Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church is in Companionship with the Lilongwe Cathedral Parish in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. The Northwest Synod of Wisconsin-ELCA of which Our Saviour’s is a part, is in Companionship with the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM). This relationship provides opportunity for us to learn something about this small African country and its history.
Malawi is a small subtropical landlocked country bordering Lake Malawi in East Africa, including its natural resources and current economy. Some additional comparisons of size and population might be interesting.
Africa is the largest continent on earth, comprising in total 11,716,000 square miles – three times the size of the USA (3,387,425 square miles), larger even than all of North America combined (9,529,000 square miles = USA, Canada, Mexico, Greenland). It is almost twice the size of Russia (6,592,849 square miles – not to be confused with the greater total area of the former Soviet Union).
The USA is 83 times Malawi’s land area which at45,747 square miles is about 1/256th of Africa. Its population of about 10,000,000 is a thirtieth of ours. By comparison, Chippewa County is 1,041 square miles with a population of 63,610.
The British began colonizing Malawi, which they called Nyasaland, in the early 1890s. By then, much of the rest of Africa was already being colonized by other European powers. If there were a list of history’s top ten greatest sorrows, a brutal picture of human inhumanity, the modern history of Africa would be right up there with Hitler’s Holocaust, the death of millions of Russians under Joseph Stalin, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia where an estimated one and a half million died under Pol Pot.
Between 1880 and 1902, as pointed out by Thomas Pakenham in The Scramble for Africa: The White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912 (Random House, 1991), “Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy had grabbed almost all of its ten million square miles, awarding themselves thirty new colonies and protectorates, and 110 million bewildered new subjects.” [Front overleaf]
The story of this invasion, occupation and exploitation of earth’s largest continent is a story of lofty humanitarian motives submerged in greed, lust for power, pride, cowardice, betrayal, and gross stupidity. The story includes men we learned about in grade school for the roles they played in the conquest and, in great measure, the destruction of thousand-year-old cultures and peoples. The names we remember include the missionary David Livingstone, the businessman Cecil Rhodes (Rhodes Scholarships, Rhodesia), and King Leopold of Belgium whose long distance execution of cruelty still shocks us today.
David Livingstone’s second missionary trip took him to the west bank of Lake Nyasa (today’s Lake Malawi) where he stayed from 1858 to 1864. Livingstone then and later condemned the ongoing slave trade and pleaded with the European entrepreneurs, governments and churches to base their policies and actions in Africa on three C’s: Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization. His exhortations found a ready and willing audience at a time when Europeans in general enjoyed a sense of their own superiority and a duty to take up “the white man’s burden” to civilize other people. He made it respectable for them to add a fourth C: Conquest.