Africa’s Money Prophets – Flashy Cars, Houses and Rands

yacht
Tatoosh, the 303 foot Yatch owned by billionaire businessman, investor, philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

“This is where we are at right now, as a whole. No one is left out of the loop. We are experiencing a reality based on a thin veneer of lies and illusions. A world where greed is our God and wisdom is sin, where division is key and unity is fantasy,
where the ego-driven cleverness of the mind is praised, rather than the intelligence of the heart.”
— Bill Hicks

This post is a rarity for me because I don’t comment on such matters. But after reading it, hopefully you’ll understand why I’ve decided to write it.

If you are Malawian, then the chances are you know who ‘Prophet’ Bushiri is. But someone you may not know as well is another pastor who lately has been causing a lot of controversy on social media. For my own reasons I’ve chosen not to mention his name on this website, so I’ll refer to him merely as the Pastor.

So, it seems the Pastor got into an argument with another person (or a group of people) online, and began posting photos of him posing next to expensive cars, and big houses, and generally indulging in conduct characterised by exhibiting of his wealth (complete with challenges / rewards of thousands of Rands to persons who owned similar cars).

If it was an ordinary person doing that, surely no raised eyebrows would feature (why would anyone care?), but why would a respectable Faith Minister, a man who is a religious leader, to whom hundreds, possibly thousands look up to, and who quite a few regard as a ‘man of God’ go out of his way to flaunt his wealth? What had gone into him? Isn’t this in the same category as that woman who began ‘preaching’ with her breasts out… to appeal to a certain audience…??

Imagine for a second an old testament scene, whereby Elijah the prophet, fresh from his thunderous encounter on Mount Carmel comes into a market in Haifa, aboard a golden chariot, pulled by healthy and well-built white stallions. And upon disembarking, Elijah stands proudly in front of the villagers of Haifa, chin raised, chest pushed out, feet asunder, arms akimbo, posing for anyone who cared to marvel at his expensive chariot made of gold, a prophet of prophets who had demonstrated God’s miraculous powers with tangible heroic acts; here stands a man who God listened to; here stands a hero who has vanquished Baal and his prophets to smithereens, look how God had blessed him!

How unlikely is such a scenario?

For a man who despite all the evidence of the supernatural, didn’t command a single flake of mana to fall from heaven, to quell his hunger, but instead asked a poor widow to bring him a morsel of bread (the last food she had), believing in God’s miraculous acts of provision to sustain her, such a scenario on the markets of Haifa is most unlikely.

So, to say I was surprised when I saw the photos of this pastor is an understatement. And several other Christians I know expressed similar sentiments.

To put it all into context, there is a traditional and conservative Christian doctrine in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa which implies that people who serve in various capacities as priests, Faith ministers or religious leaders should shun wealth, and live a generally humble lowly or at least unglamorous existence. At least until a few years ago, there was such a doctrine. Growing up in Malawi for example, this message was communicated to believers in various forms, including emphasizing that christians should strive to accumulate their ‘wealth’ in heaven (where moths cannot destroy it) by living an exemplary, godly and spiritual life here on earth; a life that shunned all manner of sin from alcohol consumption, theft, adultery…and suchlike, but instead sought after righteousness and godliness. I suspect that this doctrine in Malawi came from Christian missionaries who must have taught their congregations biblical stories such as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (or Jesus’ parable in Mathews 19, whereby he said its harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle). So, its likely that they had a degree of influence in depicting material wealth as something which a christian should shun; an undesirable that was incompatible with a holy and Christlike lifestyle.

To an extent, one can understand their thinking. Many of the missionaries were of a traditional and conservative persuasion, people who did not descend from families of wealth, but instead found their roots in the Lutheran reformation. And so it is highly likely that they perceived excess and wealth with the lens of the puritanical religious standards of such movements.

What is not so obvious are the intentions behind such a message, considering that across Europe (where most missionaries originated) the Church was not only one of the richest establishment, owning vast swathes of land, but also occupied a privileged position next to the European aristocracy and their Monarchies.

But putting all that aside, I believe that material want has huge disadvantages for a society like Malawi, not least that when already disadvantaged and maligned people become desperate, many can be pushed to commit offences – a situation that is clearly not desirable. 

