Why did you buy a private jet

Free churches, private jets and modernization in Africa

He calls himself Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, is the founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church and - as the richest citizen of Malawi - recently bought his third private jet.

He calls himself Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, is the founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church and - as the richest citizen of Malawi - recently bought his third private jet. The Gulfstream III costs about $ 37 million. "God determines what I am," he told a journalist. "I was born a winner." He plans to set up his own bank and cell phone company in South Africa soon. When he was told on Facebook that he should use the money to help those in need instead, he replied: "When do you sell your smartphone, with which you wrote this comment, and give the money to the poor?"

Bushiri is an unpleasant phenomenon. He likes to brag about superhuman abilities. One ridiculous video is supposed to show how he is supposedly floating, another how angels appear in his church. There are many such self-proclaimed prophets in Africa, often raking in millions and luring their followers with grandiose promises and cheap miracles. Nevertheless, one can ask whether many of these Pentecostal or Evangelical churches are not making an important contribution to the development and modernization of the continent. Researchers like Peter Berger argue that these movements played a similar role in Africa as Protestantism did in 18th century Europe in the emergence of capitalism, preaching virtues such as work discipline, loyalty, celibacy, family spirit, thrift and cleanliness. From this point of view, prosperity is not reprehensible, but the heavenly reward for a godly life.

This optimistic perspective is countered by the fact that many African free churches do not focus on their own motivation, but on the contrary keep the sheep stupid and dependent, full of fatalism, full of awe of the supposedly all-powerful leader and the supernatural, full of fear of witches and demons. Sometimes - as in the case of Shepherd Bushiri's Church - progressive and regressive tendencies coexist casually.