In 2008 we carried out an initial interview process with over 30 African Christian leaders of churches, theological institutions and parachurch organizations. The January 2009 report entitled “Realities that Underscore the Need for an Africa Leadership Study: Based on Interviews with Thirty African Christian Leaders” details the results of those interviews. This information served as a valuable context for theTyndale House Foundation in making the decision to enter into the Africa Leadership Study Research. It is available by clicking the “Initial Research” Button in the “Background Section” of the “About Page”.
As the ALS team began brainstorming a research process, it was immediately apparent that we could not possibly carry out research across the entire continent. Africa is enormous, larger than China, Europe, and the USA combined. It is comprised of 551 countries, with over 2000 languages spoken. https://www.ethnologue.com/region/Africa
And yet, as a result of colonialism, people in most African countries speak either English, French, or Portuguese. These three groups of countries with a common language have quite different histories of colonialism and Christian mission and are differently situated linguistically in the contemporary world system. Thus, we wondered if the differences between these three groups of countries might not give us one way to organize our exploration of the variability found within African Christianity.
African countries under the earlier rule of Great Britain would have shared a great deal in common with each other, as would those under France, and others under Portugal. Under British colonialism, for example, traditional African political institutions were accommodated through indirect rule. The British emphasized social and cultural differences between ethnic groups and were less likely to approve European intermarriage with Africans than were the Portuguese — whose mixed offspring were known as mestiços. The French and Portuguese employed direct rule and stressed their civilizing mission, binding colonies to the metropole under a policy of assimilation. In French colonies African educated elite were sometimes granted French citizenship, and a shared currency was used. Forced labor was common in French and Portuguese colonies, but not in British colonies. The British gave greater recognition of common law systems giving rights to property owners and were more supportive of freedom of religion.2 French and Portuguese colonies often limited or prohibited Protestant missionaries (who were mostly English speaking) out of fear that such missionaries would serve British colonial interests. So Protestant missionaries were relative late-comers to French and Portuguese colonies as compared with Roman Catholic missionaries. Education under the French fit assimilationist goals, valorizing all things French, and more consistently limited the role of all missionaries. The Portuguese similarly stressed assimilation and the use of the Portuguese language but granted the Catholic Church a quasi-monopoly on education. By contrast, the British allowed both Protestant and Catholic mission schools to administer education. Individual African countries often share significant historical influences with other countries that were subject to the same colonial empire that they were.3
Quite apart from this history, African countries with Portuguese or French as the national language are differently situated globally than those with English. Since Protestant missionaries most frequently come from English-speaking countries, their linguistic alignments in Anglophone countries were different than in Lusophone or Francophone ones. In Francophone countries, Protestant missionaries often stressed theological education in indigenous languages, not French. But in Anglophone countries they often supported theological education in English. Literature and educational systems diverge. Protestant Christians in Angola or Mozambique, for example, have weaker ties to the USA than Christians in Ghana or Kenya, and stronger ties to Brazil. In our day, the television shows of T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen are more likely to be seen in English-speaking countries, than in Portuguese or French ones.
Christian foundations or churches in America, because of historic networks, and because of linguistic bridges and barriers, are more likely to partner with ministries in Anglophone Africa than with ministries in Francophone or Lusophone Africa. Their knowledge of Francophone or Lusophone Africa is likely to be less than of Anglophone Africa.
Indeed, even the world of academia is skewed in similar directions. In a comprehensive study of English-language Ph.D. dissertations focused on world Christianity between 2002 and 2011 (Priest and DeGeorge 2010: 107), it was discovered that Anglophone Africa received disproportionate attention. Eighty percent of Africa’s 55 countries had either one or two or no dissertations focused on Christianity in that country. By contrast, five English-speaking countries were the focus of half of the Africa-focused dissertations on world Christianity: Nigeria (40), Kenya (36), South Africa (35), Ghana (27), and
Uganda (25). More dissertations focused on Christianity in any one of these five countries than in all of Francophone Africa combined (23), with only four dissertations examining Christianity in any Lusophone African country. In short, a majority of research-based knowledge about African Christianity is one-sidedly grounded in research in Anglophone Africa.
In light of the above, the ALS team made a decision to focus its research on three countries tied to particular streams of colonial history broadly present throughout the continent: one Anglophone, one Francophone, and one Lusophone. We also selected these countries based on the strengths and research connections of our ALS team.