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The lords of power, the gurus of politics

The Ten Commandments of the Bible as a constitution. This is what the Lord’s Liberation Army (LRA), led since 1987 by Joseph Kony, wants in Uganda. Brandishing the Holy Bible, the LRA has committed the worst atrocities on civilians in almost three decades of armed fighting killing, torturing, and mutilating millions, if not thousands, along the way.

In recent years, Joseph Kony and his cronies from the north of the Uganda withdrew from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo before being resurfacing in Central African Republic. Today, the LRA might have been reduced to less than three hundred, but the unsettling strength of this group of part-Christians, part-mystic combatants remains important enough in the region to mobilise troops of African and Western Union.

Christian extremists often don’t occupy the news headlines like their fellow Muslims, but they are no less dangerous to the security of the continent. Recently, the civil war in the Central African Republic quickly turned into sectarian clashes. The Christian-dominated anti-Balaka, mostly Christians, killed the Muslim-dominated Seleka militants.

Fortunately, Christian extremism in Africa does not always take a bloody turn. In general, the most vehement preachers occupy the prayer halls and corridors of government palace rather than the battlefield. In many countries in West and Central Africa, the evangelical churches have indeed become a successful business and a key player in politics.

One of the figures of this multifaceted movement is “the prophet”. Temitope Balogun Joshua, better known under the name TB Joshua, is one of the most popular evangelical pastors on the continent even appearing on The Africa Report magazine’s list of the 50 most influential Africans in 2012. According to his website, he “washed the legs of the people on the streets of Lagos” and reigns today on the synagogue “Church of All Nations”. His personal fortune is estimated at $10-15 million, according to The Africa Report.

His programme is ambitious. His television – Emmanuel TV- promises to millions of viewers “changing lives, changing nations, changing the world”. His most famous followers include the late President of Ghana John Atta Mills, the former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangirai, and former first lady of Nigeria Patience Jonathan.

These politicians are not the only ones attracted by the sermons of evangelical pastors. The speeches of the former president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo and the current President of Benin Boni Yayi often borrow evangelists’ references. Many heads of state have pastor advisors who pay little attention to secularism.

Pentecostal movements take different forms in Africa. Arrived on the continent with the advent of Western missionaries, these denominations have taken more African varieties thereafter. Large churches in West and Central Africa were founded by Africans who followed the traditions of their countries. It is not uncommon, for example, to identify pentecostalism to local traditions. The expansion of these churches is such that some, such as the Nigerian “Church of God of the Christians redeemed” is proud to be present in 178 countries. In Nigeria, for example, we now speak of “super-ministers”, a select group of pastors whose fortunes have grown in the last few years. On the contrary, some pastors pay back a large part of donations of the faithful to educational programs especially in areas where state support is non-existent.

In this context, the border with politics is often tenuous. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the popularity of the “churches of revival” has soared to a point where many councilors are courted by candidates seeking election for office. Not surprising when you consider that a church can mobilise thousands of faithful who are ready to follow the advice of their pastor.

Just like the popularity of the Muslim authorities in Nigeria, evangelist movements often draw support from the disenchantment with the political institutions of their country’s populations. The failure of policymakers often guarantees the success of preachers.

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Source: Tana Forum

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