Nationalism in sub-Saharan Africa occupies its own unique place in the study of nationalisms. It is at once reactive to and adoptive of European ideas of society. Reactive, in that African nationalism, as in Asia and South America, grew out of a necessary response to European imperial rule, and adoptive in that it accepted many European ideas of race and religion without forming any firm opposition to them. This may stem from the different treatment by European powers of the colonial subjects in Asia and Africa. In racial hierarchy, for instance, Englishmen viewed Indians as inferior and degenerate but Africans as little above animals.1 The impact of this difference is substantial as I will illustrate later.

One of the fundamental differences between European rule of Asia and Africa was the role of religion. In India, after a long and concerted effort to reclaim “pagans” back to the fold, the British East India Company and later the Crown forbade the expansion of Christian missions. British authorities even banned the travel of Europeans into Indiafor missionary activities for a while as it caused much grievance to Indians and made absolute British power untenable.2 In Africa, however, Christianisation went hand in hand with modernisation and did not stop—at least it did not provoke the same response as it did in the Raj.

The Indian subcontinent serves as a plausible parallel to Africa because it too is wracked with diversity on a scale similar to Africa’s, its 400 million people3 belonging to several racial groups, and following seven prominent religions (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism) that are further divided into hundreds of sects and castes. Furthermore, India is home to nearly two thousand dialects, associated with eighteen well-established languages (each with its own script and literature) as well as English.4

The differences between European Africa and European Asia are many and significant in their impact on future independent societies, but for purposes of this essay, I will focus on religion. It is my contention that the success of European missionaries (and later American ones as well) left nascent African movements for independence hamstrung (perhaps unintentionally) by denying them a vital category of self-identification. It was more difficult to challenge European material superiority without a satisfactory oppositional platform to serve as a counterfoil to European modes of life and modernity. This, one may extrapolate, has led to weak nationalisms that to date plague Africa. As Aristide Zolberg has already implied, the project of nationalism was incomplete at the time of independence for many African states. Zolberg writes, “African leaders hope[d] that the one-party concept w[ould] be transformed into national unity, into effective authority, into an orderly state.”5

Of course, it is an enormous project to prove my assertion conclusively, that Christianity impeded African nationalism. Many factors played in the (under)development of African nationalisms—each country in Africa had a different composition of interests, economic as well as social; in some regions of Africa, the local population was not only black but white settlers going back a few generations. The creation of a unified identity was difficult for African nations with African-only populations, but it was almost impossible for nations with native white people as well. However, similar arguments can be made in India’s case too, and yet there is a large gulf in the trajectory of African nations andIndia. Then why did Indian nationalism succeed in its mass appeal more than African nationalisms? What factor distinguishes the Indian experience from the African one?

The Indian Case

India’s primary identity has been Hinduism. Despite being constitutionally secular and being ruled by Muslims for almost six hundred years before the advent of Company rule in India, India’s association with Hinduism is vibrant and became a rallying point for nationalists during the freedom struggle. This is in a large part due to Great Britain’s own policies—even before the creation of electoral constituencies on the basis of religion in the Government of India Act of 1935, British scholar-administrators such as Sir William Jones of the Asiatic Society had fashioned India as a land of Hindus invaded by Muslims and other “outsiders.” In the contortions of historical evidence required to legitimise British imperial rule, Hinduism was converted from a spiritual framework to an orthodox religion.6 Thus Great Britain handed nineteenth and twentieth century nationalists the core of their ideology. Hinduism became one of the rallying points for even the modernising Indian elite. The modernity that nationalists endeavoured to create had to be of a kind that could demonstrate the roots of the modern in Indian traditions so as to reject modernity’s European heritage of material superiority. In the absence of any notion of a uniform community, identities were forcibly segmented to be readily identifiable as Indian. These largely took the form of Hinduism, the most consistent attribute of people in India. The project was mimetic in creating a discourse of Protestant ethics and monotheism within Hinduism, but also astutely divided the world into two spheres, material and spiritual. Thus, nationalists were able to accede to Western domination in the material field of science and technology, while they challenged it in the moral sphere—anticolonialism was cast as a moral battle. Within the internal sphere were situated key elements of Indian tradition: women, religion, and villages.7 Such an alignment took these areas out of political contestation, and they became markers of Indian modernity, defined explicitly as different from the European model. In Partha Chatterjee’s controversial assertion, women became repositories of honour, culture, and tradition, while the decentralised village became a symbol of Indian modernity, as well as a symbol of indigenous cultural standards. In addition, passages taken from various religious texts, particularly the Mahabharata, such as those that emphasised the duties of a king (which, obviously, the British were not performing) and the people’s right to overthrow a king who did not follow dharma,8 were utilised in support of the nationalist cause. Indians who wished to press for social and intellectual change did so within this context, “insisting that they were confronting modernity with religious sensibilities derived from an indigenous past.”9 India, a “Hindu” nation, was depicted in direct opposition to Europe in this image as an “expressive totality, which manifested itself through differences and diversities,” which was why it absorbed but never conquered.10 In an essay titled ‘Swadeshi Samaj,’ Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Indian Nobel laureate, wrote that “it is in the national character of India that differences are not regarded as antagonistic; others are never recognised as adversaries.”11

