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The emergence and growth of independent African churches in Malawi/West Africa

The main reasons for the emergence of the independent African church movement were linked with the style of management of mission controlled churches and with certain unpopular aspects of colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th century:

– the alienation of African land for use by foreign settlers;
– colonial taxation policies;
– the use of forced labour;
– the slow speed of Africanisation of mission churches e.g. in the ordination of African priests and the promotion of Africans within the church hierarchy.

In Malawi

The main leaders here were Majola Agbebi and William Wade Harris. Agbebi was associated with several independent churches including the African Baptist Church (1888), the United Native African Church (1891), and the African Bethel Church
(1901). He was President of the African Baptist Union of West Africa. Harris, a Liberian Protestant evangelist, was the most successful in terms of the number of followers and converts. He moved to the Ivory Coast in 1913 where he enjoyed his greatest success.


Though reasons for the emergence and growth of independent churches varied from place to place there was much commonality in their importance and significance. All were examples of protest against colonialism in general and against foreign control of churches and all were early examples of African nationalism. Only Chilembwe in Malawi carried protest to the point of open rebellion. Most leaders were opposed to the use of violence. All were advocates of more and better education for Africans as a means of improving living standards and promoting progress and justice. All believed that Christianity in Africa must come to terms with African culture and the African personality.

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