impact of early Christian missionary activities in west Africa

impact of early Christian missionary activities in west Africa

impact of early Christian missionary activities in west Africa


A Christian mission is a movement formed to spread the gospel. Christian Missionary activities started in West Africa in the 19″ Century. The spread of Christianity was undertaken by Protestant Churches of Europe and America such as the London Baptist Missionary Society, The Church Missionary Society (CMS).  The Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Baptist Mission, the Basel Mission, the Glasgow Mission and later the Roman Catholic Mission. In West Africa, the first successful seeds of Christian faith was planted in the slave settlements of Sierra Leone and Liberia from where it spread to other territories like Nigeria, Togo land, Gambia and the Gold Coast. The objectives of the missionaries was to convert the Africans to Christianity, to educate the Africans, halt or stop the spread of Islam, to completely abolish slavery and slave trade, to introduce Western Civilisation, to create a peaceful atmosphere for the development and growth of legitimate trade, to introduce European skills and equally to pave the way for European colonisation of Africa. Early Christian Missionary activities in West Africa had both positive and negative consequences.


Positively, a large number of the African natives were converted from their rational believes to Christianity. Their preaching against jungle justice that was prevailing under traditional religion helped to transform the Africans. Through this, many lives and properties were saved from destruction as was the case before. Also, missionaries made many Africans to stop from practices such as twin murder and animal sacrifice. This led to a sense of love and unity towards one another.

In other to succeed in their evangelization work, the missionaries belt churches to convert the Africans. The churches build by the missionaries included the Methodist church in sierra Leona in 1811, the Roman Catholic mission in 1859, the Anglicans dioceses of Sierra Leone in 1852. Through this many Africans were also crown church ministers. For instance rev Samuel ajayi crowther was made a clergy in 1843. The missionaries also founded their first mission station in Nigeria in 1868. A catholic mission was also opened at Onitsha in December 1885 under joseph shanahan. He later became the first bishop in eastern Nigeria. The catholic mission spread all over the Ibo land  Ibibio and agaja. By the end of the first war world, about 3000 churches were established in West Africa. In other to make their converts read the bible in vernacular, they studied the African languages such as ewe, Temne, Twi, Yoruba, nupe, Hausa and Igbo.

In the demand of school, the missionaries build schools. They wanted to train the Africans whom they wanted to use for evangelization preachers and as translators. For this reason, they set up schools as well as training colleges. For instance the Fourah bah College was setup in Sierra Leone. They also setup a demonstration farm at bandager to teach the Africans and make them advance in modern farming methods. The languages which served as a medium of instituting in these schools were English, French, German, Spanish and the Portuguese. Some missionaries also established printing press and published newspapers. Rev Townshend brought the first printing press in Nigeria.

The missionaries also did much in the health sector. They opened modern medical services. They constructed modern maternity, homes hospitals and clinics. Some diseases that were very common West Africa such as malaria yaws and leprosy were seriously fought against.  These medical facilities help to reduce death rate in West Africa.

The missionaries did not limit themselves to preaching and converting the Africans into Christianity, they also paid great attention to agriculture and legitimate trade. They introduced new crops, setup plantations and thought the Africans new method of farming in cash crop production like coffee, cocoa for exportation. The missionaries also formed trading companies. For example the Basel missionary society formed the West African company in Nigeria.

The missionaries were to an extent very instrumental in bringing several regions in Africa under European rule. In the 19th century, they appeal to their home government for protection and for the establishment of law and order to enable them preach the gospel and also to carryout civilizing mission.  In many parts of Africa, missionaries became spokesmen to African interest and rights. For example dr Philip of the L.M.S protested for more than 20years against the inhuman treatment of the natives by the Afrikaners. He passed the famous 50th ordinance of 1828 which recognized the equality of all races before the law. In east Africa, missionaries were against Britain for setting ex-slaves in Kenya.

The missionaries unconsciously promoted African nationalism. Through education, missionaries played a role in the rise of African nationalism as modern ideas of liberty, equality and modern forms of government were taught to the Africans in schools.


Even though they registered positive effects, they also existed negative effects as seen below;

The missionaries attacked and destroyed African customs and tradition. They condemned African tradition to be evil. Tradition tittles and forms of entertainment were all condemned. This condemnation of African traditional values led to hostile and defensive reactions from educated West Africans.

More so, the missionaries discouraged polygamy which was seen by the native African as a form of investments for many families and determining factor for population increase. The missionaries instead encouraged monogamy which the Africans were not used to.

The missionaries also seized African land with little or no compensation. The lands were used for their settlement and for the construction of schools and churches.

Furthermore, the missionaries facilitated European colonization of Africa. Through their reports and with the destruction of the African culture, the colonizers did not encourage any stiff resistance in conquering African states. This made Africans states to lose their sovereignty to the white man.

The missionaries also carried out one sided education. They discouraged technical education. In their educational works, more emphasis was given to reading, writing and arithmetic but neglected industrial and technical works. This retarded the economic and infrastructural development of most West African states.

Finally, the missionaries discriminated between the blacks and the whites. They preach social justice and equality of all men but underrated the African ability in church administration and organization. For example Ajayi crowther was a victim of discrimination.


To conclude, Christian activities were more of blessing than a curse to the Africans.

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