Christian penetration into India also resulted in a great Hindu revivalism. Raja Ramohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj was followed by the Arya Samaj, Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, Vishnubawa Brahmachari, Arumuga Navalar, Dayananda Saraswati, and others who defended Hinduism from Christian attacks.12 This religious opposition to Christianity was quite an emotive issue. As Frank Conlon writes, Brahmachari was seen as a “champion of Hinduism” and said to have “defeat[ed] Christian missionaries in debate and thus protect, preserve, and promote the ancestral Hindu dharma.13 This constant religious battle helped to crystallise the differences between the “outsiders” and Indians. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, though the result of many social, economic, and political causes, was ostensibly a religious issue.14 However, there is no reason to believe that in India, even the most orthodox pandits were resolutely opposed to all modern technology. What stirred resentment was the relentless propaganda of the missionaries, associating the visible success of British science—the electric telegraph, the railway, the Ganges steam-boat, the paper mill—with the coming triumph of Christianity.15

The European encounter with India was perceived by both sides as a meeting of religions and their respective civilisations. The earliest European explorers reached India searching for spices and Christians behind Islamic lines in the Middle East. Regardless of their initial motives, the primary objective in India soon became to convert more “heathens” into Christianity.16 “Perhaps most important, European belief systems were at least as firmly grounded in religion as those of Asians.”17 Hence, it was not astonishing that for almost all European observers, the most decisive distinction between themselves and the people they encountered was religious. In the initial years of the European rediscovery of India, Europeans seemed determined to find “lost Christians” in India, and persisted in seeing Hinduism as a remnant of a lost Christianity that had been altered by brutal Islamic suppression.18 Consequently, they sought to explain Hinduism in a Christian framework rather than understand Hinduism for itself.19 Even at the height of the Industrial Revolution when the world was measured by yardsticks of utilitarianism, industrialism, and capitalism, famous Evangelists such as Charles Grant proposed in Observations on the state of society among the Asiatic subjects of Great Britain, particularly with respect to morals; and the means of improving it that the solution to India’s problems was Christianity.

The linkage of Christianity with Europe was thus prevalent in the minds of both the coloniser and the colonised. Indians found this relationship troubling, and searched for means “by which they could avoid the dilemma by accommodating the best fruits of the West’s material achievements while preserving their own religious and cultural identity.”20 Further strengthening this perception was that large numbers of Indian Christians (as African converts did too) naively saw the modernising influence of Europe as consistent with the Bible and thus the word of God.21 Even worse for the British, they were seen as aiding the missionary effort and thus a defence against Christianity meant a defence against British rule. Religion became, in Hans Kohn’s words, “the political creed that underlie[d] the cohesion of modern” India and legitimised the nationalist claim to power. Jan Gonda has also implied the centrality of religion in Indian nationalism, seeing art, literature, politics, and social organisation as subsumed by religion. Despite losing the political arena to invading Turkic tribes in the final years of the 12th century, India did not become an Islamic country as had Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt. India maintained, to a remarkable degree, the integrity of Hindu/Buddhist art, literature, and social organisation.22 Thus, by the 1870s, religious polemics engulfed the Indian subcontinent as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs all came out in opposition to Christianity. This polemical exchange created a new public arena in Indian political life. The religious debates formed part of a larger phenomenon in which Indian leaders made political claims on the basis of a moral community and thus helped forge an Indian national identity.

The African Case

The penetration of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africawas far greater than in India.23 Given the continent’s immense diversity in language and blood lineage, African customs could hardly unite regions into effective nationalist movements. The adoption of Christianity further destabilized African society. As Sir H.H. Johnston admitted, “the ease with which the white man has implanted himself in Africa, as governor, exploiter, and teacher, is due more to the work of missionary societies than the use of machine guns…but for the Christian missionary societies few of the modern Protectorates or Colonies could have been founded or maintained.”24 The adoption of Christianity did not, however, confer an equal rank upon Africans. As Thomas Hodgkin has argued in Nationalism in Colonial Africa, the presence of racism even within the Church hierarchy fuelled the African demand for reform— reform that could come only through separation from Europe.25

It is not that African intellectuals did not strike upon the idea of drawing distinctions between Europeans and themselves. However, the adoption of Christianity and the modernity it preached took away both the material as well as the spiritual realm from Africans. Leopold Senghor tried to create a similar fissure through race with his concept of negritude.26 Turning the idea of the white man’s superiority on its head, he postulated that African/Black moral superiority was demonstrable in their rejection of material power and acquisitiveness, which had brought much violence in white history. Thus, similar to Indian nationalists of the late 1800s, Senghor created a moral sphere and a material sphere. Although the West was superior in material terms, it lagged behind in moral questions and therefore the Negro was superior. Negritude admitted that there were some things it needed to learn from the West, but also stated that the West had much to learn from negritude. Negritude, Senghor admitted, “no longer expresse[d] itself as opposition to European values, but as a complement to them.”27

