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CHARISMATIC WITCHCRAFT!

Most people associate prayer with moral good: benevolence, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Yet in some cases, people deliberately pray against others in forms of what are called in these parts, "dangerous prayers,” that aim to harm or remove another party. These cases raise interesting questions about the shadow side of prayer.

Attention to dangerous prayers and to the unspoken, negative aspects of prayer reveals interesting insights into how we might more fully understand prayer as a part of lived religion. Take a blatant and public example of dangerous prayers. In January of 2012, the speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, Mike O’Neal, forwarded an email message urging his Republican colleagues to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8.”

That scripture reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.” This is hardly a prayer offered for Obama’s flourishing, and the next line is even more malicious: “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” What? Are you kidding me! No, sir! I kid you not. That indeed happened. And, Psalm 109 is real. You may want to crack open your Bible and have a read. But, be warned.

Reader discretion advised for strong and graphic language that might upset the sensitive. This speech form is known as imprecatory prayer, from the Latin, imprecate, “invoking evil or divine vengeance; cursing.” The use of scripture as a form of imprecatory prayer has long been covertly practiced by both Christians and non-Christians.

But the slogan to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” circulated openly on t-shirts and bumper stickers during the 2008 presidential race. Similarly, Reverend Wiley Drake, the second vice-president of the First Southern Baptist Church, issued in 2006 a statement claiming that his prayers for the death of a slain abortion provider George Tiller had been answered. Here in Africa, there are numerous of such accounts.

Testimony times in many Churches are filled with rejoicing believers testifying about how their enemies have died after messing with them. These instances give us a rare display of imprecatory prayer not only in the public sphere, but also constitute prime examples of the use of negative prayer in political circles and beyond. These bizarre cases caught my attention, since cursing and imprecation are usually associated in the popular imagination with my longtime area of fascination: the traditional Afro-Haitian religion called Voodoo.

The negative image of Voodoo as sorcery is one that many have worked to dispel as part of a project of ethnographic re-description. They have worked to humanize Voodoo and portray its full role in Haitian society, writing of elaborately developed prayers, liturgical rhythms, and songs, dances, and ritual that serve to mediate between life and death, to construct family, and to heal.

In this non-dualistic Afro-Caribbean philosophical system, good and evil are not understood to be essential absolutes. When one develops the ability to heal, one automatically learns the way to harm. While priests in the Voodoo tradition focus on healing, there is a branch of disreputable specialists – disavowed by Voodoo priests – who practice a set of prayer rituals and wanga (material “working” objects) that purport to impose the will of the religious or shamanistic actor onto another person.

The Haitian ritual expert who performs this is called a malfaiteur, (literally: “evil-doer”) and the term for this form of prayer is “malediction” (lit: “speaking evil”). One form such prayer can take – as in the Kansas case – is the reciting of Old Testament psalms for a specific malediction against a person or group. Here are two very different religious formations – evangelicalism and Afro-Haitian religion – both using Psalms to pray against others.

They force us to consider dangerous prayers as a part of lived religion. I have employed the term “dangerous prayer” as a conceptual, second-order category that encompasses both spoken addresses to the Christian God (or other deities and spirits), and ritual actions that aim to harm, debilitate, stop, remove, or weaken another party or to impose the speaker’s will onto another party or series of events.

This umbrella term allows us to compare groups that are ordinarily kept quite distinct, such as Christians and self-identified sorcerers. Just as sorcerers are famous for their deployment of malediction, evangelical Christians are well known for a branch of thought and practice known as “spiritual warfare,” which is also a form of aggressive prayer. Here in Africa, especially with the strong Nigerian influence on the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, this warfare has been taken to wild excesses. It is not uncommon to see an entire hour of prayer dedicated to "killing enemies" through prayer.

The catchphrase is, "Back To Sender!" This is similar to how witches and warlocks engage in exchanges of spell casting, often resulting in the demise of one or both parties under strange circumstances. Well, the Church has joined in! We have also entered into the ring and if witches can make incantations and hexes, we too shall fight fire with fire! Except that sometimes these "enemies" are imaginary. Consequently, there are bound to be casualties of "friendly fire." Prayer was never intended to settle personal scores or even as a defense mechanism against enemies, whether real or perceived.

Sadly, it is not uncommon in our day to receive chilling warnings of, "I'll pray!" Traditionally, such a statement has been a positive one. It's good that someone should pray.

However, in these interesting times, it carries both overtones and undertones of, "Watch your back! I'll kill you through praying for evil to befall you." How is this threat from a Christian different from the warning of a warlock? Shouldn't the Police now consider "I'll pray for you!" as a case of threat to kill? That would be interesting. It's not uncommon in our Churches today, as earlier stated, to see teary-eyed devotees testifying about how God killed their enemies after they prayed! What? Yes, sir! Licensed to kill and with no evidence to warrant an arrest on a criminal charge.

