Tag: religion

Cashing in on the lure of super-pastor TB Joshua

In Africa’s largest metropolis, the district of Ikotun Egbe in Lagos has turned into a boomtown. The draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of Nigeria’s richest “super-pastors”, whose church attracts 50 000 worshippers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.

TB Joshua. (Pic: EmmanuelTV)
TB Joshua. (Pic: EmmanuelTV)

Seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, visitors flock from around the globe. Enterprising Lagos residents – those not turfed out by landlords turning their properties into hotels – have transformed the rundown area into a hotbed of business.

On a Saturday afternoon, traffic swirls around the four-storey, giant-columned Synagogue Church of All Nations. Delegates are already pouring in before the following day’s service. “They should really build a branch in South Africa – it’s a long way to come and the hotels here are so-so,” said Mark, a sun-burnt businessman from Johannesburg, accompanied by two friends from Botswana.

As the church’s palm tree-lined entrance gives way to a maze of skinny, unpaved roads, knots of touts materialise. “In one year I made enough money to buy my first car,” said Chris, using a tattered hotel brochure to mop his brow. He is paid 100 naira (about 40 pence) for each client he brings in.

Sparkling new hotels rise incongruously among the shacks. At one, with a logo suspiciously similar to the Sheraton’s, a new chef has recently been employed. “He can cook food from Singapore, because we were having a lot of guests from there who struggle with Nigerian food,” said the manager, Ruky, at a reception desk framed by pictures of TB Joshua.

Tony Makinwa said most of his laundromat profits came from tourists. “God has favoured my business. People come here and fall in love with the place and overstay their visits,” he said.

Also doing a roaring trade are the international calling centres with foreign visitor discounts, the clothes shops offering outfits to celebrate miracles, and the plastic chair rentals that cater for church spillovers.

Isolo’s dirt streets are punctured by unfinished barn-like buildings as dozens of other churches offer all-day worship services. Almost as many mosques dot the area. Islam and Christianity are growing at blistering paces across Africa, with Nigeria home to the continent’s most populous mix of both faiths.

Money-changer Sidi Bah travelled thousands of miles from Mali to continue his trade here. “I came because I heard many people from many countries visit. In one day I can change six or seven different types of currency,” he said, adding: “There are more mosques here than in my village in [Muslim] Mali.”

Miracle-promising Pentecostal churches took root across the continent in the 1980s, as African economies were battered by falling world commodity prices. Migrant poured into slums in search of jobs and dreams.

Ruky has converted her cramped home into a 20-bed lodging where mainly rural workers stay for 800 naira a night. Mattresses are half-price. “If you are sick like me you have no job so you are used to sleeping on the floor anyhow,” said Andrew Olagbele whose spine was crushed by a car accident, lying on a mattress in a crammed room. “I pray the Lord will touch me tomorrow so I can walk again.”

As dusk sets in, cars continue streaming in. A man hanging from the open door of a car thundering gospel songs waves copies of homemade CDs for sale. Denis Kokou and his wife, a baby on her hip, look on with weary smiles. “This is our first time coming from [regional neighbour] Togo. We are so happy to be here with our daughter.”

Monica Mark for the Guardian

Jesus Inc: Paying for miracles to happen

A man wobbled across the podium leaning heavily on his crutches as the preacher beckoned to him with outstretched hands. The mammoth crowd at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi fell silent in anticipation. The preacher asked the man a few questions and then boomed into the mic: “In the name of Jesus I command you to walk!” The man immediately threw down his crutches and trod unsteadily around the stage. The crowd burst into delirium. Some people fainted.

My colleague who was standing besides me shook with quiet laughter. He knew the “disabled” guy, Joel, since they both live in the Kangemi neighbourhood. Joel is a hopeless drunkard. To finance his drinking habit, he takes on casual jobs – like this one.

Kenyan worshippers are seeking divinity in “miracle” churches and dubious pastors who’ve sprung up all around the country. They command a huge following and are raking in money – millions, even – through, among other things, their claims of miracle healing. One session can cost as much as R300. In addition to this and weekly donations from congregants, the pastors sell anointing oils which cost between R15 to R50 a bottle. The oils have a short shelf life – anything from a few days to a month – so believers have to stock up on them regularly to keep “miracles” flowing in their lives.  No wonder, then, that these religious leaders can afford posh mansions and Range Rovers – and that they make the news for the wrong reasons.