Like Islam, Christianity sought not only to gain converts but also dictate to them a social order. As a result, conversion was usually accompanied by severe ruptures within the targeted local society. Missionaries reorganised African families on a Christian model so that men and women would fill appropriate gender roles to suit commercial interests. Western-educated and Christianised Africans began to lose their knowledge of extended familial ties, their totems and their cognomens. Kevin Grant has rightly observed, commerce and Christianity remained a dynamic force in missionary and imperial ideologies and continued through the imperial era under the guise of material and moral progress.28 As Emmanuel Ayandele observes in the case of the Yoruba, “within ten years of the coming of missionaries vital social customs and institutions were becoming unstable…so effectual was the onslaught of missionary propaganda that in 1855, at the deliberate wish of missionaries and traders, one of the three main settlements of the Efik was completely levelled because ‘the total destruction of that place would be a great benefit to the other towns and to the advancement of civilisation.’”29 Christianity was in Africa as well as inAsia, thus, a political as well as social force.

It is not that Africans actively wanted to destroy their traditions. However, the linkage of Christianity with modernity, as had happened in India, led many Africans who genuinely desired advancement of their people to adopt Christianity as a gateway to the white world and the implied progress. As an Efik spokesman for missionary propaganda explained, “a school in our town to teach our children to saby book like white people will be a very good thing.”30 This attitude was found across tribes—Efik, Ijaw, Egba, and others all attracted British missionaries in return for their perceived gain in political status and material advancement. The price of progress was always high: in 1849, the United Presbyterian Mission Board refused to set up schools in the city-state of Bonny despite an offer by the King to underwrite all costs for twenty years and an annual salary of £500 for the upkeep of a mission because of the King’s refusal to destroy the city’s central tribal temple.31

The difficulty African sovereigns began to face with their newly bought modernity was the loss of influence and power to the very missionaries and Christian groups that had been invited in. African converts to Christianity “became more or less detribalised,” meaning “they transferred their loyalty from the [African] chiefs to the missionaries,” becoming “exceeding patriotic” and displaying “a great deal of the British bunting.”32 The educated Africans the missions produced regarded themselves as representatives of British Christian civilisation, and looked to Great Britain for protection. In fact, many of the Christian converts in the Niger Delta were demanded annexation of their respective states by Great Britain.33

Major Black intellectual figures also supported the activity of Christian missionaries. Despite nationalist sympathies, pillars of Black society in Africaas well as the United States were ambivalent about European presence in Africa. Bishop Ajayi Crowther, for instance, never approved of the ‘Africa for Africans’ nationalism advocated by James Johnson. He did not study African religions and insisted on English as the medium for teaching. It was only after he repeated clashed with Edward Hutchinson over introducing white missionaries in African churches and over the anti-educated Africans policy of the Royal Niger Company that Crowther changed his stance.34 Similarly, Edward Wilmot Blyden urged that European missionaries were best for bringing reform to the African interiors and felt that African missionaries should be supervised by them. He wrote to Henry Venn in 1872, “it should be the work of the Europeans to go out and plant schools at important points in the interior and put efficient native teachers in them, who should be under their constant supervision. The idea just now should not be to withdraw European agency but to intensify it.”35 In 1895, Blyden rejoiced at the crushing of the Ashanti confederacy. Even the influential African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in the United States saw a close association between civilisation and Christianity. In their minds, collective elevation required a faith conversion.  As C. J. Powell urged, the AME church had “to raise them [Africans] to their highest honour and use by bringing them in touch with the best types of Christian civilization, as well as into direct contact with the Saviour of the world.”36 Blyden had also expressed this sentiment earlier when he credited racial progress to the “Anglo-Saxon Bible.”37 Much African and African-American nationalism (as regards to Africa) thus coalesced with a civilising mission to extend the benefits of Anglo-European society to Africa. Citing Great Britain and the United States as models, E. H. Coit asserted that “it is a universally recognized fact that Christian lands are the most progressive on earth, holding highest the torch of civilization and doing most for the uplift of mankind.”38 In Henry Turner’s mind, “while Africa is shrouded in heathen darkness,” “the Christianized Negro will be a blessing to the millions in Africa.”39 Alexander Crummell wrote, “Christianity is certainly the most advanced civilisation that man ever attained to…the civilisation of Africa would go hand in hand with mission work, for Christianity was not only an aid to civilisation, it was absolutely indispensable to it.”40

