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An explosive cocktail of ethnicity, prosperity gospel, and poverty in Ethiopia

prosperity gospel _ Ethiopia _ Abiy Ahmed
Abiy Ahmed is believe to have forged strong relation with Prosperity Gospel Forces in the U.S. and he is also the follower of the faith. (Photo : From the web/file)

Getahun Assefa

Summary: This article exposes the dangers of the little-known prosperity gospel. It focuses on the explosive cocktail of ethnicity, poverty, and the prosperity gospel being widely exercised by the ethnocratic elites of Ethiopia. It analyzes extortion, exploitation, abuse, and misuse of public resources for vanity projects, personal comfort, and luxurious lifestyles of current political elites, fake prophets, and dreamers (“motivational speakers”). It posits that excessive love for individual comfort, vanity, and a luxurious lifestyle is core in the prosperity gospel doctrine. This led to self-delusion and narcissism, making all the destructive forces reign in Ethiopia. The vicious attack on mainstream religion particularly the Orthodox Church has its origin in the prosperity gospel. The article concludes that the protracted wars in Ethiopia and incessant attacks on the most vulnerable sections of society in the country are directly linked to the doctrine of the prosperity gospel, largely driven and dominated by Evangelism and Pentecostalism. It calls for breaking the unholy marriage between the axes of evil (ethnicity, poverty, and the prosperity gospel) as part of the overall struggle of Ethiopians to remove the ethnocratic and ethno-apartheid regime of Abiy Ahmed Ali (Abiy).

An explosive cocktail of ethnicity, prosperity gospel, and poverty in Ethiopia

The prosperity gospel has become a new force behind the marginalization and neglect of the poor and the most vulnerable. It preaches individual responsibility for own deprivation and downplays key known causes of poverty and underdevelopment. According to the doctrine of the prosperity gospel, there is no poverty so long as an individual’s mind is full of “positive thinking”, or one is surrounded by “positive thinkers”. For it, the sickness of the poor and eventual death is the natural consequence of negative thinking. Hence, whether the poor die in mass or exist as an entity, makes no difference. The gospel underlines that “God promised material wealth and well-being for everyone”. And “money is the source of wealth and the power to be reckoned with”. Such a vital tool must be obtained in all forms – be they cheating, embezzling, extorting, or charity. Money is also a powerful tool and an instrument for ensuring political continuity. It is more important than good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights including the right to exist as citizens.

The prosperity gospel and its doctrine are the new storms washing Africa away from the world map. It emerged more powerful than poverty and backwardness, illiteracy, ethnic polarization, conflicts, and climate change impacts combined. I argue that, beyond established religions, the prosperity gospel is extortionist, exploitative, and abusive. Its foundations and cardinal principles are centered on greed, material abundance, luxury, comfort, and self-enrichment at all costs to societies and economies. There is no way that such self-centered prophecy brings to Africa social cohesion, progress, democracy, and respect for fundamental human rights.

In Ethiopia, the prosperity gospel influenced the formation of political parties and dictated parallel entities that mirror the gospel’s doctrine.  Ethiopia’s ruling party was renamed as Prosperity Party (PP) without changing its “chemical composition”- ethnicity, fascism, and dictatorship. Ethiopia’s transitions from monarchy to military-led socialism (1974-1991) followed by ethnocracy (1991-2018) and a combination of the ethnic apartheid system and the prosperity gospel (2018-present) have only deepened and aggravated the country’s myriad problems. The government and its party apparatus have been continuously waging wars on citizens. War and political instability are seen as a full-time job of the government and the party. The government has stopped thinking about or concerned with citizens killed every day en-mass. In the government’s daily political discourse war, ethnic divisions, poverty, and destitution are completely erased although all these are glaring and widespread phenomena. They are replaced by peace, ethnic unity, bumper harvest, prosperity, and opulence. All these are non-existent in the country’s recent history, leave alone now. 