(Graphic: Kenny Leung)
(Graphic: Kenny Leung)

Take Pastor Michael Njoroge of Fire Ministries, who reportedly slept with a prostitute last year and then hired her for R200 to attend his Sunday mass service with a disfigured mouth. With a cloth covering her mouth, sobbing because of her shame, the woman performed like a pro in front of cameras. Njoroge, who has a slot on a Christian TV station, prayed for her at his service. The next day she was back in his church with a perfect mouth, giving testimony of the miracle in front of a transfixed crowd. Soon after the incident Njoroge was exposed by Kenyan news channel NTV but his loyal congregants stood by him.

Then there’s the billionaire businessman, politician and pastor Kamlesh Pattni, who was charged with conspiracy to defraud the government of Sh58-billion in the Goldenberg scandal. He was cleared of the charges in April 2013 but not of his notoriety.  Pattni has established his own church and provides a free lunch to his growing congregation every Sunday. Who doesn’t want a free meal?

Pattni could soon be receiving a hefty Kh4-billion of taxpayers’ money after winning a legal tussle over exclusive rights to duty-free shops in two Kenyan airports. The hefty award, however, is being challenged.

Let’s not forget Pastor Maina Njenga, the former leader of Mungiki, a criminal gang known for extortion, ethnic violence, female genital mutilation and other horrific crimes including the beheading and skinning in its strongholds in Nairobi and central Kenya.  He spent a long stint in jail and was released from prison in 2009. Njenga then became a born-again Christian, and set up Hope International Ministries. He professed that he changed his life around but few believe him

Like many Kenyan pastors, he was quick to enter business and politics too. Last year he threw his hat into the ring for the presidential race but quit due to a lack of funds.

Money troubles are not something Bishop Allan Kiuna and his wife Reverend Kathy have to worry about. The influential, doting couple run the Jubilee Christian Centre in Nairobi which has an ‘international media ministry’ with video and music production and book publishing. They’ve come under fire for their luxurious lifestyle on social media, but Reverend Kathy makes no apologies. “We serve a prosperity God,” Kathy said in an interview with True Love magazine. “God wants us to be prosperous in every single way. His desire for us is to walk in abundance. I am praying for church people to show the likes of Bill Gates dust!”

But the gold prize for the miracles business goes to Kenyan Archbishop Gilbert Deya, who was previously based in Peckham, UK. The evangelical pastor who has been photographed with European royalty, prime ministers and presidents engineered a miracle babies scam, claiming to be able to make infertile women fall pregnant. British women travelled to Kenya to “give birth”, but were actually given babies that the pastor and his wife Mary had stolen or abducted. Suspicions were raised when a woman claimed to give birth to three ‘miracle’ babies in a year, prompting an investigation. DNA testing also revealed that there was no genetic link between the women and the babies they’d apparently given birth to.

Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)
Gilbert Deya arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in central London on 1 November 2007 to fight an attempt to extradite him to Kenya to face child theft charges. (AFP)

Mary was eventually arrested in 2004 for stealing a baby from a Nairobi hospital and passing it off as her own. She is currently in prison for child-trafficking.  Deya was arrested in 2006 in London and has since been fighting his extradition from the UK to face charges of child theft in Kenya. He has denied the charges, but this particular quote stands out –  of course, it was all God’s idea: “I have been judged by the media as a child trafficker, which is a slave trade, but miracles have happened. God has used me and I tell you God cannot use a criminal. They are miracles.”

Given the numerous scams orchestrated in the name of God, it’s no surprise that a generation of young Kenyans is becoming increasingly sceptical about religion. However, it’s a pity that there are still plenty of desperate and ignorant Kenyans around to keep the Jesus Inc industry flourishing.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at thepeculiarkenyan.wordpress.com

Nigeria’s yan daudu face persecution in religious revival

On special days, after dawn prayers at the mosque, Ameer, a father of two, returns home to put on makeup from the collection he shares with his wife.

