By Hjoe Moono
Since the introduction of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance, there has been anxiety from the public regarding its role. The recent events around the prohibition of foreign ‘Prophets’ and pronouncements by the Ministry bordering on what are deemed ‘Fake Prophets’ has left the public with mixed feelings. There are questions hoovering on whether the Ministry’s role is, in addition to working on Zambian morals is also tasked with regulating Churches in Zambia.
The brewing fight between foreign ‘Prophets’ with spiritual interests in Zambia and local Papas and men of God provides an interesting parallel to the economic principle or protectionism in trade. This essay highlights this similarity and shows the role of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance in the fight of Prophets as one that can be abused by local Men of God in their competition against foreign ‘Prophets’.
The Basics: Infant Industry Arguments for Protectionism
In economics, there is an argument that countries put forward to stop the importation of goods from other countries with the aim of promoting their local industries – it is called the Infant Industry Argument. This argument is based on the rationale for “Trade Protectionism” – That is, let us protect our local ‘infant’ or ‘developing’ companies from foreign competition by putting barriers to stop the influx of foreign manufactured goods that can be manufactured locally. By barring foreign produced goods, local demand would be channeled exclusively to locally produced goods which would thus promote their growth. Once the local companies have grown strong enough, the government can now remove any trade barriers to allow foreign goods and thus also open foreign markets for locally produced goods. So, for example, what the Minister of Agriculture announced a couple of months back that all imports of fruits and vegetables should be stopped fits into this argument – so that all shops should now stock only locally produced goods.
However, this policy of protecting infant industries has been with mixed success as in many cases, it has been abused. Local companies that have failed to grow into competitive international export companies have lobbied politicians in many countries to impose export bans so that they are the only local supplies – in exchange for share of profits to be made by having exclusivity in local supply. The economics literature has lots of examples to show how, even when even when infant industry protection is well–intentioned, most governments have found it hard to know which industries to protect, and as examples would show, some well and heavily protected industries have failed to grow. One cited example is that of Brazil1, which during the 1980s enforced strict controls on the import of foreign computers in an effort to grow its own “infant” computer industry. This industry never matured; the technological gap between Brazil and the rest of the world actually widened, while the protected industries merely copied low-end foreign computers.
So, bringing this to Zambia, local companies would lobby to the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry and complain of ‘Cheap Imported Foreign Goods’ that hurt the growth of local industries. The Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, having a mandate to support local economic growth will issue a directive (SI) putting restrictions on the importation of foreign goods. The restrictions would range from the quality of goods produced and the need to have been certified to having foreign companies partner with local companies if they want to supply. In extreme cases, containers of foreign goods headed to Zambia would be turned away from entering Zambia at the border if the quality standard does not meet the standards set by the Zambian government. The other restriction is on quantity – that only a certain amount of foreign goods would be allowed in the country. This way, the local companies would enjoy little or no competition and thus make money.
The Fight of ‘Prophets’ and Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Intervention
Having the background explained above, I now want you to appreciate that the recent fights we have witnessed between Zambian ‘Prophets’, Papas and ‘Bishops’ – Not Catholic Bishops – and Foreign Prophets, in particular Ubert Angel and Prophet Bushiri is not a spiritual fight between ‘True’ and ‘Fake’ men of God. No. It is a fight for ‘Market’ of ‘Souls’. The ‘Souls’ here are Zambian Church Goers who seek healing, blessings, prophesies for jobs, marriages and elections victory. These ‘Souls’, given Zambia’s economic situation (High poverty, high inequality, high unemployment, frequent elections) are many and are willing to spend their incomes in exchange for the Prophets and Bishops’ blessings. It therefore makes Pentecostal ‘Religion’ a very lucrative business in Zambia.
Inspired by the private jets flying ‘Bishops’ and ‘Prophets’ of Nigeria, many Zambian ‘Bishops’ and ‘Prophets’ too have upped their game by living in opulence and glamour as they preach to their flocks on ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Miracle Money’. It is not strange lately to see our once humble ‘Bishops’ & ‘Prophets’ driving the latest Mercedes Benz cars and living in the most luxurious of mansions with body guards. Competition among these prophets even locally has been fierce – from who has the largest and most beautiful church to who holds the largest “Prayer & Worship” rallies.
