and forced their own creed on the African people. Thus missionaries helped to consolidate colonial interests as they preached the gospel that became the basis for racial arrogance, legitimised greed and oppression.

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