Usually, however, he settles for a colourful headscarf of the sort worn by women throughout Nigeria. Ameer also uses the female version of his name, Ameera, preceding it with Hajiya, the honorific for women who have completed the Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ameera is known as a yan daudu, shorthand for “men who act like women” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language. The phrase means “sons of Daudu”, a fun-loving, gambling spirit worshipped in the Muslim Bori practice, whose trance and dancing rituals are traditionally associated with marginalised poor women, sex workers and disabled people.

For more than a century, hundreds of yan daudu were tolerated as part of an unremarkable but fringe subculture in the Muslim north, famed for their playful use of language, sometimes even accompanying politicians during election campaigns.

In this spirit, Ameera’s parents were accepting. “My parents realised all the things men like, I didn’t like. I didn’t like farming. I wanted to cook and sell things like women. Most of all, I loved braiding hair – I can do yours very nicely if you want,” said Ameera, with a dimpled smile and shrug of delicate, bird-like shoulders.

“They bought me a doll and let me spend hours braiding its hair,” he said, his soft voice almost drowned out by the screech of rickshaws and shouting tradesmen in a bustling, overcrowded satellite town outside the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

But now, with a religious revival sweeping Africa’s most populous country, the yan daudu are increasingly being persecuted. As Nigeria edges closer to passing a Bill outlawing same-sex marriage and targeting groups who support sexual minorities, many fear they will be driven underground.

“I don’t mind it when my friends call me yan daudu, but these days it sounds ugly [abusive] in other people’s mouths,” Ameera said.

On the plastic-covered walls hung miniature portraits of yan daudu colleagues, taken during a special trip to a studio so long ago the edges have yellowed. Many had previously lived in Kano, the north’s main city and a former Islamic sultanate that has long been a regional hub bringing together sexual minorities from across Nigeria and its desert neighbours.

“People were more tolerant then. Now people are more religious, we’ve had to change our outlook too. We can’t go out wearing brassieres and makeup any more,” said Salihu (Hajiya Sara), a yan daudu from neighbouring Chad, dressed in a sober black kaftan and so painfully shy he can barely make eye contact. He fled Kano in 2000, when Nigeria underwent one of its periodic “morality campaigns” and 12 northern states adopted Sharia law.

“It hurts my heart that people say, ‘May Allah reform you,'” he said, washing his feet in preparation for prayers.

As he hurried to the muezzin’s dusk call floating over the lamp-lit stalls, he added: “All judgment belongs to Allah, so if we are different it is because Allah made us different. All these clergymen condemning us should be careful though, because Allah can make one of their own children like us.”

Yet there remain some signs of acceptance. Dreadlocked mechanic Rodney Musa, repairing a motorbike in a patch of oil-stained dust nearby, isn’t bothered by his neighbours. “They’ve been here for the past 10 years – as far as I’m concerned we’re all just trying to earn a living,” he said.

Overhearing the conversation, a passing shop owner, Naz Nwakesi, reacted with horror. “They’re simply homosexuals with bad characters. They should try to reform themselves,” he said.

Amarchi, braiding hair at an open-air salon wedged between the Jesus is Trading hardware shop and Godz Power Barbing salon, said the yan daudu were embarrassing to women. “They should speak to God and ask God to make them women,” she added, before quoting a Bible verse that forbids cross-dressing.

At Ameera’s food shack, where around a dozen yan daudu find refuge working in an occupation normally reserved for women, these criticisms hurt. “That’s why my heroes are female prostitutes. There’s a kinship between us because they know what it is to be judged,” Ameera said. Though many yan daudu are gay, “some of us pretend to be gay just to feel alive – at least we know where gay people fit in the scheme.”

Whatever their orientations, few see being yan daudu as at odds with family life. Ameera is preparing to take a second wife while Yahuza (32), wearing a sparkling red dress and sandals decorated with bright diamante flowers, has three.

Monica Mark for the Guardian. 

Celebrity pastor under fire after stampede for ‘holy water’

It’s the middle of a working day, in the middle of the week, but the trickle of worshippers at the Synagogue Church of All Nations is quickly becoming a flood. Around 1 000 people sit silently on plastic chairs cooled by dozens of floor fans at the church – a building reminiscent of an aircraft hangar just off Accra’s industrial Spintex Road – watching its founder delivering a sermon on his own dedicated 24-hour TV channel, Emmanuel TV.