The few tribes that did not allow missionaries to function in their territories were militarily subjugated, for being anti-missionary was seen as being anti-British. The Ijebu, for example, were forced to acquiesce to the presence of missionaries at the point of a bayonet in 1892 despite having maintained better relations with London than the Egba. The Ijebu were perceived as a threat to Pax Britannica in Yorubaland because of their intransigence over accepting missionaries of even their own race—they were, in the words of Governor Carter, “heathens of the most uncompromising description.”41 The impact of Christian missions on African nationalism is clearly highlighted during this incident: African missionaries “were torn between their loyalty to missionary propaganda and their African nationalist sentiment.”42

It is erroneous to assume that Black leaders did not know the ground reality of imperialism in Africa. They rejected the racial aspect of European imperialism but indulged in what George Fredrickson has termed “romantic racialism.”43 This meant that they believed that civilisation had universal attributes independent of skin colour but each race had its own special role to play in the progress of the world: Crummell saw those values in the mastery of science, philosophy, and the arts;44 James Holly regarded them as education, family cohesion, and skill in mechanical arts;45 Turner defined civilisation as equality, fraternity, and respect for human life;46 Frederick Douglass emulated the militaristic values of Anglo-Saxon heritage, accepted the Protestant ethic and perfectionist Christianity, and manifested a relish for standards of civilisation as he understood them to exist in white American society.47 If they were imitating whites, it was only because whites had started down the road to civilisation beforehand. In essence, this meant that there was a single standard of civilisation, and this put the African colonial subject in a position of always having to catch up with his imperial masters. The consequences of not decoupling Europe/modernity and Christianity meant, unfortunately for Africans, being trapped with a unilinear notion of progress and consequently the failure to imagine a community around core African values that could unite the masses. As James Johnson mourned of Christian settlements,

Our life in British settlements has not been a national one, we are not a nation but a collection of individuals of different tribes, though of the same race, under a foreign government with divergent feelings and aspirations, and whom it has been difficult to fuse into one and make one great nation of. We have no national sentiment, ambition, or aspiration, and no national pride and thankfulness to our great men.48

Although Senghor, Blyden, and others subscribed to romantic racialism to mark the Self from the Other, race was too big a category to inspire mass mobilisation. Just as ‘mankind’ or ‘male’ is too big a category to carry any meaning, race was too amorphous a category to inspire bonding. Pan-Africanism in this sense eventually failed because the networks that mattered to individual Africans were smaller than categories as broad as ‘Africa’ or ‘Black.’

As Frantz Fanon would leap to point out, educated and Christian Africans became the new imperial masters, engaged in a kind of internal imperialism. European administration of Africa was carried out by these collaborators/reformers without whom it would have been exceedingly difficult for the imperial powers to penetrate into Africa. Many Black leaders, both in Africa and America held a sense of paternalism towards the uneducated, non-Christian “noble savage” in Africa. Blyden, for example, frequently castigated Liberian decadence, materialism, and dependence.49 As a result, Black leaders sometimes egregiously celebrated European expansion into Africa. For example, Coit rejoiced that “the recent conquest of the Boer Republics by England means easier and closer contact with the natives in the interior and the more rapid spread of the missionary work among them.”50  Likewise, Alfred Ridgel declared that the “noble benefactors” of “the British Government have done more for the moral, social, intellectual and industrial development of the country than all other instrumentalities combined.”51  Turner shared Alfred Ridgel’s enthusiasm for “opening up” Africa, declaiming, “God save old England, is my prayer!”52  Even Crowther, although he began to distance himself from a Eurocentric worldview after the Niger Mission, valued the Christianisation of the Niger territories over his nationalism and supported the introduction of white missionaries into the African interior for purposes of education and evangelism. And in a particularly egregious oversight, Blyden lauded King Leopold of Belgium as “that philanthropic monarch” who deserved praise for “introducing the appliances of civilization” to the Congo.53

By the final years of the nineteenth century, the double standards of European clergymen were becoming more and more obvious. Christian missionaries in Africa had always been particularly self-serving. As Paul Lovejoy explains,

On the one hand, they pledged to fight slavery as part of the general reform of African society associated with the spread of Christianity; on the other, they generally concluded that conversion to Christianity should precede the abolition of slavery. Slave holders, for example, were allowed to become Christians. Slavery was to be tolerated temporarily, so that the Christian Church would be established. Only when Christians were the majority of the population would it be safe to abolish slavery.54

More than anything else, the cassus belli for Africans to break away from European churches to form their own was the intrusion of the racial concept into the Church hierarchy. Ethiopianism, despite its political dimension, was thus primarily instigated as a response to race rather than political subjugation or a discourse of material backwardness. Thus, the formation of the African Church was not, for people like Blyden, a political protest. It was the only was to advance Christianity and stem the tide of Islam. The belief in a Christianised modernity, by virtue of sharing a core aspect of identity, did not serve the purpose of bolstering African pride and differentiating the African from the European except through a discourse of lack.