There is no compassion for poor people in the prosperity gospel and its followers. Nor is there a political will, determination, and well-thought strategy to extricate people from generalized (abject) poverty situations. This is because, according to the doctrine of the prosperity gospel, “poor people are those rejected by God for lack of trust or faith in His kingdom”.  One of Abiy Ahmed’s cruel statements: “Let the poor die en-mass so that we continue planting trees to provide shed for their graves” is heavy-heartedness coming from the doctrine of the prosperity gospel. He also publicly pleaded not to exaggerate or magnify the death of the poor. Evicting the poor from ancestral land including in Addis Ababa to confiscate, and auction without compensation is seen by the ethnocentric cadres of PP as “converting illegal poor to the legal poor”. What progress under PP and the prosperity gospel!

Ethiopia’s seemingly terminal crises have their genesis in the Molotov cocktail of ethnicity, the prosperity gospel, and generalized poverty. The government’s prophecy of poverty and its continually estranged relationship with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC) is linked to the doctrine of the prosperity gospel.  This unhealthy amalgam has also led the regime to rent-seeking, manipulative, and extortionist behaviors, which further exacerbates the ugliness of the triangular relationships between the three evils. 

The vicious attack waged on the EOTC by Abiy’s government, and his party is not only to divide Africa’s oldest church along ethnic lines. Rather it is primarily intended to muzzle the church. The aim is to prevent EOTC from indulging in exposing erroneous interpretations of the bible by the members of the prosperity gospel on which the government’s membership and its foundational structures stand. For instance, the prosperity gospel’s central teaching is that “an individual’s material wealth is a necessary gift and a blessing from God”. This is starkly at odds with the teachings of Orthodox Christianity.  For the latter, spiritual wealth (as opposed to material abundance) opens the gate to heaven. For Orthodox and mainstream Christianity God has never assured material wealth for humanity but promised eternal life in heaven. For Orthodox Christians, earthly comforts and luxurious lifestyles are the outcomes of money which is a necessary evil and bad master.  These foundational teachings of mainstream Christianity are against the unbiblical teachings and prophecy of property gospel. Moreover, the prosperity gospel epitomizes “positive thinking” such as that “God brought everyone to earth to enjoy a comfortable and luxurious life so long as individuals are filled with positive energy or positive thinking”.

Prosperity gospel and poverty

For the prosperity gospel, poverty would not have existed if human beings had genuine faith and if they gave all that they had to their faith. According to the teachings of this unbiblical faith, the only reason why people are condemned to live in poverty is that “they lack the faith and positive thinking that guarantee them a prosperous life”. This prosperity gospel lacks compassion towards the poor. It neglects and at times castigates poor people for being poor. It does not believe that the root causes of poverty are lack of income, absence of productive assets, or opportunities. Nor does it recognize multiple factors such as vulnerability to unforeseen shocks (e.g., COVID-19 or climate change), bad governance, interethnic wars, and lack of voicelessness as the main causes behind destitution and poverty.   This means that so long as people lack faith in the gospel and positive thinking, living in abject poverty is their choice. Likewise, eliminating poverty is their responsibility, not the responsibility of the government. These thoughts are behind Abiy’s incessant rants about his Prosperity Party (PP) and the fake wealthy socioeconomic conditions PP bestowed on the Ethiopian people.  While the government is spending billions on vanity projects, the population is suffering from abject poverty, including malnutrition, food insecurity, and disease.

These mindless thoughts of the regime are in sharp contrast with the experiences of developed countries and newly industrializing economies. For economists, inclusive economic growth is the sole source of progress in reducing poverty and propelling societies and nations to higher standards of living. Creating political, microeconomic, and macroeconomic conditions to make such growth robust, sustainable, and inclusive is the primary responsibility of the government. Globally respected institutions that specialize in the socioeconomic development of nations remind us that “confronting socioeconomic inequalities and building sound institutions are necessary conditions to enable poor people to benefit substantially from economic growth”. However, such empirical evidence is immaterial or inconsequential in the doctrines of the prosperity gospel.

