African viewpoint: False prophets?

A church congregation in Accra, Ghana In Ghana the growth of churches far outpaces growth in any other sector

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene, who is on a visit to the US, wonders how to spot a charlatan.

Top of my list of things that should be kept private are sex and religion.

Trouble is, usually what looks like or starts off as a story about sex or religion turns out to be really about money or politics or power.

For example, I am not at all sure that the statistics department in Ghana includes church activities in any of the figures it releases every once in a while.

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He told the assembled room that he was in a position to intercede with God on our behalf and our wishes would be granted on condition we paid $900”

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I suspect the department probably has real difficulty measuring "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen", which is how faith is defined in the good book.

And yet it is generally agreed that religion is the most active sector of the economy in most African countries.

Certainly in Ghana the growth of churches far outpaces growth in any other sector.

I usually try to keep out of all discussions about this phenomenon because I have the added difficulty of not being able to tell the real from the fake when it comes to priests, pastors and prophets.

The really worrying bit is that it would seem that the priests themselves are unable or unwilling to tell us who are the fakes among their ranks.

If I have suspicions about the bona fides of a man passing himself off as a medical doctor, I know exactly where to go to find out if he is fake or the real thing.

The Ghana Medical Association has a register and so does the Ghana Bar Association, where you can find out if someone is indeed a lawyer before you hand over your money to the fellow.

So who should determine who a fake priest or pastor or prophet is?

Full steam of indignation

This is suddenly important for me because of an encounter friends of mine and I had this past week in the New York area.

For reasons that we do not need to get into now, we went to an event at which a visiting Ghanaian priest was presiding.

This man owns a church in Ghana and was introduced as a prophet and claimed to have among his adherents, a most important man in Ghana.

Pedestrians walk past a banner with a message that reads "Judgement Day 21 May 21 2011" at a street in Manila on 21 May 2011 Some Harold Camping followers donated savings to advertise the world's end

He told the assembled room that he was in a position to intercede with God on our behalf and our wishes would be granted on condition we paid $900 (£556).

The catch was that only 29 people could benefit from this special prayer.

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In my book, this man was a con man preying on the vulnerable”

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He said there might be some among us who would hesitate to pay the $900 because it was money that had been put aside for rent, but he assured us we were better off giving him the money for the prayers than using it to pay rent or whatever other plans we had made for the money.

Mind you it had to be $900, $1,000 would not do and since he insisted only 29 people could be prayed for, I had no idea what would happen if 31 volunteers were to walk up to the front of the congregation.

According to his own testimony he had already made stops in London and two other cities in America and had plans for two more cities before going back to Ghana.

In my book, this man was a con man preying on the vulnerable and I was working myself into a full steam of indignation when it occurred to me that I am visiting a country where a man recently made millions of dollars for prophesying the end of the world - in which case, $900 from 29 men was very minor fare.

Maybe one day soon this man will become like one of the very rich Nigerian priests about whom I read last week.

Now these are multimillionaires with private jets and everything else that goes to define seriously rich people.

And I suspect nobody calls them fake.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    If you are interested, I have a link with a church from Ghana that moved also to UK and USA. When I read the article, this church reminds me about it. A so called "pastor" in Facebook from UK and Ghana, fooled many women with me. He hides that he is married and give advice, especially to women. Manipulation,sex, God, bible are his tools to reach his goals.It takes knowledges and actions to stop

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Interesting article! Ghana is one of the countries I work with (tutor online). I was in Ghana and saw how especially male leaders are treated like rock stars. Some leaders gets obsessed in their own needs fulfilled with followers. It´s common to use women outside marriage, when they have churches around the world. Awareness about sectarianism and fake pastors, are low and how to stop it.See FB!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Especially in nigeria,any one that calls himself a prophet or priest a normal nigerian is willing to give that person all of his hard earned money. Its really absurd normal nigerian is willing to give that person all of his hard earned money. Its really absurd

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    "The mystique surrounding baseball suggests that psychic returns are often a non-trivial component of utility." --The Southern Economic Journal

    The writer was being entirely too hesitant. The psychic returns ARE the utility, for which people pay through the nose. That's what makes organized religion an industry, like professional sports. Humans are dog-like desperate to belong to a pack.

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    Comment number 60.

    we are living in a time when people especially as Christians are systematically without realising that we are not worshipping Jesus or God but are instead worshipping our priest,pastors and churches, therefore this is becoming a business for the fraudsters and fake men of God but are actually men making money out of the Lord and we are letting them do this.

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    Comment number 59.

    They will always preach miracle & money! Money!! Money!!! then Miracle! Miracle!! Miracle!!!. They act as if they can predict the future & tomorroiw. These are the fake ones & in Nigeria they are many both Moslems & Christains. The prey on the weak & gulliable non-beleiver who do not have confidence & faith. Some are former con-artists, fraudestars & organize crime figures or Oversea deportees.

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    Comment number 58.

    The Bible says, "my people are destroy for lack of knowledge" and "Thy word is a Light to my path and Lamp unto my feet". Anyone that fails to pay proper attention to the Unchanging word of God could easily fall into the trap of those so called pastors or prophets. We are at the end time so every body should be careful and watchful for the wolves that are in sheep clothing. Shalom !

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Glad to know others are equally perplexed by wave of money driven pastors.pity that they feed off desperation of others.with that said, all great businesses are built on mastery of supply and demand.can't cry foul when we create environment for these 'pastors" to thrive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    People must learn to live in reality. Production should always precede consumption. If the so called prophets can intercede for others, let them start with themselves first for others to see. Seeing is believing. These guys are nothing other than greedy materialist scaming to live fat on other peoples' sweat. They need to be exposed and shamed.


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