One of the consequences of the ‘Corona’ pandemic in Ghana had been the haunting of fear among the population. The constant narrative of the menace and threats of COVID to people and economy does scare people and causes anxiety and fear. The various addresses of Nana Akuffo Addo, on updates on Ghana’s responses to the pandemic speak to and affirm this lingering fear. He had continuously reiterated in his addresses for instance that, citizens should be ‘reminded everyday that the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus is your front door. If you cross it, you and your family will likely be infected’. He had also pointed out that ‘We know what to do to bring back our economy back to life. What we do not know how to do is to bring people back to life’ (source). These statements were made in reference to the danger of the virus, and this thus provided the legitimacy for the strict enforcement of recommended health measures by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the government. Fear of the virus had manifested itself in diverse ways: fear of contracting the virus and the stigmatization that surrounds it, fear of the ‘stranger’ and of neighbour, of losing one’s job, of the impact on important events like marriage, funerals etc.). While most people relate to this, there are others who respond to fear of the Corona pandemic by satirical discourses which challenges authority of the Ghanaian government, of prophets and religious leaders, and of wealthy nations. Against this background of fear and mixed responses, I examine how fear is made sense of, managed and re-oriented in the everyday lives of Ghanaians in the midst of the Corona pandemic. I also show the role of certain churches vis-a-vis state measures for disease prevention. Using selected satirical religious songs and sermons on the Corona pandemic, I argue that, these satirical discourses do not help allay the fear among the citizenry, but instead, they instill another form of fear-divine punishment.
Religion and Prophecy in Ghana
Ghana is a religiously plural country with Christians, Muslims, and to a lesser extent ATR practitioners, dominating the religious scene. There are other minority religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the Hare Krishna Movement. For the past few years since the escalation of neo-pentecostalist movements, prophets have been ubiquitous in Ghana’s public space making several prophecies, advertising their ability for healings and other miracles, as well challenging one another with their spiritual powers and possessions. Prophecies in Ghana in recent times are aimed at evoking fear, and it is a means to gather audience, get attention, and create networks, power and money. The ways in which even politicians align themselves with prophets, especially during election periods gives credence to the current popularity of the prophetic institution in the country. In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, one would have expected the media landscape to be awash with prophecies relating to the ‘Corona’ pandemic from these prophets. Till date however, they are silent. This undue silence of the otherwise loud and omnipresent prophets has come under heavy public criticism (see also the blog by Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu on Religious Matters).
Satirising Religious and Political Leaders
The public ridicule of prophets during the Corona pandemic is not limited only to the ordinary Ghanaian citizen, Prophets and pastors themselves are also mocking one another. The satirical song of the Kumasi based Prophet Ebenezer Adarkwa Opambour Yiadom, leader of the Ebenezer Worship Center, is instructive in this context. He ridicules:
The virus is everywhere. Our president is overwhelmed by the pandemic. Since his birth he has not seen anything like this. Nana Akuffo Addo selected and called religious leaders to the Jubilee House. After all their prayers, and when everything was said and done, the religious leaders were still greeting one another with their elbows. So, where is the faith? If the prayers had worked they would not have been greeting themselves with their elbows. If after praying you believed that your prayers have worked, shake your hands and disperse. I am here, they did not invite me. They shared breakfast but they did not give me some to eat (link – original song in Twi, translated by the author).
Prophet Yiadom mocks the breakfast meeting that was held by President Akuffo Addo with religious leaders on March 20th, 2020 to offer prayers for the cessation of the pandemic (link). He points out that the meeting was shrouded with fear, hence the greetings with elbows after the prayers. He describes the prayers and the meeting as faithless, futile and discriminatory because if there was faith and not fear the religious leaders would have been shaking hands after the meeting. Interestingly, during the 1918 influenza epidemic in the Gold Coast, it was Christians in Cape Coast who took to the streets to offer prayers for its cessation. In this current case, it was the President, the political leader, who invited the religious groups for this prayer meeting. In neither case did the disease stop. Paradoxically, some of the Prophet Yiadom’s entourage were wearing face masks while they were performing his satirical song, pointing to the fact that even his members find it very prudent to protect themselves. Prophet Yiadom’s criticism of the religious leaders is problematic because these were influential leaders who were expected to display recommended health practices/behavour that the entire nation was to emulate, hence their actions could also be understood as adherence to public health regulations and model behavior, rather than fear.
