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
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 8:35
  • @skashmais: Capital idea! Email sent.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 12:22
  • Scratch that. The only email address I can find bounced.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 12:46
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    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. Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 13:14
  • @DJClayworth: 20th century, maybe 21st. Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 1:10

3 Answers 3


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."


Here is a video of Archbishop Tutu telling the joke, published a year after the question was asked.


Tutu didnt originate this, neither did Jomo Kenyatta. The credit belongs to Rolf Hochhuth, in his controversial The Deputy, a Christian tragedy (1964), Grove Press, p. 144

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    You should turn your answer into a link and provide the relevant quote so we don't have to follow the link to evaluate your answer.
    – matt_black
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 18:05
  • Just checked my copy of Hochhuth's 'The Deputy' (Grove Press, 1964) p. 144 and I can find nothing relevant. Did you get the wrong page? Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 17:08
  • The reason I haven't upvoted this is it doesn't resolve whether Desmond Tutu (also) said it, and even if it is published in that text, it isn't clear why this should be considered the source - it appears contemporaneous with Tutu.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 0:03
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    There are multiple text-searchable copies of the 1964 Grove Press edition of the Winston translation of Hochhuth's The Deputy on the Internet Archive, and none of them contain anything remotely related to this quote. The German-language copies of Der Stellvertreter do not contain "Bibel" or "Sie haben das Land" or relevant references to "Buch." Wrong book?
    – shoover
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 23:39
  • I'm downvoting both because of the lack of linked sources and because the answer is irrelevant -- the question isn't about whether Tutu is the original source of the quote, but whether he said it at all. Commented Mar 23 at 10:01

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