Until the early 1920s, the vast majority of Africans refused to accept Christianity. In Nigeria, one of the more Christianised societies in Africa, problems with conversion abounded—many converts carried some of their old religion with them, and there were many cases of relapse. Many saw Christianity, with which was wedded the European trajectory of modernity, as a path leading towards a materially rather than spiritually better life. Further, most converts to the religion were from the peripheries—the young, sailors, slaves, migrants. As such, Ethiopianism remained a metropolitan indulgence in Nigeria, as well as other parts of West Africa such as the Gold Coast or Sierra Leone. It was only in the first decades of the twentieth century that Africans looked outside of religion to mobilise against their European overlords. In 1909, Dr.Obasa and Randle set up the People’s Union, the first political organisation completely divorced from religion. Herbert Macaulay, Crowther’s grandson, looked to use the press to garner a following. But political parties, such as the Indian Nation Congress in India, had not formed even as late as 1914.55 By now, Africans were slowly becoming disenchanted with European civilisation and modernity as well. In a British venture to bring pure water to the citizens of Lagos in 1908, the local press reported,

If the effort to procure an improved or ‘a pure water supply’ should take the same trend that other measures of improvement appear to have taken it would amount to the people being taxed in order to improve themselves off the face of the earth—a consequence which as everybody knows has not been wanting in the wake of European civilisation in more than one instance.56

More and more African chiefs began to reject the trinkets of European modernity, believing their traditions to serve them better. Revival of local cults such as the Ogboni served as a powerful counterpart to Christian missions, utilising the energies of educated Africans who would not be accepted into Christian churches.  It is this cultural nationalism that fuelled African nationalist enterprise in the half century before the era of decolonisation. As Hodgkin narrates, the development of labour movements and other secular means of organisation not hostage to Europe’s trajectory of modernisation in the 1930s and on became the crux of independence struggles in Africa.57

Paradoxically, the Church, which had been responsible for destroying the intricate lacework of African familial, tribal, and other ties, became the cradle of African nationalism towards the end of the nineteenth century. The birth of Ethiopianism finally gave impetus to being “African” and yet striving for progress. What was called ‘European Christianity’ had been thoroughly discredited as rapaciously exploitative of Africa.58 European missionaries in Africa came to be viewed as merely another face of European imperialism and were clubbed together with those who passed unpopular ordinances such as the Forest Ordinance or the Native Councils Bill.


The British imperial project saw India as a land of ancient wisdom that had, over the years, degenerated as a result of climate and intermixing with the local population. British Indomania of the late eighteenth century provided the intellectual material for future Indian nationalism. Even before that, the work of British missionaries had disrupted local religious and social practices and was therefore a point of soreness for many Indians. Opposition to British interference led to Hindu reformist movements and eventually revivalist movements. Despite major differences in their individual beliefs, British (and subsequently Indian) portrayals of a common Hindu past achieved mass mobilization in Indiaas early as the early-nineteenth century.59 History was seen as the struggle for power, for the power to represent oneself is nothing other than political power itself. Indian nationalists first had to counter the European claim that India was a land lost in time, and therefore, possessed no history.60 They also had to answer the challenge to Hinduism’s morality, based on ethics and monotheism. The discovery of ancient Indian texts aided this cause. Nationalists argued in local newspapers like the Dharmapracharak that Europeans had a sense of history because their history went back only a few centuries.61 Some Indian scholars like Mrityunjay Vidyalankar and Tarinicharan Mitra cited works like Rajatarangini as proof of ancient histories while simultaneously working on modern histories. In defence of Hinduism, Indian scholars cited works quoted in Orientalist treatises and theories of the Aryan race that they appropriated—since the Aryans were the origin of every field of knowledge from science to philosophy and the authors of the Vedas and Upanishads, Hinduism was imbued with greatness from antiquity. Ancient India became for the nationalist the classical age, and the contemporary period was the modern renaissance, while the period between the ancient and the contemporary was a dark age. This inevitably labelled the Muslim period as a dark age for India, and the classical heritage of Islam remained external to Indian history.62 The discomfort of Muslims in India at this formulation of Indian identity led to the formation of an independent Muslim League in 1906. Even Mohandas Gandhi, who was vocally a secularist, found strength in what were primarily Hindu modes of thought and opposition. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Veer Savarkar, and others used ancient Hindu manuscripts such as the Vishnupuran to emphasise the common Hindu traditions that bound Indians together.63 Indian nationalism used cries of Vande Mataram, an explicitly Hindu patriotic tune that likenedIndia to the Hindu goddess Durga. Thus, Indian nationalists began the task of wresting Indian history from the Europeans and forging a national identity.

