Ruth Maclean, Malawi
When the President of Malawi died last week, the country rejoiced. Violently crushing peaceful protests, throwing donors out of the country and lining up his brother to succeed him, President Bingu wa Mutharika was beginning to resemble Robert Mugabe of neighbouring Zimbabwe.
The President’s death last Thursday appeared to be a miraculous solution to their problems. But perhaps they should have seen it coming.
On February 5, Prophet T.B. Joshua predicted, live on the hit Nigerian Christian channel Emmanuel TV, that an African leader would die within 60 days.
“We should pray for one African head of state, what I say, president, against the sickness that will take life,” he told a 15,000-strong congregation and millions of viewers. He said that he was in negotiations with God and that prayer might save the president. He did not say which one.
“I’m just being used by God Almighty,” Mr Joshua told The Times. “I had to send the message … I cannot say more than that. I will not say somebody will die. I’m not God.”
Many thought that Mugabe, who is 88 and constantly quashing rumours that he is sick, was a safe bet. President Mutharika, although 78, seemed to have considerable life in him. Enough, at least, to get rid of Joyce Banda, the Vice-President, whom he threw out of his party when she refused to back his attempts to line up his brother as his successor.
After Mr Mutharika’s heart attack, clandestine negotiations in the top echelons of his party went on for two days and the Malawian people were not told whether he was dead.
Ms Banda was finally sworn in on Saturday. She is a firm devotee of Mr Joshua, whose latest prophecy is the bizarre crown on a number of “miracles” performed to her benefit.
It is well known in Malawi that when he suffered a serious stroke she took her husband to see the prophet and believes that Mr Joshua’s prayers cured him.
“In Malawi, T.B. Joshua is a person that is dearly loved,” she said before her latest prayers were answered. “I must say that I’m addicted, because every Sunday … I sit all day watching Emmanuel TV.”
Mr Mutharika’s death came hot on the heels of Mr Joshua’s repetition of his prophecy last Sunday, when he narrowed down the location of the presidential demise, eliminating West Africa: “I’m seeing a sudden death. This is as a result of sickness. Quote me. The Lord showed me the country . . . this is not even in West Africa.”
Although he is often vague and never names his subject, Mr Joshua’s purported predictions range from the deaths of Michael Jackson and Kim Jong Il to the London riots last summer.
“You remember when I said your country will be burnt and crash, you never listened!” he told The Times crossly. He does not rule out helping again, however. “You want to know what is going to happen? I will make an appointment with God.”