Talk about the perfect crime! Spiritual warfare is a precise term in the evangelical and neo-Pentecostal networks known as the Third Wave Evangelical Movement, or the Revival Movement, whose best-known theologian is C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary. Spiritual warfare is the aggressive prayer needed to fight evil directly in the invisible realm. This can take the form of “casting out evil” through “deliverance prayer,” in which the Christian casts out evil or actual demons from another person under the authority of Jesus (as depicted in Matthew 10:1, for instance).

More ambitiously, warfare prayer also enables Christian “prayer warriors” to “pray down” more powerful demons – those who have taken over entire areas of geographical territory such as the Islamic world, or propagate widespread sinful activity such as alcoholism – and allow for revival and Christian flourishing to surge in a given area or place.

A group of divinely “anointed prayer warriors” understand themselves to be doing battle in the “spiritual realm” with Satan’s high ranking demons, and take their understanding of this war from Ephesians 6:12: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Prayer warriors believe we are in a new age in which God is calling prophets and apostles to become intercessors and to usher in the Kingdom of God through warfare prayer.

Spiritual warfare evangelicals have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” Warfare prayer may take place in Church, in large revival events, at semi-public conferences in hotels, or in private spaces such as homes.

Prayer warriors may pray openly in “prayer walks” through public spaces, often in cities where poverty and crime are rife. Warriors may also do covert actions in public spaces when they are “on assignment” from the Holy Spirit, in which case they might pray in small groups at key “demonic strongholds,” such as massacre sites, neopagan temples, or abortion clinics.

Is warfare prayer a form of negative prayer? Well, it does seek to impose “God’s will” on others, in specific detail. Muslims are meant to convert to Christianity, Masonic lodges (seen as long standing demonic institutions) are meant to close down, and bars and strip clubs to go bankrupt. In some evangelicals’ narratives, warfare prayer ends with God killing people who are working for demonic causes, such as an Alaskan woman who protested the use of prayer in school board meetings and then died of a heart attack. In such cases, violence or death are God’s judgment, and are part of the overarching cosmic system of perfect justice that evangelicals long to help bring about.

Evangelical prayer warriors the world over teach vehemently against taking a course of physical violence in the material world and becoming actual vigilantes. But in a tragic trend, witchcraft killings and related incidents are on the rise worldwide. United Nations reports show that in locations as diverse as New York City, London, Congo, and Papua New Guinea, people are accusing others of being witches and attacking or murdering them, including Christians! Often the violence is gendered, with male witch-hunters attacking female “witches.”

Sometimes people are brutalized or killed during exorcism ceremonies, in which the demons are beaten out of the accused witch. Studying prayer as it is actually lived in the world means paying attention to such aggressive forms of prayer, and exploring how ideas about dangerous and aggressive prayers change over time in a given society.

We must also open up questions about the negative implications of prayer. Logically, even if one prays for positive results in a certain area, it is possible that if it came to pass it would be harmful for someone else.

For instance, praying for victory for one side – in war, or in sports – is necessarily to pray for defeat of another side. A prayer for one person to be chosen for a job is a prayer for the other applicants to be rejected. Researchers might ask whether the people praying in any given tradition take into account any possible negative effects of their prayers.

Studying aggressive forms of prayer may mean asking how religious actors engage with supernatural forces they perceive to be destructive, such as in exorcisms, or magic, and how they control the ritual so they are not themselves harmed. It means figuring out how explicitly negative prayer is rationalized or even justified by the person praying.

Does someone praying negatively imagine themselves to be partnering with destructive or evil forces for their own gain, or do they imagine themselves to be neutral, or even righteous? Perhaps they imagine themselves to be in alliance with forces of ultimate good, which demands an aggressive form of prayer. How is negative prayer tied to conceptions of justice? More and more studies are considering the positive effects of intercessory prayer and healing, and some argue for tangible results that positive prayer can facilitate medical recovery.

It bears considering whether negative prayer has similar negative effects. While it is tempting to imagine that the religious people of the world are all praying beneficently for peace and love, the fact is that all are not. As you read this, someone may be praying against you, wishing you to fail, hoping to be hired in your place, that you convert to their religion, or that “your days be few, and another take your office.” As things stand, you either learn how to fight back or risk dying young. Interesting times!

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Opinions

The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosis actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as international waters.

Pelosis visit to Chinas Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqus. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to Chinas position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The Peoples Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Bidens words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as Taiwan independence. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas national sovereignty, security and development interests. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part. Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The Peoples Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces. This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijings military exercises will certainly shake Taiwans confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwans central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the Peoples Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswanas democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogaes assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in theBulela Ditswedispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswewas an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties ruling and opposition have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses pocket or make a dent in the actors net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musicians music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth.

As Botswanas creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africas respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana? are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswanas local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the countrys economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, its imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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