Africa, however, was believed to be a land of barbarians. Although early European forays into Africa had taught them to differentiate between Africans, by the Conference of Berlin and the apportioning of Africa among Eurpean powers in the latter half of the nineteenth century, race had emerged as a primary facet of identity and the “black race” was seen as markedly inferior due to the lack of evidence of any past achievement.64 Just as in India, African chieftains invited the Europeans into their realms, first for trade, then for military assistance and development. J.D.Y. Peel succinctly explains why missionaries preceded merchants and soldiers:

The impact of Protestant evangelists as harbingers of industrial capitalism lay in the fact that their civilising mission was symultaneously symbolic and practical, theological and temporal. The goods and messages they brought with them to Africa presupposed the messages and meanings they proclaimed in the pulpit and vice versa. Both were vehicles of a moral economy that celebrated the global spirit of commerce, the commodity, and the imperial marketplace.65

However, in contrast to India, Africa did not seem to experience the same tumult when local religion and customs were being assaulted initially. Perhaps this was because Africaexperienced no singular religion or custom that could serve as a banner for the masses—despite differences in language, philosophy, food, dress, and customs, the epistemological construct of Hinduism served Indians as their identity marker. In Africa, no such project was undertaken by the Europeans, nor were there enough similarities between various political entities. Mobilisation, when it did occur, was in small localised and sporadic instances such as the Maji Maji, Ashanti, Mahdi, or Mau Mau.66 India had suffered similar setbacks in 1857 when revolts broke out inMaharashtra,Delhi,Punjab,Bengal, and other aprts ofIndia but were badly coordinated.

Most importantly, the acceptance of the idea that progress came in only one shade, namely Christian, hurt African nationalism. European missionaries and their African converts were naturally committed to European civilisation as it gave them political, social, and economic benefits over their neighbours. Thus, a majority of educated Africans became ‘internal imperialists’ rather than oppose Europe with the very tools they had rceived from European education. In a sense this was an imperial version of the brain drain. Educated Blacks from the United States, Africa, and the Carribean at times encouraged European activities in Africa because the national principle had not yet formed in their minds. Even if educated Africans were aware of an imagined politcal community they belonged to, it had not yet become the principal claimant of their loyalties. Much like Europeans in the sixteenth century belonged to a kingdom and yet felt a degree of loyalty to the Pope, Africans could not come together in starkly nationalist hues until the early twentieth century. In the backdrop of how ‘Christian’Europe treated its African subjects, it is evident that Christianity hindered African nationalist efforts.

[1] Thomas Trautmann, Aryans and British India (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1997.

[2] Gauri Vishwanathan, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton, New Jersey: PrincetonUniversity Press), 1998.

[3] Population at the time of independence,August 15, 1947.

[4] Ranbir Vohra, The Making of India: A Historical Survey, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 17.

[5] Aristide Zolberg, Creating Political Order: The Party-States of West Africa (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1966), 37, 65.

[6] “It was the British, who, by imposing their ‘knowledge’ upon it, made of Hinduism, a previously loosely integrated collection of sects, something resembling a religion, though the British never viewed it as a ‘proper’ religion.” Thomas Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 134. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explain why Hinduism is not a religion. Summarily, Hinduism is not considered as a religion by many because it does not aspire to dictate an entire social order—“Hindus” can be hedonists, atheists, Vaishnavites, Shaivaites, monists, dualists, polytheists, or hold other beliefs and still be considered Hindu as long as their basic philosophical outlook is similar. In the Judeao-Christian-Islamic world view, there is but one path to one God. A succinct explanation is also given in former Indian Defence Minister Jaswant Singh’s autobiography, A Call to Honour. A detailed survey of this proposition is available in S. Radhakrishnan’s Indian Philosophy and Surendranath Gupta’s A History of Indian Philosophy.

[7] Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), 118.

[8] Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 28 – 29, 74. Also see Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997), 58.

[9] Christopher Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), 328.

[10] Shamita Basu, Religious Revivalism as Nationalist Discourse: Swami Vivekananda and New Hinduism in Nineteenth Century Bengal, (New Delhi:OxfordUniversity Press, 2002), 66.

[11] Basu, Page 70.

[12] There were many Muslim reformers in the same period who opposed Christian encroachment upon Muslims but are not frequently mentioned in Indian history due to the overwhelming majority of Hindus and Hindu movements inIndia. Although the Muslims drew connections to the Caliphate in theOttoman Empire rather than a common Indian identity, they too wished to eject the British fromIndia. After all, the Company had displaced Muslims as rulers ofIndia. For example,Dr.Wazir Khan,RafiuddinAhmed,SirSayyidAhmadKhan, Sayyid Abul A’la Al-Mawdudi, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and MuhammadIqbal were fervently opposed to British rule.

[13] Frank F. Conlon, “The Polemic Process in Nineteenth-Century Maharashtra: Vishnubawa Brahmachari and Hindu Revival,” in Kenneth Jones, Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogues in South Asian Languages (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992), 5.

[14] The mutiny started when Indian Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the Company’s pay refused to use cartridges for the new Enfield rifle because of the belief that they were coated with pork fat to keep them waterproof. Pork meat is unacceptable to both Hindus and Muslims.

[15] Christopher Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), 244.

[16] Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988), 37.