However, trouble began when foreign ‘Prophets’ started attracting more ‘Souls’ than local ‘Prophets’. First many Zambians started flying to Nigeria for healing and to receive blessings and prophesies about their future. High profile Zambians have flocked to Nigeria, especially to T B Joshua’s church. Notable among them was second Republican President Dr. Fredrick Chiluba(MHSRIP). Ethiopian Airways and Kenyan Airways used to be filled with many Zambian pilgrims flocking to and from Nigerian for prayers.
Noting the growing ‘demand’ from Zambia, many Nigerian Prophets started establishing Zambian Branches of their Churches to reduce on costs of travel for Zambian ‘Souls’. So, within a short space of time we saw a huge influx of Nigerian ‘Prophets’. So those local ‘Souls’ who used to travel to Nigerian now flocked these Zambian Branches of Nigerian Churches, and since they could save on flights, they gave handsomely to the Nigerian Prophets in exchange for blessings. Noting the enormous authority that these Prophets have, many of our local politicians turned to them for blessings and association, especially in election years.
However, our local pastors who, until recently seem not to have attracted strong prophetic and healing powers, started losing numbers in their churches as their flock fled to Nigerian prophets. This made many Nigerian ‘Prophets’ very popular and wealthy in Zambia from Zambian tithe and offerings while our local pastors continued to be in the same buildings built since independence or still renting government schools as Church venues while Nigerian pastors managed, in a short space, to build mega churches and afford fancy homes and cars.
As you can imagine, this did not sit well with our local ‘Bishops’ and ‘Prophets’. But what could they do? Nothing, beyond accusing Nigerians of being ‘Fake Bishops or Fake Prophets’ and hoping that Zambians would ‘Support their local Bishops and Prophets’ instead of foreigners who only came to Zambia to lie and get money.
When the President of the Sovereign Republic of Zambia, His Excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu, Commander of the Armed Forces created the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance and appointed Reverend Godfridah Sumali as Hon. Minister, an opportunity presented itself for our ‘Prophets’ to seek protection from the influx of ‘Fake’ Prophets. The Hon. Minister, acting in a similar fashion as a Minister of Commerce would do in implementing the ‘Infant Industry Argument’, is seemingly providing guidance on ‘Standards’ which foreign ‘Prophets’ have to meet before being allowed in Zambia to conduct their ‘business’. This is of course under the umbrella of enhancing ‘Morality’ in Zambia.
By blocking entry to foreign ‘Prophets’, the Hon. Minister is re-directing demand for spiritual services to local ‘Bishops’ and ‘Prophets’. This way, all the tithe and offering that would have gone to foreign ‘Prophets’ will now go to our local churches. This way, our local churches will grow, and our local prophets’ miracle prowess will grow without any foreign competition from Nigerian, Zimbabwean or Malawian prophets.
As with the economic infant industry argument, the Minister of Religious Affairs faces the challenge of which ‘Prophets’ and ‘Bishops’ to block from entering Zambia who might harm the business of locals or corrupt the morals of Zambians with their fake miracles. What is reassuring, however, is that the Minister herself is a Reverend and thus a woman of the cloth, and thus she may have direct links with God for guidance on which foreign pastors are real and which ones are fake. So far, however, it seems that only the flamboyant foreign Prophets like Seer 1 and Ubert Angel have faced the wrath of Zambian authorities. This should be good news to our local Prophets – many will turn to you now – Loko is Laka! Buy Zambian. Eat Zambian. Drink Zambian. Pray Zambian. Be Prayed for by a Zambian and of course, give tithe and offering to a Zambian!
I have tried to draw a parallel between the economic infant industry argument for protectionism and the current war of ‘Prophets’ that is building in Zambia. From the foregoing analysis, it is clear that local ‘Prophets’, who can be likened to ‘infant industries’ are seeking the protection of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance for ‘Protection’ against the influx of what they term are ‘Fake Prophets’.
Charged with securing and enhancing national morals, the Ministry of National Guidance is now acting like a Ministry of Commerce and implementing measures that block the influx of foreign ‘Prophets’. This move has a demand shifting outcome in that Zambians seeking spiritual services will now have no option but to turn to our local ‘Bishops’ and ‘Prophets’ for services and thus direct their tithes and offering to them. This way, we would make our local men of God more competitive on the local spiritual market.
What is certainly most notable, however, is that long-established institutions, such as the Catholic Church, do not need any special protection against any competition. This can be likened to a giant multinational company that has grown and expanded over the years and thus faces no competition because it is the market leader in an industry it knows so well.
The Author is a Lusaka based economist. The views expressed here are solely his and do not reflect the views of his employers.