Temitope Balogun Joshua, popularly known as TB Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church empire, is one of the biggest celebrities in West Africa. His regular Sunday services in Nigeria boasts attendance rates of around 15 000 and the Nigerian government has reported that the number of worshippers travelling to the church in Lagos have significantly boosted tourism to Nigeria.

(Pic: emmanuel.tv)
TB Joshua (Pic: emmanuel.tv)

But he is an increasingly controversial figure in Ghana, after a deadly stampede at the Synagogue Church last Sunday left four people dead and at least 30 injured.

The worshippers were hoping to obtain holy “new anointing water”, which Emmanuel TV had announced would be distributed for free. “The anointing water usually costs 80 cedis, but we learned that on Sunday it would be given out for free,” said Joseph Adanvor (52) who witnessed the fatal stampede. “I have never seen anything like it before. People had come from Togo, Benin, even from Kenya. They tried to close the church but people were climbing over the walls and breaking in. The police and army were there but they couldn’t control the crowds.”

The police, who are investigating the deaths, said that they had not anticipated the number of people who would attend the church, with worshippers arriving from as early as 2am. “All of us were caught by surprise,” police spokesperson Freeman Tetteh told the BBC world service. ” No one knew the crowd will be so huge.”

The church declined to comment to the Guardian but earlier announced that it would pay the medical expenses for those injured in the incident. Reverend Sam Mc-Caanan told journalists that the church was “devastated”. “We have to do a thorough work around this to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The stampede came two weeks after Nigeria-based Joshua made a rare personal appearance in Ghana, prompting tens of thousands of people to travel to the 1 500 capacity church to catch a glimpse of the self-styled “prophet”. The event created a crisis for the security services, bringing large parts of the capital Accra to a standstill.

Joshua is one of the most prominent pastors in Africa with a growing number of followers around the world. The church has branches in London and Athens, as well as Accra, and Ghana’s late president John Atta Mills, who died last year, was a prominent follower, whilst a host of other public figures and celebrities claim to have been healed by the pastor. But he has attracted controversy for his significant wealth – with American magazine Forbes estimating that the pastor was worth up to $15-million, and for the sale of products including anointing water and car stickers to people hoping to free themselves from poverty.

“I personally believe there is a level of exploitation going on here, with churches selling things like anointing water and car stickers,” said Apostle Samuel Yaw Antwi, general secretary of the Ghana Charismatic and Pentecostal Council. “Jesus Christ never sold any of these things.”

Belief in the healing powers of pastors and special oils and waters which they claim to have blessed is widespread in Ghana, with products often sold for a profit. “I myself have bought the anointing water, and I have seen the miracles it performs,” said Adanvor. “My father was suffering from pain in his leg. When I sprayed the water, and after praying, the pain went away.”

“It’s like in Jesus’ time,” Adanvor added. “He did a lot of miracles so a lot of people followed him. Now we see that God can manifest again. When people come to the church, if they pray and they believe, they are healed.”

(A screenshot of a broadcast on Emmanuel TV)
(A screenshot of a broadcast on Emmanuel TV)

In addition to purchasing anointing water and other products, members of the church tithe by contributing 10% of their monthly income, and also give offerings at church services. However, worshippers say that the church is popular because it does not demand payment for healing – a practice common among other churches in the region.

“The problem we have in this country is the type of Christianity people are practising whereby, instead of seeking to know God through his work and a relationship with the holy spirit which is assured to every Christian, are running after signs of miracles,” said Antwi.

“People want instant solutions to their problems, just like they want instant coffee. If anybody comes along offering instant answers to financial or health challenges, people want to go for it. But the Bible warns Christians about that.”

Afua Hirsch for the Guardian Africa Network

Saved by education: A Somali woman’s story

Growing up in Mogadishu in the late 80s in a house full of young single women, the standard dress code for us was a traditional costume called a dirac (a long transparent loose dress), worn with an underskirt, bra and a light shawl. Women did not cover their hair until they were married. My aunts were allowed to date once they turned 16. There were only two rules: date men who had cars so they could pick them up and drop them off, and be back home before 10pm. When their potential suitors came to fetch them, they would politely greet family members with the customary “Galab wanaagsan” (good afternoon) or “Habeen wanaagsan” (good evening).

