African viewpoint: False prophets?
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.
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”
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.
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.
In my book, this man was a con man preying on the vulnerable”
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.
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