[17] Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideas of Western Dominance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994), 31.

[18] Lost Christians were those who had suffered a loss of faith, had been forcibly converted, or had been corrupted by local practices.

[19] It would be inaccurate, however, to suppose that Europeans remained ignorant about Indian intellectual traditions. It was their tendency to historicise and recapitulate Indian society in a European paradigm that caused misunderstanding. Missionaries of the Franciscan and Dominican orders, and later, Jesuits, such as Antonio Criminali, Francisco Xavier, Manoel d’Oliviera, Roberto Nobili, and others studied Indian languages and translated many Sanskrit works into European languages. This was done not out of interest in Indian religion or society, but to prepare themselves to preach Christianity. Halbfass, Pages 37-47.

[20] Conlon, 7.

[21] Conlon, 31.

[22] Ainslie T. Embree, Utopias in Conflict: Religion and Nationalism in Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 16. Embree believes that the resilience of Hinduism comes from the lack of a centralized religious institution that breaks more easily than bends. Diffused authority in familial relationships makes for a resilient structure. Embree, 82.

[23] The comparison between India, a country, and sub-Saharan Africa, a continent, seems geographically disproportionate. However, the comparison holds, in my opinion, because India is a very large country with diversity and population comparable to the whole African continent.India is a veritable nation of states, just as a pan-sub-Saharan Africa might be.

[24] Emmanuel A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria: A Political and Social Analysis (Essex: Longman Group Ltd., 1966), 28.

[25] Thomas Hodgkin, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (New York: New York University Press, 1957), 94 – 95.

[26] It would be a fascinating aside to talk about why even the category of race failed to unite Africans despite the flirtation between pan-Africanism and race, but it is beyond the scope of this post. Here, I explore only why religion failed Africa and how Christianity further hampered their struggle.

[27] Messay Kebede, Africa’s Quest for a Philosophy of Decolonisation (New York: Rodopi, 2004), 60. It is not that Senghor tried to draw a dichotomy between European advancement and African backwardness. In fact, his position was that African culture, as all cultures, evolves and it will take what’s best from bothAfrica and Europe.

[28] Kevin Grant, A Civilised Savagery: Britain and the New Slaveries in Africa, 1884 – 1926 (London: Routledge, 2005), 27.

[29] Ayandele, 16.

[30] Ibid., 18.

[31] Ibid., 72. The importance of tribal temples is more than it may seem today. As Ayandele explains, “Remove its religion from an African society and it was deprived of its very life; its moral and political systems collapsed at once.”

[32] Ibid., 30.

[33] Ibid., 35 – 36.

[34] Ibid., 207.

[35] Ibid., 219.

[36] C. J. Powell, “The Mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to the Darker Races of the World,” AME Church Review 19 (January 1903): 585-95, in Stephen W. Angell and Anthony B. Pinn, eds., Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862–1939 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000), 205-206.

[37] Edward Wilmot Blyden, “The Call of Providence to the Descendants of Africa in America,” in Liberia’s Offering (New York, 1862), 67-91, reprinted in Hollis R. Lynch, ed., Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1971), 32.

[38] E. H. Coit, “Methodism and the Universal Church,” AME Church Review 22 (April 1906): 306-16, reprinted inAngell and Pinn, 209.

[39] Henry McNeal Turner, “Planning a Trip to Africa,” Christian Recorder, 4 June 1891, reprinted in Edwin S. Redkey, ed., Respect Black: The Writings and Speeches of Henry McNeal Turner (New York: Arno Press, 1971), 83; Henry McNeal Turner, “The Question of Race,” Christian Advocate, 8 October 1888, reprinted in Christian Recorder, 14 February 1889, in Redkey, ed., Respect Black, 75.

[40] Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilisation and Discontent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 133 – 134.

[41] Ayandele, 54.

[42] Ibid., 66.

[43] George M. Fredrickson, Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 69.

[44] Alexander Crummell, “Civilization the Primal Need of the Race,” American Negro Academy, Occasional Papers, no. 3 (Washington, DC: The American Negro Academy, 1898), 3-7, in Library of Congress, reprinted in J. R. Oldfield, ed., Civilization and Black Progress: Selected Writings of Alexander Crummell on the South (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 196.

[45] James T. Holly, “A Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Government and Civilized Progress, as Demonstrated by Historical Events of the Haytian Revolution; and the Subsequent Acts of That People since Their National Independence,” in James Theodore Holly and J. Dennis Harris, Black Separatism and the Caribbean 1860, edited by Howard H. Bell (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1970), 56.

[46] Henry McNeal Turner, “The Afro-American Future,” in D. W. Culp, ed., Twentieth Century Negro Literature (Philadelphia: J. L. Nichols, 1902; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969), reprinted in Edwin S. Redkey, ed., Respect Black: The Writings and Speeches of Henry McNeal Turner (New York: Arno Press, 1971), 190.

[47] Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Creative Thought in African American Thought: Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversity Press, 2004), 35.

