HomeEditorial CommentFrom the Editor's desk:Doomsday prophecies threat to African stability

From the Editor's desk:Doomsday prophecies threat to African stability

The talk around Zimbabwe — I think around Africa, if not the whole world — today is the coincidence between TB Joshua’s prophecy of the death of a president and the death of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika. Announcing the prophecy last February, Joshua said an African dictator would die suddenly within 60 days and as recently as a week ago he narrowed the demography of his prediction by excluding dictators from West Africa, leaving eastern and southern Africa.

Talk was intense in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in recent weeks concerning the prediction because they are the three countries in southern Africa which had the oldest and not-so-well presidents. Could it be a coincidence then that Zambian President Michael Sata, was within the predicted 60 days flown to India for medical attention? Could it also be a coincidence that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is in Singapore where he usually receives medical attention? And that Mutharika died?

TB Joshua’s predictions can be explained: they are called self-fulfilling prophecies. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behaviour. (Wikipedia)

Sociologist Robert K Merton who coined the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy” defined it simply as: “when Roxanna falsely believes her marriage will fail, her fears of such failure actually cause the marriage to fail.”

A more involved definition is: “The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.” (Wikipedia)

Let us look first at Michael Sata. Voted into office recently, he has been a kind of disaster; some of the decisions he has been making in his short reign have been nothing but grotesque. From a champion of democracy he managed in a very short period to turn himself into a veritable dictator. Besides general uncertainty about the direction in which he is steering the country, Zambians are concerned about the whimsical manner in which he makes decisions. An important part of the country, Barotseland, is seeking secession.


There is immense pressure on him to stop the breakup of the country. Worsening the whole scenario is the fact that he is old and not too well; he has a urological ailment. He begins to see himself as the subject of TB Joshua’s prophecy; he is convinced he will die within two months. So what does he do? He wants to give himself a fighting chance, so he flies to what he thinks are the best urologists in the world.

The same applies to Robert Mugabe. There is immense pressure on him because the country is not running well under the government of national unity. He is trying to push an unworkable indigenisation programme. Hawks in his party want him to contest an election this year in spite of his old age and poor health. The situation is tense in his party as his lieutenants machinate to succeed him. In the past year he has sought medical attention several times, meaning his health is deteriorating. And then in comes TB Joshua. Almost everyone in the country thinks Mugabe is the subject of the prophecy; those closest to him must surely also think so. There is plenty of speculation in the media. Several articles are already looking at the “post-Mugabe era”. So to get a fighting chance he wants to get as close as possible to his doctors; those who have all along been monitoring his health. He flies to Singapore.

That is how the self-fulfilling prophecy works.

Now to Bingu wa Mutharika!

Poor Bingu had led his country very well in his first few years as president from 2004-8. The country achieved high agricultural productivity and food security. Malawi, considered one of the poorest countries in the world, for the first time saw poverty decline from 60% to 40% mainly due to his agricultural subsidy programme which, though expensive, became a model for the African Union. For many years during his first term Malawi achieved a food surplus. In the 2008/9 season the food surplus reached 1,3 million metric tons.

Then hubris — the excessive pride and ambition that usually leads to the downfall of a hero in classical tragedy — came in.

In April 2011, a leaked diplomatic cable from British High Commissioner to Malawi, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet in which he said Mutharika  was “becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism” was published. Mutharika expelled him from the country. The UK government expelled Malawi’s acting high commissioner in retaliation.

Things went into a spiral; Western donors, primarily the UK, withheld aid, particularly financial support which constituted 40% of the country’s budget. Worsening fuel shortages, rising prices and high unemployment sparked protests last year. Mutharika responded high-handedly; 19 people were confirmed dead after the police used live ammunition. He was unapologetic and unleashed a crack-down on Malawian journalists, human rights activists, and lawyers.

Then this year tobacco sales flopped. Malawi is the world’s biggest exporter of burley tobacco earning 60% of all foreign currency from the crop. In 2007 Mutharika began to peg the auction floor price of the crop at US$2 per kg. This year about a week before the close of sales the average price of tobacco dropped 24% below the government-set price.
This is arguably the straw that broke the camel’s back, or was it TB Joshua? Mutharika, thanks to TB Joshua, must have in the past few weeks been seeing himself increasingly as the subject of the prophecy; his heart couldn’t withstand the pressure. But who did the doomsday prophecy serve besides TB Joshua himself?

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