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The Railways
Religious Conversion

Christian missionaries were another force against slavery and their presence increased throughout the 19th century. Sometimes they fostered trade, at other times they fell out with trader and government officials alike. The first Catholic missionaries had come to Central Africa from Portugal in 1458. But the first Protestant mission was not established until the 1792 - the Moravian Brethren in the Cape.

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Some missionaries combined conversion with exploration and geography. David Livingstone, a Scottish mill worker, and the first European to cross the continent from East to West, is the obvious example.

As more people became converted to Christianity in Africa, an increasing number became missionaries with broadly the same aims as their European colleagues: of converting people in the interior. African rulers and their people took a pragmatic approach to government emissaries and missionaries.

Kabaka Mutesa I to Colonel Gordon, 24th March 1876:

"To Sir Colonel Gordon, My dear Friend, I wish you good day. It is I, M'tesa, King of Uganda who sends you this letter. I wish to be the friend of the white men. Therefore, hear my words which I say.

I want a priest who will show me the way of God.
I want gold, silver, iron and bronze.
I want clothing for my people and myself to wear.
I want excellent guns and good cannons.
I want to cause to be built good houses for my country.
I want my people to know God."

Missionaries offered some advantages besides salvation and a new faith. They provided a link between African rulers and European rulers, who might have arms or other commodities to sell. And they introduced literacy.

Learning to read was an essential part of Christian conversion, so that the bible could be read in English or in an African language. The skill of reading was to change the status quo for ever. Some African rulers like the King of Rwanda and the Kabaka of Buganda opposed the spread of literacy, because it empowered people and upset the social order.