So, even though the traditional notion of the pastor or priest being a shepherd of his/ her flock is equally valid for most christians, I don’t believe pastors should be poor in that they struggle to conduct the affairs of their households due to lack of money / resources. Indeed one reason for tithes and offering is to help priests, as informatively outlined here by one Richard Wayne Garganta, when he says

The church under agrarian law tithing had specific social, communal responsibilities as a matter of law such as a percentage being used to meet needs of the poor. [Deuteronomy 14:28-29 2 Chronicles 31:14-15 Nehemiah 13:12-13]  The church also, in some cases, gave pensions to certain members. [2 Chronicles 31:16-18]  The communal use and distribution of tithes was for the Levites, priests, stranger, sojourner, fatherless and widows. [Deuteronomy 26:12 and Deuteronomy 14:29]  ….

But is it right for a pastor to flaunt their wealth?

In the first Epistle of Paul to Timothy, we are told in no uncertain terms, in chapter 3 that:

…If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

In verse 5, he says:

For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

In James 3, we are told that:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

For those of us who identify with Christian values, at what point does the commandments of Jesus and his disciples become muddled with the pursuit of wealth/ personal gain?

I’m not a religious scholar so I wouldn’t give you a definitive answer, but after reading verses such as can be found here http://www.openbible.info/t…/pastors_authority_in_the_church, it’s clear enough not to leave me conflicted. I get the sense priests and pastors must be meek, humble, respectable … and generally above reproach. It seems the standard or threshold with which they will be held accountable – by God – is much higher than that of us non-ordained folk.

I don’t know the pastor in question on a personal level, and its possible he is a genuinely good and humble man, but after all the noise made about him on Social Media, including on Facebook, and after seeing the posts of him proudly posing next to expensive cars (as if to say look at me I’m rich, I’ve made it), I’m somewhat lost for words.

Is it that he doesn’t have the right advisers, was his account hacked, or is his judgement really that flawed – so much that he can’t see the repercussions of his actions? Because such actions couldn’t possibly be in line with the word of God as laid out in the Bible – whether you read into them directly or otherwise. There may not be anything wrong with him amassing wealth, but flaunting it has no theological justification to stand on??

Frankly this is something you expect Kanye West, Rick Ross or some other excitable rapper to do. You don’t expect Kenneth Copeland, Billy Graham, Joel Austin, Joyce Meyer or T.D Jakes to do such a thing (not that these Christian leaders are blameless, perfect, or even my standard of uprightness).

But why does it even matter?

Because it doesn’t really give the right impression of religion, African pastors in general, or even of African people to outsiders/ unbelievers. And it erodes the important values in a society.

How?

Well, what message does it send to his congregation, or to society at large? If a 15-year-old member of his church, a young girl saw those pictures, and read those posts, what message will she get from it? Will they get a positive message about a man who was doing the work of God?

What about an aetheist who sees those pictures, what will they think?

I hope this post will not offend my readers but this is not an unwarranted criticism. I’m just wondering whether such behaviour on the part of an influential man will ultimately help those who follow and listen to him. On a continent with so many poor people, most of whom are vulnerable and look to religion as a source of inspiration, their sustenance from the stress and deprivation in their communities, a religious leader should be a uniting force.

Mammom - Copyright of http://www.kirsisalonen.com
Depiction of Mammon – Copyright of http://www.kirsisalonen.com

On a different note, doesn’t such behaviour reinforce a consumerist narrative in society – that says what’s important above everything else is riches and wealth? An attitude that encourages individualistic attitudes, fueling greed, and selfishness, as opposed to love, kindness, inclusiveness, sharing and working with a communal sense of purpose? Doesn’t it diverge from the doctrine that the church is the body of Christ.

At what point does the gospel of prosperity become the worship of Mammon?

Isn’t all this similar (on a micro-level) to what David A. Stockman, in his New York Times Best seller The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America  calls ‘a rogue central bank that has abandoned every vestige of sound money…Turning Wall Street into a reckless, dangerous, and greed-riven casino..’ . That those who should have known better, those who had the knowledge, and were entrusted with responsibility, created a monster.

What about the virtues of community, of family and charity, helping one another,…. of righteousness. What Jesus talks about in Mathews 5… where is the space for that when your pastor is posing next to limousines?

I think in our countries across Southern Africa, where people are struggling with poverty, bad governance, corruption and suchlike, ‘men of God’ (who often wield a lot of influence) should behave responsibly. Using their gifts and resources not only to help their flock become financially independent (which I admit may require a degree of motivation), but to heal and ‘set captives free’, and ensure that they are wholesome in other aspects of their lives. This is important so that their followers can contribute positively to society. That to me is befitting of the duty of a servant of God, and if you look at St Paul, and his epistles… such seems to be a considerable part of his message to the church. 

