The new wave of African evangelism that has swept the continent of Africa, has reached a new height where multitudes of church-goers have flocked to self- appointed prophets for salvation. African self-appointed prophets have given hope to the hopeless in many impoverished countries of Africa, by promising unfettered riches to those who adhere to the principle tenets of Christianity. With the continued malpractices of African politicians, prophets are slowly becoming the answer to many socio-political woes that have plagued African countries since attaining independence. However, as the number of prophets increase in Africa, so is the belief that the self-appointed prophets are the answer to better the lives of many on the continent. In this article, I wild critically analyse the role of these prophets, who are increasingly becoming involved in the socio-political issues of Africa.
Pentecostalism is the fastest growing strand of Christianity in Africa, where about 46 % of the total population are predominantly Christian. There are many divisions of Christianity in Africa , but the most vibrant and innovative strand of christianity in contemporary times is African Pentecostalism. In classical Pentecostalism, faith healing, prophecy, exorcism, speaking in tongues, spontaneous prayer, exuberant liturgical expression and visions are the primary rallying points for practicing Christians in Pentecostal churches.
The biggest factor that has drawn the citizens of Africa to this form of Christianity, is the ‘gospel of prosperity’. Self-appointed prophets center their sermons on prosperity for all church-goers, in a continent where the majority of people live in abject poverty and a life of squalor. With the continued decline in performance of African governments to improve the lives of African people, the prophets claims have chimed with many worshippers in Africa who are increasing in numbers. The followers of these prophets are of the belief that the church leaders have powers bestowed upon them from God, to save the human race from disease and pestilence. For example, on 6th April 2012, president Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi died prematurely of a cardiac arrest. The whole of Africa erupted on social media platforms to praise the prophecy of a man known as TB Joshua, who had earlier on one of his sermons, spoke of the death of an old African president. On 5th February, 2 months before Mutharika’s death, TB Joshua proclaimed,
“I am seeing a head of state, by that I mean a president. He is not feeling well. He is very old. What is this I’m seeing… sudden death…I’m seeing the death of an old African president in two months.
Indeed after 2 months, president Mutharika of Malawi did die according to TB Joshua’s prophecy, in accordance with the declared timeline. The prophecy of president Mutharika catapulted and cemented TB Joshua’s authenticity as a messenger of God whose prophecies were credible.
The credibility that has been attached to TB Joshua’s prophecies, has spurned the aspirations of other preachers in Africa to seek the privileges to be had from authentic prophecies. Mr TB Joshua has acquired a cult status that has drawn admiration from notable figures such as Ghana’s late president, John Atta Mills, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, Julius Malema, a radical South African politician and Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s opposition leader. The most dominating factor that has encouraged other pastors to follow TB Joshua’s path, is the monetary gain that can be realised from such notoriety. Forbes in 2011 ranked Mr Joshua as the third-richest pastor in Nigeria, with an estimated wealth of about $15 million. Most of the succesful prophets who are getting wealthier, make most of their money through publications, running hotels, renting out private jets and investing in real estate.
With such notoriety, the well-known prophets have attracted large numbers of church-goers who seek to be healed and cleansed of evil spirits, that stand between them and personal advancement. Nearly three decades ago, in Nigeria, Pentecostal churches became an answer to the many social ills the country experienced, around when the continent adopted the Structural Adjustment Policies, which were endorsed by the World Bank and the IMF. The implications of the SAPs wrought disastrous effects for many African nations to a near economic meltdown, which saw the retrenchment of workers and soaring graduate unemployment. In search of salvation, Nigerians turned to Pentecostalism which nurtured a new elite of educated church leaders with a different ideology that was going to answer all their problems.
Three decades later, Pentecostalism has resonated with the citizens of Africa, who have gradually lost hope with their governments. A southern African pastor known as prophet Shepherd Bushiri has even been bold, by inviting the government of Malawi to partner with him to develop the country. Bushiri is also another miracle pastor who is slowly gaining a foothold in southern Africa, through church entrepreneurship like many of his counterparts. Earlier this year, Bushiri who was appointed the president of African Christian Coalition for Israel (AFRICCI), a charity organisation, believes he can help African governments in development matters. Secretary General for AFRICCI Catherine Nabagesera Naava, confirmed the appointment and added,
“We have also monitored Prophet Bushiri for some time and we have realised he has been instrumental to Malawi’s development and despite being a prophet, he is also an entrepreneur and patriotic citizen. His love for investments and entrepreneurship is just so inspiring. At the same time, religious leaders have more influence on their followers than political leaders”.
