This paper explores the conflict between local expressions of Christian charity and new theories of scientific humanitarianism in the final years of French rule in Africa. Compassionate phenomena inspired by Catholic social organizing had transformed everyday life throughout French Cameroon’s cities and villages in the interwar and postwar years, and yet, in 1950, poverty, crime, poor public health, and social tensions remained prevalent. Seeking a more deeply transformative approach to social rehabilitation, ecclesiastical leaders in the Catholic Church in Europe and French foreign missionary societies in Africa partnered with international medical and scientific organizations in order to invigorate charity with technical expertise. Revised ethics and practices departed sharply from preexisting models of collective social action, as European leaders lacked confidence in the intentions as well as the outcomes of African-led religious organizing. European humanitarian approaches conceived after World War II demanded a new focus on particular African subjects, namely the child and the family, which alienated indigenous Christian principals, who, along with large and diverse African Christian communities, had previously determined the direction of Catholic social action on the continent.
Charlotte Walker-Said, “Science and Charity: Rival Catholic Visions for Humanitarian Practice at the End of French Rule in Cameroon,” French Politics, Culture and Society, 33:2 2015.