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

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Personal Devil’s Advocate

truth

A good writer of history is a guy who is suspicious. ~ Jim Bishop

The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you, but the kisses of an enemy are nothing but lies. – Proverbs 27: 6

I’ve got a  friend who in many respects is a complete opposite of me. He takes pleasure from calling himself my nemesis (somehow that makes him feel good??), he’s not religious, is culturally and physically different, has an attitude to life that is way too serious, has no identifiable hobbies – other than time in the gym. He doesn’t take holidays or relax, hates Tv, hates travelling, doesn’t drink alcohol, hates the sun,  in fact this guy is different from me in almost every imaginable way, other than the fact that I listen to a small selection of the same type of music he listens to, and that we view technology through similar lenses.

He’s much older than I am, almost twice as old, caucasian, and became an acquaintance a few years ago when fate caused our paths to cross. Long story cut short, we are now friends, which to an extent also means he does some  things I find somewhat annoying. Things that drive me nuts. Conversely, it appears my habits at times also get the better of him, and after heated fits of rage, and much shouting and swearing, everyone eventually calms down. Sometimes the results to these rage bouts include periods where he will not even answer my phone (or me his), and can last for up to weeks. But most times, I have a sense that he means well, even if at times it appears selfishly so. My ex girlfriend once said ‘if he were a woman, there would be an affair to worry about’ . That’s how close we have become.

I’m giving this example because he speaks his mind, and is not influenced by historical biases or myths. He is not given to lies or hypocrisy, and his input into my life has taught me a number of very important lessons.

A typical conversation with him either involves his antagonizing me or his poking holes in my thinking. As troublesome as it can sometimes be, a perpetual devil’s advocate can find many faults, most times way before they occur, saving one unnecessary mistakes. Indeed wisdom can come from the most unexpected of places.

He likes to bash at my faith (which is fine – some people can’t be kind to things they don’t understand). If not then he’s ever attempting to ‘educate’ me in one thing or another, which I know sounds paternalistic and condescending, and I can imagine could be offensive (or annoying) to others, but I often patiently play along.

Of everything he has said, he has repeatedly informed me that certain people in Britain are horrible;  the heists crafted in the name of tax planning –  behaviour which he says depresses him because he sees the bigger picture and how it worsens Britain’s economic situation in the long run. Yet he’ll often remind me – when I criticise public policy – that Britain has done more to help the world than to destroy the world. So he is patriotic. But he is convinced that at the end of it all, there will be no winners as people will destroy the world anyway, so our efforts at conservation and restraint although noble, are futile?? Which is an incredible thing to say, for someone who get’s extremely annoyed when he sees people litter…

oldman-wisdom

Among the crazy and incredible things he has said in the past are a few which stand out quite remarkably:

(1) ‘Most people are two-faced, and don’t trust what some people say because often they are saying it to influence you, to the benefit of them alone.’ What I think he means is there are too many oafs in Britain, so beware…

(2)  He says that his opinions are driven not by anything he wants from me or my family, but because he knows that nobody else  will give me the whole truth. I think what he means is that he thinks that no other white person I know will tell me what he tells me?? But obviously just because one white person speaks one way, doesn’t mean what he says is true. Although, it’s probably true that there are people who think in the ways he describes.

(3) He says the major ‘cultural differences’ between white and non-white people boils down to one group which  is bent, whether legally or illegally, to keep all other groups ‘subjugated’, and the other group which inherently and historically come from cultures that are more caring of their friends and accepting of their neighbours. Apparently, that is why you hear about all the immigration noises. He says its down to greed, jealousies, selfishness, and power, because when 5 to 6 million British people are in other countries, its ingenious to be complaining about immigration because what about if every country in quid pro quo manner decided that the British citizens in their countries must be expelled or  thrown out?. This friend says a worrying number of British people  are only happy to have its citizens live in other countries, and benefit from it, but not other country’s citizens living in Britain, which he says is as ‘selfish and predatory as it gets, and the definition of hypocrisy‘. He says I should leave Britain because of this fact alone, because as long as I live here, ‘the hostilities‘ will continue in one form or another, mostly covert. What he probably means is that there are some politicians given to popular sentiment and whose actions and populist policies have divided communities in introducing hate for the foreigner. He probably has a bit of truth in this?? But to generalise that all white people are hostile to foreigners is a bit unfair. Or maybe he is saying it because, like he says, some British people don’t want foreigners in  their country, so maybe he’s one of these kind of people??