Just before they left for their dates, my aunts would burn some of my grandmother’s homemade unsi (incense) and apply it under their clothes for a long-lasting patchouli-mixed-with-vanilla-like sweet scent. It was amazing. I would sit in the room with them and hope for some of that perfume to get onto my clothes and hair. I often tried on their beautiful, multi-coloured diracs and high heels. I could not wait to turn 16, get my hair highlighted and straightened just like my aunts, and go on dates.

But in 1990 the civil war rudely interrupted my plans and, at the age of 13, I fled Somalia with my family and thousands of others. There was no more talk among young women about dates, fashion and hairstyles. All I was left with were three younger siblings to look after, a disabled and unemployed father, and desperate poverty. My world was turned upside down and I had to find something else to look forward to, now that my aunts were married off and I was the eldest female in the house.

During 1991 and 1992, we lived in Eastleigh, then one of Nairobi’s slums populated by other Somalis also escaping the civil war. My focus in life changed considerably during this time. I realised I had only two options to escape poverty and the miserable living conditions I found myself in: marry or study. Most of the women in my family only studied as far as high school, and I was not impressed with how their lives turned out after they got married. They seemed unhappy, and some of them were even beaten by their husbands.

To me, marriage seemed like a trap. Women were burdened with too many babies and no time to enjoy life. I was also surprised by the rise of a strict version of Islam that had women get rid of their colourful and beautiful diracs and wear ugly umbrellas. The music stopped, perfume became haraam (forbidden)  and “Subax wanaagsan” (good morning) was replaced with the Islamic greeting of “Assalamu alaykum”. It seemed that our Somali culture and way of life was erased, overnight.

The only way to escape this systematic silencing of women and the oppressive new culture was to study my way out of the slum. Despite wearing a hijab (forced on me by my father and “society”), I registered for the cheapest and only English classes I could afford. They were held in the local church a couple of blocks away from the dingy two-bedroom flat I shared with my dad, three siblings and five other relatives. This initially caused a lot of heated arguments with our Somali neighbours. How can a Muslim girl in hijab enter a church?! Where are her father and male relatives to stop and discipline her? I calmly tried to explain that I was attending English classes and not going to the church to pray. What I could not say out loud (my first lesson in carefully picking my battles) was that I did not care much for their opinion and there was nothing they could do to stop me. If I could not wear the beautiful Somali dirac, put highlights in my hair, and look forward to dates, then I was going to find other ways to get excited about life. What better way than learning English as part of my get-out-of-poverty strategy – and irritating the self-appointed moral police at the same time?

Fatuma Abdulahi.
Fatuma Abdulahi.

My lucky break came in mid-1992, a few months into my English classes. A British charity, The Hugh Pilkington Trust, was sponsoring refugee students to complete their war-interrupted studies and offered free English classes. My kind and dedicated Kenyan English teacher encouraged me to apply and told me that if I did well, they would send me abroad to complete my studies! In addition, the charity gave students a small monthly stipend to help them make ends meet so they could focus on their studies. This was the ticket I had been praying for. I threw myself into that English class like my life depended on it; I listened to the BBC World Service religiously; I told my siblings that from then on I would not speak anything but English. Everyone thought I had gone mad but I had a plan and nothing was going to stop me.

A year after I enrolled in the class, I won a scholarship to attend the prestigious United World College, an education movement comprising 12 international schools and colleges. I had to choose from three colleges in Swaziland, Canada and Hong Kong. I did not know where Hong Kong was, but I knew where Swaziland was and I wanted to get the hell out of Africa. All I experienced in this continent was war, poverty and stifling cultures. Many Somalis were immigrating to Canada, so that was a no-go. I needed a break from Somalis also. I asked about Hong Kong and how far it was from both Somali culture and Islam, and when they told me it was the furthest from both, my decision was made!

I studied in Hong Kong for two years and obtained an International Baccalaureate (IB) pre-university diploma. I went on to receive undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in politics in the United Kingdom, also on full scholarships. Studying, living and working abroad widened my perspectives. After nearly 20 years away, I have returned to Africa for good, grateful for the wide open spaces and eager to contribute to the changes necessary in Somali culture so the next generation of Somali girls lead better lives.

Fatuma Abdulahi blogs at postcardfromafrica.blogspot.com. Connect with her on Twitter