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The following quote has been widely attributed to Desmond Tutu:

When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “let us close our eyes and pray.” When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.

Examples of the attribution:

Desmond Tutu is an outspoken activist, but this sentiment seems unlikely coming from a former Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican church.

None of the attributions I found suggested when and where he uttered these words.

The quote has also been attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, former Prime Minister and then President of Kenya.

I am unfamiliar with him, and the attribution might be apocryphal, but it seems a little more plausible, at least.

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Why don't you email him and ask him? He should be reachable through the Anglican church's offices in Cape Town. He will respond, he's that kind of person. –  slashmais Mar 28 '12 at 8:35
    
@skashmais: Capital idea! Email sent. –  Oddthinking Mar 28 '12 at 12:22
    
Scratch that. The only email address I can find bounced. –  Oddthinking Mar 28 '12 at 12:46
    
From what I've read about Desmond Tutu that is exactly the sort of thing he might say. It's one thing to be a follower of Jesus, and another to approve the practices of a foreign church in the nineteenth century. Not that I've any evidence, one way or another. –  DJClayworth Mar 28 '12 at 13:14
    
@DJClayworth: 20th century, maybe 21st. –  user unknown Jul 28 '12 at 1:10

1 Answer 1

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Wikiquote mentions this.

As quoted in Desmond Tutu: A Biography (2004) by Steven Gish, p. 101; this is a joke Tutu has used, but variants of it exist which are not original to him.

So he didn't make it up, but he did say it. He may not have meant it completely seriously. On the other hand he may have thought it humourous way of presenting a significant truth. Being a Christian doesn't automatically mean you approve of everything other Christians do.

Here is an extract from the book, giving more context.

Before [Tutu] left for the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, he spoke at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, and told one of his favorite stories. "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “let us close our eyes and pray.” When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land."

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