In 2013, TB Joshua complained that since his church’s inception in Nigeria, 7 African presidents have visited his establishment but none of them took heed of his political advice:
“But each time presidents visit this place, I get a query from God. When they come around, you won’t have time to attend to other people. They will block their road with their security and at the end of the day, they won’t do what you advise them to do”.
Tb Joshua and Bushiri both hail from democratic countries, which are Nigeria and Malawi respectfully. Looking at world history, religion and politics has been a source of public contention and for the pastors to believe that the governments and presidents should work with them, would be opening a can of worms. Religious beliefs and politics hold different theories about public life, and it would be impractical to merge the doctrines of the two fields. The major drawback to African Pentecostalism as a medium of alternative politics in Africa, is the lack of quantitative data to corroborate the claims of success attributed to prophecies. Politics is about proving and quantifying policies, which can be critically analysed by the electorate, who are given the task of choosing the right leader for a country.
There has also been growing controversy surrounding the prophets who are seen by many as exemplary figures of their communities. In 2014, TB Joshua’s six storey guest house collapsed with the death toll registering about 115 people, with the largest number from South Africa. TB Joshua claimed that a plane flew over and crashed into the building while the media were of a different view. Comfort Obi writing in the Source Weekly argued that if TB Joshua’s accusations were true, the church should produce evidence to demonstrate the claim of the plane crashing into the building. Obi rather wrote that TB Joshua’s church did not follow the required architectural procedures, for a two storey building which was hastily made into a six storey building. Officials at the Lagos State department also denied the church an application, to extend the two storey building to six storeys. The issue caused a lot of contention between TB Joshua’s church and South Africans, such that the Youth Wing of the ruling African National Congress, called upon the government to ban the pastor to visit South Africa. This is a demonstration of how Pentecostal leaders operate without evidence to their claims, in a continent where abject poverty is prevalent. Many of their prophecies are accepted by worshippers as fact, which is contrary to the critical world of politics, where leaders are supposed to demonstrate of their successes through causative evidence.
However, as much as the Pentecostal churches in Africa preach of the gospel of prosperity for all, the practises of such churches are contrary. At the centre of it all, lies the wealth of the leader of congregation who is paraded to the church-goers as a testimony of blessings bestowed upon him/her through the teachings of the bible. In the world of democratic politics, political leaders are scrutinised for amassing unexplainable wealth whereas in the world of African Pentecostalism, it has become the norm for pastors to acquire unexplainable wealth. The evidence of this wealth is evident on Forbes where there is a list of 5 richest pastors with David Oyedepo as the wealthiest pastor in Africa with an estimated wealth of about $150 million. The major cause for concern is that poor people pay tithe which is like a tax to the church with little financial accountability for the collections which are usually managed by governing church councils. If these churches lack such transparency on fiscal matters, how can they be credible leaders of development in a continent which struggles with government transparency? Moreover what is notable about most African prophets is that they revel in self-aggrandizement, where some pastors have been known to post acquired luxuries on social media to reflect the blessings received from God. Some pastors have even lied of acquiring jets and cars or even posing as a leader of a developmental organisation which seems to be non-existent on internet records. The insidious characters of most self-appointed prophets in Africa, damages the credibility of Pentecostalism as movement of mobilising change in African politics. Professor Sam Krinsky who was based at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, concluded upon his research on prosperity preachers
“That this [religious] movement has captured the imagination of so many young Nigerians striving to transform themselves, their lives, and their society, should be beyond doubt … whether for better or worse is a question still very much up in the air.”
All in all, the role of the African prophet in the politics of Africa is questionable due to the inner-workings of the Pentecostal churches. The credibility of pastors who preach prosperity for all when the majority of the church-goers are poor, is an abomination to the concept of egalitarianism. To fuse the world of Pentecostalism or religion with that of politics would be disastrous for Africa, because what Africa needs is transparency which is not found in Pentecostal governance structures. The prophecies which are central to Pentecostalism, are concepts which are not tangible or cannot be proven as credible in the world of political science. It is thus very difficult to imagine the marriage of Pentecostalism and politics in Africa where an argentine pastor who attended TB Joshua’s sermon proclaimed,
“I have seen many miracles, but not like these ones,” he said. “I see in the prophet a world leader.”
The evidence is still that Africa remains to be the poorest continent on earth, despite the claims of prosperity for all by the self-appointed prophets.
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