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East Africa

The Christian gospel reached Ethiopia* at a very early date (Acts 8:27-39), but took many centuries to reach East Africa. The first contacts were probably through Nestorian and Jacobite merchants from India, followed by Roman Catholic priests who came with the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. All traces of such contacts have now disappeared, and the effective missionary penetration of the area began with the arrival of Protestant missionaries from Europe in the mid- nineteenth century.

(1) Kenya, formerly British East Africa. Effective preparation for the evangelization of Kenya began in 1844 with the arrival of J.L. Krapf,* a German Lutheran sent out by the Anglican Church Missionary Society. He began to work in Mombasa and then moved inland to Rabai, thirty miles from the sea, when he was joined by a colleague John (Johannes) Rebmann* in 1846. By journeys of exploration inland and down the coast, and by study of the local languages, these two prepared the way for missionary occupation. Krapf was forced by ill health to return to Europe in 1853, but he continued his linguistic work. Meanwhile the CMS reinforced its staff at Rabai, but several died from malaria. In 1861 the United Methodist Church from Britain opened a mission station at Ribe, a few miles north of Mombasa, and later extended its work up to the Tana River. In 1873 slavery was legally abolished within the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and the CMS established a colony for freed slaves at Freretown on the mainland just north of Mombasa. This became the main base of the CMS on the coast.

With the consolidation of missionary work at the coast, the next stage was that of penetration of the hinterland which began in 1891. In 1889 the directors of the Imperial British East Africa Company, who were in virtual administrative control of the area now known as Kenya and Uganda, invited the churches of Scotland to send out missionaries to Kenya. An exploratory party arrived in 1891 under James Stewart of Lovedale in South Africa and chose Kibwezi as the first station about 200 miles inland from Mombasa. The choice proved to be a bad one, and in 1898 the Rev. Thomas Watson, sole survivor of the original party, moved the station to Kikuyu near Nairobi. Meanwhile the British government had taken over administrative control of the area from the company in 1895. In that year the Africa Inland Mission was formed by Peter Scott, entered Kenya, and began to work among the Kamba people at Machakos in 1902. Other missions such as the Friends Africa Mission and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church moved up to stations in W Kenya, then called Kavirondo and under the administration of Uganda. Anglican missionaries entered W Kenya from Uganda, and began church, educational, and medical work in that area.

The modern history of Roman Catholic missionary work in Kenya begins with the arrival of the Holy Ghost Fathers, who were French in origin, at Mombasa in 1892. They moved up to Nairobi in 1899 and were at first mainly interested in the Goanese immigrants from India. In 1902 the Consolata Fathers from Turin settled in the Kenya Highlands with their main center at Nyeri, about 100 miles north of Nairobi. The Mill Hill Fathers of London came in 1904, and soon became the largest Roman Catholic missionary agency in the country.

With so many Protestant missions at work in the country, the problem of cooperation arose early and gave rise to a series of joint mission conferences. The main centers and dates at which these were held were Nyanza (1908), Nairobi (1909), and Kikuyu (1913, 1918, 1919, 1922, 1926). The most famous of these was in 1913 (see Kikuyu Controversy), but much good work was done at all of them. This included agreement on spheres of influence for the different missions, the production of common versions of the decalogue, the creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and the setting up of the Alliance of Missionary Societies as the permanent means of cooperation. In 1924 the Kenya Missionary Council was established, and finally the Christian Council of Kenya in 1943 to which almost all non-Roman churches and missions belong.

The missions established church work and to a varying degree educational, agricultural, and medical work, and pioneered much of the modern development of the country. Most of the missions have now handed over to the indigenous African churches, which have arisen out of their work and have now assumed control of the work formerly carried on by the missions.

(2) Tanzania, formerly German East Africa and then Tanganyika. Tanzania is the political union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar achieved in 1964. The island of Zanzibar was the center of Arab control of the coast and trade routes of East Africa, and was the base of all expeditions to the mainland. In 1864 Bishop Tozer moved the headquarters of the Anglo-Catholic Universities Mission to Central Africa from Malawi to Zanzibar, and in 1868 the Holy Ghost Fathers arrived from the island of Reunion. Soon the various missionary societies began to penetrate the mainland. The UMCA landed at Tanga and worked inland as well as working up the north bank of the Rovuma River in the south.

Before the German occupation of the country, all the missionary societies were British and included the Anglican CMS in the central area and the London Missionary Society along Lake Tanganyika. With declaration of a German protectorate in 1885, Lutheran and Moravian missionaries began to arrive. The Bethel Mission started work in Dar es Salaam in 1887, and in 1891 the Moravians took over part of the work of the LMS south of Lake Victoria. In 1893 the Leipzig Mission took over the work of the CMS among the Chagga people at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro where the latter society had run into difficulties with the German administration. On the Roman Catholic side, the Holy Ghost Fathers were followed by the White Fathers in 1879, and the Benedictines in 1888.

By 1914 most of the country had been occupied by missionary societies, but under the British occupation most of the German missionaries were interned in World War I, and in 1920 they were all repatriated when the country came under British mandate. Replacements came from America and Scandinavia, and in 1925 the German missionaries were allowed to return. In 1940 they were again interned during World War II, but this time the work was less severely hampered as the local church was more organized, and the German mission stations were leased to the Augustana Synod of the American Lutheran Church. In the postwar period all the churches consolidated their work, and local autonomous churches were established. The largest Protestant body was the Lutheran Church which formed in 1958 the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Tanganyika and then in 1963 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. The Anglican Church set up several dioceses and in 1970 became a separate province of the Anglican Communion. A Christian Council of Tanzania was established to promote cooperation between the Protestant churches.