[48] JDY Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (Bloomington:IndianaUniversity Press, 2000), 282.

[49] Hollis R. Lynch, Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan-Negro Nationalist, 1832–1912 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 20.

[50] Coit, “Methodism and the Universal Church,” in Angell and Pinn, Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 208.

[51] Alfred Lee Ridgel, Africa and African Methodism (Atlanta: Franklin Printing & Publishing Co., 1896), 57.

[52] Henry M. Turner, “Letters,” AME Church Review 8, no. 4 (1892): 482-84, quoted in James T. Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 84.

[53] Edward W. Blyden, “The African Problem and the Method of Its Solution,” AME Church Review 7 (October 1890): 205-18, annual discourse on the 71st anniversary of the American Colonization Society, Church of the Covenant, Washington, DC, 19 January 1890, reprinted in Angell and Pinn, Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 245. Blyden’s comments seem disingenuous, especially in light of his prior knowledge of Belgian atrocities. See Blyden to Coppinger correspondence, 24 May 1888 and 20 June 1888, American Colonization Society Papers, vol. 25, cited in Hollis R. Lynch, Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan-Negro Nationalist, 1832–1912 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 208. Lynch attributes Blyden’s reticence to three factors: (1) Blyden’s status as an honoured guest ofKingLeopold; (2) Blyden’s beneficiary relationship to shipping tycoonArthurLewisJones, a staunch Belgian defender; and (3) Blyden’s faith in European nations as providential instruments forAfrica’s revival.  Of the three explanations, the first appears the weakest because Leopold’s patronage of Blyden occurred a full two years after Blyden’s effusive praise of the Belgian.

[54] Grant, 27.

[55] Ayandele, 238.

[56] Ibid., 279.

[57] Hodgkin, 93 – 139.

[58] Ayandele, 261. The accusation of being rapaciously exploitative comes not from Ayandele but from the Lagos Weekly Record,8 June 1901.

[59] Different regions ofIndia, although sharing the same pantheon of Gods, had starkly differing philosophies. These strongly held beliefs were the cause of umpteen wars between Indian kingdoms before the arrival of Christians.

[60] Many of these nationalists were themselves Western-educated. It is a perverse trick of history that Lord Macaulay’s famous “class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect” led, not the British government in India, but its opposition, the Indian National Congress. At the head of the pantheon was Mohandas Gandhi, a barrister educated in London. Another stalwart of the INC was Sardar Vallabhai Patel, also educated in London as a lawyer. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, one of the drafters of the Indian Constitution, received doctorates from Columbia and London universities. But surpassing all in his influence on independent India was Jawaharlal Nehru, educated at the most prestigious British institutions: Harrow, Cambridge, and London’s Inner Temple. Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (London: H. Hamilton, 1997), 6 – 7.

[61] Basu, Page 44.

[62] Chatterjee, 95, 113. Turko-Afghan or Mughal rule was also seen as the political history of Islam, not India. In Bharatbarser, or in Rajabali, which recounts the history ofIndia through dynastic lineage, Muslims were depicted as outsiders. Hinduism took shape in British minds as the religion of the native Indians, in distinction from the Muslims, who were regarded as foreign conquerors. Trautmann, 67.

[63] Times News Network. “BJP’s Nationalism Alien to Indian Culture.” The Times of India.20 Feb. 2003. The Times ofIndia21 Nov. 2004. <>

[64] In the 1520 work Omnium gentium mores, Johann Boemus categorised the people of “Affrike” into “Ethiopians,” “Egyptians,” “Troglodytes,” “Cynnamies,” “Ryzophagi,” “Spermophagi,” “Illophagi,” and “Ichthiophagi.” In later literature, there was not even agreement on whether all “Africans” were black. Philippo Pigafetta described the Ethiopians as “of divers colours, as white, blacke, and a middle colour betweene both: they are of a very good stature, and have a good countenance.” Pigafetta generally portrayed Africans not as barbarians, but as peoples with diverse and despotic monarchies, each with a complex hierarchy of nobles, priests, and royal officials. Other accounts of this continent stressed its extremes of “bestial” degradation and partial civilization. John Ogilby’s Africa described the continent’s diversity as Europeans saw it: the “nations” like the Kabangos of west central Africa and the Hottentots of southern Africa were “scarce a degree above Beasts.” But the “metropolis” of “the Kingdom of Guinea” was a city of almost European sophistication: it is “so large, that not onely the Kings keep their Courts and Royal Residence there, but also there is a University, where Scolars Commence, and Priests receive their Orders and several Dignities.” See Nicholas Hudson, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’: The Origin of Racial Classification in Eighteenth-Century Thought,” Eighteenth-Century Studies Vol. 29, No. 3.

[65] Peel, 4 – 5.

[66] I do not mean that the conflicts were small in and of themselves, but appear small given the enormity ofAfrica and the maximum potential for an uprising against Europeans.

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Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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