Exploiting the poor and the most vulnerable

The most terrible feature of the prosperity gospel doctrine is its voracious appetite for money, wealth, and luxury. The wrong interpretation of the bible which guides the prosperity gospel is “Give, It Will be Given to You”. Based on this, PP, the prosperity gospel preachers, and so-called “motivational speakers” exploit the poor, the sick, and the most vulnerable sections of society. Abiy Ahmed Ali ad-nauseum argues that without money, there will be no miracle for him to solve society’s myriad problems. He publicly stated that with no taxation, he would not be able to ensure peace and security in Ethiopia. Yet, he spends billions of dollars financing his interethnic wars in the country. His government has always been busy mobilizing funds through different rip-off methods and rob-in institutions including the Addis Ababa City Administration. He charges between 2,500 and 5, 000 Birr per plate per person for his “Supper for Addis” initiative. This amount is above the median monthly wage in the country. Not only artists and businessmen but also ethnic loyalists and poor people are forced to pay through foregone social safety nets. This is because “if they give, their returns will be manifold and, afterward, poverty will no longer be an issue”.  

The accusations of aid agencies leveled against Abiy’s regime for diverting and exporting wheat donated to Ethiopia were based on evidence. Wheat was meant to save nearly 20 million lives (a quarter of the country’s entire population) dependent on food aid, day-in and day-out.  Exporting wheat which would have saved the lives of the hungry people in Ethiopia was motivated by the desire to cash in for the comfort and luxury of the prosperity preachers, motivational speakers, PP officials, and vanity projects of the Prime Minister. However, these crimes went without accountability, responsibility, or penalty. Donor countries and their aid agencies continue treating Abiy with kid gloves in the face of such crimes and atrocities committed against the poor by starvation.

Pro-Prime Minister and self-proclaimed prophets as well as dreamers lament that “the poor who gave all that they have to the faith, will soon see millions of dollars flowing into their bank accounts”.  Similarly, “the sick and those terminally ill will forget their sickness, diseases, and poverty because God has just whispered to their ears that his miracles are on the way”. And “the unemployed will get jobs of their dreams”. People who struggle to make ends meet are direct victims of such manipulations. The entrenched system exploits people who suffer from multiple deprivations such as lack of jobs and income, ill health, and absence of opportunities. Such vulnerable people are intentionally made to believe in fake offers (miracles) of the property gospel. They claim that spiritualization of the gospel guarantees the poor that “genuine believers will enjoy endless wealth, eternal health, happiness, and prosperity”.

The funniest arguments are when there are no financial or health returns for years after giving all that poor people have to the preachers. When people begin questioning the prophecy and the delays in miracles, the prosperity gospel fake prophets and “dream speakers” start condemning the givers. They endlessly insult, particularly the poor, the sick, the unemployed, and those terminally suffering from killer diseases. They blame them as culprits in delaying the miracles. The key reasons that are often blamed for the delays in miracles are (a) those who believe in the faith have failed to trust the same faith they believe in; (b) they possess negative thoughts in their minds and hearts, or (c) they are surrounded by people of negative thinking or negative energy. The cycle of deception, manipulation, and extortion endlessly continues. Therefore, cheating, exploitation, and profiteering including from the most vulnerable people are the norms and not exceptions in the prosperity gospel. 

In Ethiopia, along with ethnic preference, government posts, and key functions are allocated through religious profiling. Followers of the prosperity gospel are the most loyal, trusted, and friendly to the government. Thus, they are chosen to head public offices and political institutions. Today, in addition to political figures, Ethiopia boasts countless “motivational speakers”- whom I call “empty dreamers”. Likewise, there are as many fake prophets and preachers as there are PP members who are guided by the doctrine of the prosperity gospel. They have links with members and followers of the gospel outside Ethiopia including in Europe and the USA. Senator James Inhofe’s visit in 2018 (immediately after the rise of Abiy to power) emboldened the Prime Minister. The blessing from the Senator and the connection, power, and amplitude it provided are key in immersing Abiy and the party apparatus in the prosperity gospel, largely driven and dominated by Evangelism and Pentecostalism.