(4) In addition, he correctly says that too many people in Britain are only interested in your money. It depresses him, the whole ‘money obsession’ and he has to take antidepressants for that. He says if he becomes rich, one of the first things he will do is build a homeless shelter, because those people have been are neglected. He has been homeless before, so he knows what that world looks like. I have written briefly about this money thing before on this blog, here, after a chance encounter with one Ghanaian.Its the same thing which Jagadish Chandra Bose meant when he wrote:

” This multi-millionaire has come to me like a beggar for making some more profits. Friend, you would have seen the greed and hankering after money in this country, – money, money – what a terrible all pervasive greed ! If I once get sucked into this terrible trap, there wont’ be any escape ! See, the research that I have been dedicated to doing, is above commercial profits. I am getting older – I am not getting enough time to do what I had set out to do — I refused him”

(5) My friend also hurts from the fact that the standard of education for young people in primary and secondary schools is lagging behind other less developed countries. He seems to think the teaching system is too soft, and young people are not being equipped with knowledge and skills, instead they are taught to pass exams, so they leave school ill prepared for higher education, or even for vocations, and after university, they don’t have many transferable skills, which puts off employers as employers have to spend too much time and resources in ‘plugging the holes

(6) He hates the waste, ‘spending competition’ that’s the words he uses. Apparently, a thrifty, recycling approach would do, and save western economies huge amounts of resources, from food to money. Similarly, he thinks Britain should grow more of its own food, in local urban farms  and local greenhouses and not ‘import things as far as from Argentina‘. Again, I agree with this to a large extent.

bbc-1

(7) He says if it wasn’t for his children and wife, he would leave the UK, go and live in a monastery among monks somewhere far because ‘the bullshit being peddled about is paralyzing‘ . He doesn’t watch British news as he says ‘it’s severely biased, it’s not even funny and even a blind person who can’t see will tell you that’ . I agree that families can make it difficult for one to determine their own life, but a monastery is probably too radical an approach.  But his language  in re blind people is clearly inappropriate.

(8) He thinks robots will take over the world, controlled by their masters – ‘the super rich‘. It sounds like an orweilian plot from a movie, but you can never know what the future will look like. On this point, I have some reason to agree with him. I too believe that machines will undertake more and more of the tasks human have done, or historically used to do. But to what extent will this happen?? And how safe in the long run will it be is yet to be seen.

(9) Finally, he says the world economy has been ‘swallowed by masters of deceit‘. That if you follow the chain of debt, you’ll soon get to the ‘mega banks’ who control events, create wars, and make trillions out of all the chaos they create, behind aliases, oil companies and other ‘pawns’. ‘To these people it’s not about money any longer’ he says ‘It’s about power, they don’t care whether you or me dies, they don’t even care whether the US president lives or dies, all they care about is the sustenance of this deceptive machinery that keeps them in control. They have enough money they don’t need any more, so it’s not about profit anymore, but control.’

As much as I hate to admit it, I like this guy, because in my view he’s real and honest, and doesn’t care whether what he says upsets me or not. And since I always do my own independent research before agreeing with any opinion, a lot of his views have a credible basis. There are hints of truth in some of these things, at least that’s what my research shows, although quite where fact becomes conspiracy theory is debatable.

In the past, this man has come to my rescue in many instances, when some Malawians have ‘shied away’ from helping me…and there are too many examples to list here. Whether he does so selfishly knowing that I will return the favour, I do not know. What I do know is there exists an interdependence between us. He has accepted me and my family and never judged me (at least I don’t feel judged). I have accepted him and his family and don’t judge him – even though sometimes I question his mannerisms. He does things for me and my family, I do things for him and his family. I try to understand his world, his friends, his way of life, and it seems he also tries to understand my world. He says he knows that what I do for him, nobody else can do for him. What he must mean is that nobody can do for him at that cost, so again, questions of motive behind his assistance could arise?? But since he does things for me aswell, without pay, I doubt that’s of much relevance.

And considering everything he has said in the past, maybe it’s not too bad an idea to have a pessimist who plays the devil’s advocate card time and again over you; someone who tries to show you (or pretends to show you) what the dark side of the world really looks like (assuming they quote facts). I believe that we live in a world where duplicity is more common than before and since not all people one meets are genuine (or what they claim to be) , maybe one needs a dose of error check about always.

Especially if one is a migrant living in a foreign country. A country where popular sentiment against foreigners is often negative (which is probably everywhere in the western world), and at times hostile. In which case, maybe you should get yourself a personal devil’s advocate, who says it as it is, unsanitized, and will put things into perspective – whether it hurts you or not.

Isn’t it better to have that from a ‘friend’ than be surrounded only by dreamy optimists who half the time choose to ignore the reality, and speak only what is sweet to the ear?

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