It is becoming more and more obvious that most of those who adhere unconditionally to different Pan-African movements display vehement hostility towards the Christian religion in general and towards Catholicism in particular. According to their way of thinking, Christian faith and Pan Africanism are two totally incompatible and antithetical realities.
The fundamental thesis of this incompatibility is based on the concept that, according to our Pan-Africanists, Christianity is a Western, colonial religion, that at the service of colonialism, Catholicism contributed to the erosion of the intellectual, cultural, religious and political values and richness of Africa.
One of the greatest criticisms of Christianity is the famous statement by the first Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta: “When the missionaries arrived, they had the Bible in their hands, and we had our land in ours. They told us to close our eyes to pray. When we opened our eyes, they had our land, and we had their Bible.”
Brandishing Kenyatta’s statement, some Pan-Africanists maintain that any dedicated defender of African values cannot in any way be a follower, indeed an accomplice, of a murderous religion like Christianity. For them, an unconditional return to African religions is fundamental for the African.
Any assertion about history may carry within it some germs of truth. However, it may also be a biased, superficial and even erroneous interpretation of history.
We must admit that some missionaries had connections with the colonialists. These missionaries, each in his own way, had some colonialist motives. They were colonists beneath their missionary cassocks.
However, just because of this, must we generalize to the extent of accusing the entire church of being complicit in the cultural, intellectual and humanitarian genocide of Africa?
The church was not born to be the religious branch of the colonization of Africa. The church was born to work towards the advancement, the liberation and the salvation of all people through the unconditional announcement of the Good News of salvation.
This is why it set foot on African soil. These values have been made real through concrete acts in African history.
In spite of climatic, linguistic and cultural obstacles, the church has given Africans social structures allowing for their development and emancipation: the most precious of these continues to be education. Is it not rightly said that knowledge is power?
The church invested in education in order to give Africans the necessary knowledge and solid understanding to create an African intelligentsia at the height of the challenges of the civilizational era: a source of total and integral liberation.
It was the knowledge imparted to the African people that led them challenge, and to free themselves from, the yoke of colonialism in the 1960s.
Furthermore, there is a historical fact that should not be concealed: a great number of the pioneers and precursors of Pan-Africanism were the products of Christian schools.
It was in these schools that they were able to acquire the necessary knowledge and means to consolidate their struggle against colonialism in all its forms.
The church worked, and continues to work, for African people to first of all be conscious of their value and then to fight for their complete liberation from colonial rule.
Christianity and Pan-Africanism are therefore not antithetical. The common raison d’ être of each is the liberation of people in general and of African people in particular.
Father Donald Zagoré is a member of the Society of African Missions.