Until the 1830s, the dominant purpose of European colonization in Africa was the slave trade. Thereafter, the cargo changed but economic exploitation remained the heart of the enterprise, reaching peak intensity during the ‘Scramble for Africa’ initiated by the Treaty of Berlin (1885). The record of Christian missions through this period is chequered. Many performed a valuable educational function, and took the trouble to learn native languages, even producing the first written versions of them. The Methodist Robert Moffat, for instance, worked tirelessly with the Botswana and Ndebele in southern Africa, translating both the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress, but an Anglican successor tricked the Ndebele king into signing away his kingdom to Cecil Rhodes. Presbyterian Mary Slessor worked to eliminate twin infanticide in Nigeria. The Catholic White Fathers were culturally tolerant, with missions from Tunisia to Uganda; however, Catholic missions in the Belgian Congo (and Lutherans in German Southwest Africa) did little to stem colonial repression.
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