Excessive love for luxury and vanity

Anyone who reads about the preachers of the prosperity gospel can easily find their excessive love for wealth, luxury, and self-pride (vanity). Anyone who follows the declarations of Abiy, including during the meetings of rubber-stamped parliament, attests to his insatiable love for vanity and luxury. Government offices in Addis Ababa are filled with functionaries selected based on ethnicity and religious affiliations. Yet, their offices are completely refurbished, decorated, and equipped with the latest office appliances and technologies acquired through scarce public resources. Such resources include aid money borrowed on behalf of the country’s population, including the poor and the most vulnerable. Fake prophets and PP loyalists are given splendid prime lands freely in Addis Ababa. Dreamers and “motivational speakers” are given all the financial, logistics, security, and technical support they need to advance their deceptive prayers filled with dreams that have never materialized. All in the name of miracles and prosperity which do not exist.

Likewise, the Ethiopian Prime Minister has been busy refurbishing and decorating palaces, illuminating buildings, and brightening the streets in Addis Ababa. For the record, Ethiopia is a country where access to electricity is the lowest even by the standards of sub-Saharan African countries. Moreover, the Prime Minister has grandiose projects such as building a new Palace in the hills of the capital city with an estimated cost of US$15 billion – the so-called “Forest Project”. Public resources, including tax revenues and aid money flow to such white elephant projects of Abiy Ahmed Ali. He utterly and publicly rejected a request in parliament for auditing and accounting for these massive resources and revealing their sources. Donor countries and financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank remain tight-lipped on the extravagance of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Such outlandish projects are financed through scarce public resources without accountability and with denial of basic needs such as shelter, food, and medicine for the country’s 85 % population living in multidimensional poverty. How can a normal state of mind allow citizens to perish in famine, hunger, malnutrition, and disease but focus on building white elephant (vanity) projects?

The Ethiopian Prime Minister has also been busy beautifying the capital city-Addis Ababa. This includes greening, gardening, building parks as well as redesigning the city. He evicted millions from their ancestral land to confiscate and auction or give to ethnic entrepreneurs and the followers of the prosperity gospel.  The question is why these vanity projects are priorities of the government in a country that is known as the poorest of poor nations. Why is the regime ignoring children who go hungry and the population consumed by widespread poverty, which is the highest by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa?  Such self-fulfilling and personified vanity projects of Abiy cost huge amounts of public resources often at the expense of the poor and the most vulnerable. These behaviors that ignore the plights of the poor for self-glory have their genesis in the doctrine of the prosperity gospel. According to the prosperity gospel, “God wants life to be comfortable and easy for everyone to have everything they need as He has already sent Jesus to earth to die for our abundant lives”. They also claim that “if one cannot see comfort or luxury as he wishes for, it is due to the negative thinking in one’s mind combined with a lack of trust in the faith”. Therefore, an individual is responsible for his miseries, destitution, disease, and eventual death. No one else is responsible.

Prime Minister Abiy comes from a less privileged, poor, and uneducated Muslim family. A significant majority of his party members too are from poor backgrounds. Most of them, including non-believers, are converted to the prosperity gospel and show excessive love for luxury, personal comfort, vanity, and entourage.  During his recent visit to Vienna for an industrial conference on poor nations where he made a 7-minute statement, Abiy stayed in one of Austria’s most expensive hotels. He was accompanied by 35 officials, including his wife, ushers, security personnel, and PP officials.  The estimated cost of air transport alone (in first and business class for 35 people) is around EURO 150,000. Moreover, he ordered bulletproof luxury cars from neighboring Germany with drivers and hired additional security staff for his few days’ stay in Vienna. The cost of all this can easily add up to EURO 2.5-3 million. Staying in such hotels’ “royal suites” is not only damn expensive but it is also immoral and unethical, especially for political leaders from poor countries such as Ethiopia. At the Paris Conference on climate finance a year ago, while poor countries’ leaders stayed in Ritz-Carlton (one of the most expensive hotels in France), rich countries’ officials and those from financial institutions stayed at modest or ordinary hotels. This paradox made poor countries’ leaders and their lavish lifestyles a laughingstock in mainstream and social media. 

