The Nigerian Faith Healer at the Center of Zimbabwe's Political Battle

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Allies of Robert Mugabe have labeled T.B. Joshua, the prominent televangelist, a "Satanist."

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HIV/AIDS patient Miss Mary Udoh receives "miraculous healing" from Prophet T.B. Joshua of the synagogue Church For All Nations during a service at Ikotun-Egbe district in Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria.(Reuters).

Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity are powerful forces in sub-Saharan politics. So, too, is the belief in prophecy and sorcery.

In Zimbabwe, it is tense times, with uncertainty about President Robert Mugabe's health, the dates of the next election, and whether constitutional and other reforms will be achieved. Taken together, faith and politics are the context for the Zimbabwean partisan wrangling over a Nigerian Pentecostal preacher.

Zimbabwean prime minister and opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has allegedly invited the Nigerian televangelist and faith healer Temitope Balogun ('TB') Joshua to Harare to be the guest speaker on Africa Day, May 25, a "National Day of Prayer." In response, the police, dominated by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, are pulling out all of the stops to prevent the visit. A senior police officer accuses Joshua of being a "false prophet," and screened at the Harare police headquarters a video that dwells on Joshua's alleged womanizing, titled "T.B. Joshua's Evil Doings Finally Revealed." Close Mugabe ally, the schismatic Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga, accuses Joshua of "Satanism" and of being "diabolical." Previously, other pro ZANU-PF clergy have claimed on state-controlled media that Joshua's preaching is "judgmental, partisan, and unorthodox." The apparent anger of Mugabe's supporters also reflects that many Zimbabweans, like others in sub-Sahara Africa, treat prophesy, "Satanism," and the "diabolical" with deadly seriousness. Hence, the denunciation of Joshua as a "false" prophet.

Joshua earlier prophesized that "an African leader" would die in sixty days. In fact, the president of Malawi died shortly thereafter. More recently, he has prophesied that another "African leader" will fall "critically ill' and be hospitalized soon.

For Mugabe, who reportedly suffers from prostate cancer and seeks medical treatment in Singapore regularly, this "prophecy" is probably too close to home. It doesn't help that Joshua has apparently been invited to Zimbabwe by Tsvangirai who might somehow benefit from Joshua's charismatic preaching whenever the elections are held.

An estimated 15,000 attend Joshua's Nigerian services on Sundays, at his Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). He also runs Emanuel TV, which broadcasts via satellite and Internet. He has affiliated congregations in Ghana, the UK, South Africa, and Greece. Zimbabwe police are reportedly investigating a "fraudster" church in Harare allegedly linked to Joshua. His faith healing ministrations have included South African rugby players.

This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

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John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, is a Senior Fellow for Africa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid. He blogs at Africa in Transition.

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