Besides the direct political motives of imperialism-the desire to strengthen national security by strategic naval bases such as Cyprus and the Cape, or to secure additional sources of manpower as the French sought in Africa, or to enhance national prestige as the Italians did in Libya there was a medley of other considerations which, in varying proportions, entered into the desire for colonies. One was the activities of explorers and adventurers, men like the Frenchmen, Du Chaillu and De Brazza, in equatorial Africa; Or the Welshman, Henry Morton Stanley, in the Congo basin; or the German Karl Peters in east Africa. Prompted by a genuine devotion to scientific discovery, or a taste for adventure, or a buccaneering love of money and power as was Cecil Rhodes in South Africa-men of initiative and energetic enterprise played an important personal part in the whole story.
Christian missionaries played their part too in the spread of colonialism. The most famous was the Scot, David Livingstone. A medical missionary originally sent to Africa by the London Missionary Society, he later returned under government auspices as an explorer “to open a path for commerce and Christianity.” When he had disappeared for some years in quest of the source of the Nile, Stanley was sent to find him, and duly met him in 1872 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. When Livingstone died in Africa in 1873, his body was taken to London under naval escort, to be buried in Westminster Abbey as a great national hero. But Livingstone was only one among many, and France, even more than Britain, sent organized missions into Africa to convert the heathen to Christianity.
The Catholic missions of France under the Third Republic were exceptionally active, and provided two thirds (some forty thousand) of all Catholic missionaries. They were spread all over the world, including the Near and Far East; and in 1869 Cardinal Lavigerie, installed only the year before in the see of Algiers, founded the Society of African Missionaries, soon to be known because of their Arab dress as the ”White Fathers.” By 1875 they spread from Algeria into Tunisia, and set up a religious protectorate that preceded the political protectorate. Gambetta said of Lavigerie, ”His presence in Tunisia is worth an army for France.” Other French missions penetrated into all parts of Africa, setting up schools and medical services, often in the footsteps of the explorers and adventurers. Belgian missionaries were active in the Congo as early as 1878.