The lavish lifestyle of the Ethiopian Prime Minister has put Ethiopia in financial distress and colossal indebtedness. It has also created fertile grounds for massive corruption and embezzlement of public resources by ethnocrats (PP officials), and followers of the prosperity gospel who were given public and political portfolios. The rent-seeking behavior of the Ethiopian state apparatus, fake prophets, dreamers, and the functionaries also brought with it extortion, exploitation, theft, and rampant kidnapping for ransom. In today’s Ethiopia kidnapping for ransom has become a way of life for organized or armed ethnic groups predominantly in the Oromia region. On 5 July 2024, more than 100 Amhara University students who were traveling to various universities across the country, were kidnapped in the Oromia region. Reportedly, many of them were killed in captivity, making kidnapping not only a way of self-enriching for armed ethnic groups but also more dangerous for Amharas than pandemics.

 Extortion and exploitation of the poor and the most vulnerable reached a climax in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, ethnic entrepreneurs, dreamers, and government mouthpieces in Addis Ababa have been showing imported luxury cars in public. It was shocking to see several of the latest models of Rolls Royce parked on the streets of Addis Ababa. This is happening in the capital city which is packed with the most poor and vulnerable sections of society in Africa. During the same weeks, the Prime Minister was seen playing football with Nigerian retired (prominent) footballers, singers, and actors whom he invited. The objective was to bring positive thinking and showcase the illuminated streets of Addis Ababa as part of his legacy and image-building. According to informed sources, the estimated cost including transportation, accommodation, and stipends for the invited Nigerians was in the range of 150-200 million Ethiopian Birr. This amount covers the annual budget for at least four universities that are on the verge of being shut down for lack of funds to cover the cost of meals for their students. This all is evidence that speaks volumes about the prosperity gospel’s dangers and the outlandish lifestyle of its followers. The whole assumption was that “if one lives on earth as in heaven, he/she will be entitled to live likewise in eternity (in heaven)”. This means that a luxurious lifestyle on earth is a taste of heavenly lives and preparation for eternal life in luxury and comfort in God’s hands. This is the core of the property gospel and underlying doctrine. The audacity of such false hopes in the face of the grim realities of life of the poor should be treated as treason and betrayal of the citizenry through manipulation, extortion, and exploitation.

Conclusions

The dangers of the prosperity gospel in Ethiopia are colossal. First, it makes political elites gutless, voracious, selfish, and exploitative. They conveniently ignore the poor and exploit the most vulnerable sections to satiate their greedy behaviors.  Second, it made political elites detached from reality and live in dreams and hallucinations. Their excessive love for luxury and personal comfort made them blind to the abject poverty the majority (85%) lived in. It also made them deaf to the crying voices of children, women, and men dying from hunger, malnutrition, and communicable and easily preventable diseases such as cholera. Instead of addressing vulnerability to economic and uncontrollable shocks (such as illness, violence, natural disasters, interethnic wars, and crimes against humanity), they squander scarce resources on vanity (self-pride) projects and luxurious lifestyles. Third, they are political power-mongering. They cause untold harm to societies, individuals, or groups perceived as rivals to political power. They can wage war on the same people who supported and elected them to office if there is a potential (fear) of losing political power. For them, political power is the sole source of comfort, self-dignity, and lavish lifestyles. They do not use their term in office to reduce risks of conflicts, vulnerability, poverty, insecurity, and illiteracy. Instead, they intentionally trigger these misfortunes to legitimize their warmongering and ensure their indefinite stay in office. Fourth, they deliberately weaken institutions, particularly the judiciary, security, and the army. They make these vital institutions subservient to their luxurious lifestyles and continuity in political power. The institutions, instead of standing for the rights of citizens and protecting vulnerable sections of society, devote time, energy, and resources to protect criminal political elites from accountability and responsibility. The heinous crimes committed against the poor, the sick, the unemployed, and the most vulnerable population remain unaccounted for. Finally, they invest in self-enrichment including redirecting scarce public resources from development and anti-poverty programmes toward subsidizing their voracious consumption and the consumption of their supporters such as fake prophets, dreamers, and loyalists. Therefore, for Ethiopians, the struggle to get rid of the current regime, henceforth, should also focus on untangling the axes of evils- the unholy marriage between ethnicity, poverty, and the doctrine of the prosperity gospel. 

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com


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