Charismatic Nigerian preacher Temitope Balogun Joshua – known simply as TB Joshua – reminds one of those fire and brimstone prophets such as Isaiah and Amos, Elijah and Jeremiah who traverse the world of the old testament.
These men could predict the death of a king or an imminent invasion by a neighbouring kingdom.
TB Joshua predicted the death of Malawi's former president Bingu wa Mutharika, John Atta Mills's electoral triumph in Ghana in 2009 and, more recently, François Hollande's ascension to the French throne; Joshua even foresaw Zambia's Africa Cup of Nations triumph earlier this year. Mills died last month; Ethiopia's leader Menes Zenawi died this week. It's not clear whether Joshua knew about or predicted these deaths.
On February 5 this year, the preacher told his church in Nigeria that God had showed him that an African president would die in April. In a rambling speech, the gist of which goes: "what I am seeing on the board, I cannot stand here and begin to tell you. This April, this is what's going to happen but I am praying. It is close and I cannot do anything about it … We should pray for one African head of state. [He has a] sickness that will take [his] life, [a] sudden death, [the] sickness [that has] been kept in the body for a long time. God showed me the place and the country."
Then on April 1, this year, Joshua raised the matter again, explaining that "it's very close now, whether you like it or not. I am praying to see if this can be changed. Pray for your leader. The Lord showed me the country, the person is within Africa. This is not in West Africa".
He even moved into the realms of the specifics, mentioning that this leader would die on a Thursday. Mutharika died on Thursday, April 5.
Joshua is perhaps a descendant of the Old Testament prophet, who was simultaneously drawn to and repelled by power. The Old Testament prophet was a constant presence in the courts of the kings of Israel and its sister kingdom, Judah. It was an exceedingly complicated role, one in which the prophet tried to be like the griot of West African tradition – the repository of the family and "national" history and combine that with the kowtowing demeanour of the courtier. But as someone with Jehovah's personal phone number, one had to possess the consuming fury that's lodged in God's grizzled beard.
The prophets would go about anointing one king, denouncing another and predicting the death of others as in the touching episode involving prophet Isaiah and king Hezekiah.
Isaiah 38 verse one says that "in those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "this is what the Lord says: put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." It is written that Hezekiah prayed: "Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes."
In one of those strange cases, involving a miracle which no living astronomer can make sense of, Isaiah told him that God had changed his mind and that the king was going to live an additional 15 years. The solar mishap is captured in the following verse: "I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz. And so the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down". Unlike Isaiah, the Nigerian was unable to get God to add 15 years to Mutharika's life. TB Joshua isn't just predicting the death of Africa's kings; he has the ear of some of Africa's top politicians, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Morgan Tsvangirai and Ghana's late president Mills.
Not every politician likes him. When Joshua's prediction about Mutharika came to pass, as the Bible would say it, the Zimbabwean establishment was rattled. Zanu-PF's in-house intellectual, Jonathan Moyo, argued that "TB Joshua's involvement in this tragedy smacks more of a plot than a prophecy".
Alluding to that incestuous coupling of power and prophecy that has happened over the centuries, Moyo charged that "there is even spirited speculation in well-informed circles that TB Joshua had privileged intelligence information about a death plot against Mutharika and the plotters used him as their microphone to divert attention from them and let the death appear like it was an act of God when it was an intelligence operation".
Typical to God's notoriously secretive ways (Jesus Christ said he would come back like a thief in the night), it's difficult to know what really happened: was it an operation by God or some devious act by some spy agency?
Only God and his prophet TB know.