(3) Uganda. The pioneer of missionary work in Uganda may be said to have been the explorer H.M. Stanley. In April 1875 he had several interviews with Mutesa I, the Kabaka (king) of the Baganda, in which he found the king to be very interested in the Christian faith. The result was Stanley's famous letter to the Daily Telegraph and New York Herald, in which he appealed for “some pious practical missionary” to come to the kingdom of Buganda. The Anglican CMS took up the challenge, and in 1876 a party of eight missionaries led by Lieut. Shergold Smith set out from Britain. Only three reached Buganda, and of these, two were killed in a local dispute, leaving only the Rev. C.T. Wilson, who was alone for the next year or so. In November 1878 Alexander Mackay,* a Scottish Presbyterian, arrived.

Mutesa welcomed the Anglican missionaries and showed more interest in the Gospel than in Islam. Stanley's letter, however, had been read also by Charles Lavigerie, head of the White Fathers (founded in 1874 in North Africa), and in 1878 he sent a party of missionaries to Buganda. He did this in spite of a personal request from the CMS secretary not to do so in order to avoid competition and consequent confusion in the minds of the Baganda. Much unhappiness and even warfare would have been avoided if this request had been heeded. In 1884 Mutesa I died unbaptized, although he had asked for baptism from both Anglican and Roman missionaries. He was succeeded by his eighteen-year-old son Mwanga. Mwanga was a cruel and treacherous ruler, and the infant Christian Church was subjected to a persecution which produced many martyrs both Anglican and Roman. The first Anglican bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, James Hannington,* never reached Buganda, but was murdered at Busoga on Lake Victoria in 1885 by Mwanga's orders.

Mwanga's reign was marked by religious war and disorder until finally in 1894 Uganda was declared a British protectorate and its administration taken over by the British government from the East Africa Company. That government also built a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria which was a major factor in opening up Uganda to the world. Meanwhile, more Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries had arrived. Outstanding among the Anglicans was Alfred Tucker, third bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, who arrived in 1890. He was the first Anglican bishop to reach Uganda, and he proved an active and able administrator. He had firm views on the need to establish an indigenous church. In 1898 he was installed as the first Anglican bishop of Uganda, but because of ill health was forced to resign in 1911.

On the Roman Catholic side the leader was Father Livinhac, who arrived in 1879 and later became superintendent general of the White Fathers. In 1894 the Mill Hill Fathers came from Britain to work in E Uganda. After the establishment of law and order under the British administration, there was a mass movement among the Baganda into both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. From early 1892 the work of evangelization began to extend out from Buganda into the other Uganda kingdoms of Bunyoro, Ankole, and Toro. Much of this work was done by the Christian Baganda. The Protestant influence in Uganda has remained predominantly evangelical and Anglican, and few other Protestant missions have entered the country; thus there has been no need for a Christian Council as in Kenya and Tanzania. In addition there have been few separatist movements in the Uganda Church. The most important was that led by Reuben Spartas in 1929 when he broke away from the Anglican Church to establish the African Orthodox Church, which in 1946 was recognized by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. The church in Uganda has grown more rapidly than any other church on the African continent, and both the Anglican and Roman Catholic branches have established their own local hierarchies with African archbishops.

(4) Significant movements in the East African Church. In reaction to the spiritual decline in the church in Uganda came the movement of spiritual awakening and renewal known as the “East African Revival.” The history of this movement has still to be written, but its origins have been traced to 1929 when an Anglican missionary doctor and a Buganda Christian came together in a newfound spiritual fellowship. Another source was the preaching of Blasio Kigozi, a young Anglican teacher in Ruanda. Other influences may be traced to the Keswick Convention* and the Oxford Group.* The Revival stressed the need for spiritual renewal and refused to admit to its fellowship those whom it did not regard as renewed. This led to the possibility of separation from the church in the early years of the movement, but this fortunately did not occur and the movement became a great source of spiritual strength in all the churches. The Revival soon spread to Kenya and Tanzania, and beyond to Central Africa and to the Sudan and Ethiopia. In Kenya it was a great source of inspiration to the church during the Mau Mau troubles in the 1950s. It continues to be a powerful stimulus in the church life of East Africa.

East Africa was the last region of Africa to become involved in the “Independent Church” movement which first appeared there about 1914. It has been most widespread and numerous in Kenya, and least so in Tanzania. The movement has been represented as an indigenous reaction to the European domination and paternalism of the Christian missions, and as expressing a desire to combine Christianity with features of African traditional religion. It has often been the vehicle of political nationalism. The movement probably has both religious and nonreligious causative factors. It is an important feature of the impact of Christianity on East Africa.

The “Church Union” movement began early in Kenya, but received a setback as a result of the Kikuyu Controversy.* Conversations were resumed and have been actively promoted in recent years between the main Protestant denominations of Kenya and Tanzania, but union seems unlikely in the near future.

J.D. Richter, Tanganyika and Its Future (1934); H.R.A. Philp, A New Day in Kenya (1936); C.P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa (1948-58), vols. 2-4, passim; R. Oliver, The Missionary Factor in East Africa (1952); M. Warren, Revival: an Enquiry (1954); J.V. Taylor, The Growth of the Church in Buganda (1958); F.B. Welbourn, East African Rebels (1961); The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), passim; D.B. Barrett, Schism and Renewal in Africa (1968); R. Macpherson, The Presbyterian Church in Kenya (1970); G. Hewitt, The Problems of Success: History of the Church Missionary Society, 1910-1942 (1971).