In a related song based on Malachi 1:6, Isaiah Kwadwo Ampong (Great Ampong), the famous Seventh Day Adventist Gospel musician also scorns in his “Corona Virus” track:
You are all hiding in your rooms. Now Pastors who pride yourselves with cars and material possessions, now African Traditional Religious priests (Akomfo) who boast on TV, coronavirus has come, provide solutions for the entire world to see that you are so powerful. Now pastors who pride yourselves with large congregations, you should all come out and organize church services and let’s see. Due to coronavirus men have turned into women. Due to coronavirus all pastors are silent. A great disease has arrived. It has created fear among individuals (link – original in Twi with subtitles, slighted edited by the author).
The musician demonstrates the futility of the claim to religious power and authority made by some pastors. He points out the limits in human being’s capability and the folly in his reasoning. The song tells how human being’s pomposity is replaced by fear and silence. The song too derides the penchant of these religious leaders to have solutions to every problem. He also calls out Buddhists, Hindus, and Traditionalists and refers to these as worshiping dead gods. Remarkably, he does not mention Muslims or mallams. He scorns that fear has put all the so called miracle workers indoors. He further states that AIDS and Ebola had vaccines during their outbreaks, hence the only solution to the Corona pandemic is through prayers alone by Christians, because mankind has rejected God’s word and have resorted to secular reasoning, the result of which is God’s punishment. Here, the WHO measures and other government policies on the Corona are seen as ineffective. Not only does the musician evoke more fear against the people, but his claim that there is a vaccine against AIDS is misleading and incorrect. In the same vein, there was no Ebola vaccines during the early stages of its outbreak.
Commenting on the ineffectiveness of anointed artefacts, Prophet Dr. Kofi Oduro, leader and founder of the Alabaster International Ministries, scathingly states:
Corona has made us realise that no pastor can save you. Coro has made us all understand. Number two, Coro has made us realise that our oils, creams, stickers, bags, and all our calendars are useless. If they are not useless then come and cure Coro with it. I, Kofi Oduro would be the one to advertise it for you. I will take it to TV and radio stations and make noise about it (link -original in Twi, translated by author).
Remarkably, these critiques seem an inner-Christian discussion. All of these criticisms are voiced by people with Christian orientation- who are leading and calling out each other. This speaks to how different Christian groups and individuals perceive each other – some regarded as charlatans and corrupting Christianity while others seen as genuine.
Mocking Global Powers
In his earlier mentioned song, Prophet Ebenezer Yiadom does not merely challenge Ghanaian religious leaders; he uses the idea of abandenden to mock global political powers. Among the Akan of Ghana for instance, the notion of abandenden (strong tower/defense) is used as an appellation for God, and also for a powerful traditional ruler. Hence, the prophet sarcastically argues that if America claims it is the strongest tower in the world, then due to Corona this tower has collapsed. Here, America is seen as the epitome of power, a mighty nation that is never defeated. Yiadom similarly mocks other nations like Britain, France and Italy to have fallen. He points out how these great nations are spending money and other resources in trying to curb the ravages of the virus. He then challenges America, saying that if he would have shot someone with a gun, America would be chasing him, ransacking everywhere to arrest him because he killed an individual. When Osama Bin Laden caused the 9/11 tragedy and killed thousands of people, America did not relent in the search for him until he was found and killed. But now the deaths recorded as a result of Corona outnumber that of 9/11, hence America should search for Corona and kill it. By comparing COVID-19 to the 9/11, Prophet Yiadom is implying that Corona is a larger attack on US power than the 9/11 attack. Prophet Yiadom is trying to point out the fact that, Corona which is synonymous to death by implication defies money and material possession; it renders everyone helpless and makes everyone into a walking death. This thus demonstrates that corruption and bribery, as well as exploitation and suppression have limits. It is a timely warning for political actors to note that Corona, like death, cannot be manipulated.
In the same way, Prophet Dr. Kofi Oduro argues that Coronavirus is part of an unfolding series of events of the apocalypse. He preaches that the virus will expose the falsehood, deception, and manipulation of religious leaders and politicians in Africa, and world governments through systemic failures, infrastructural weakness etc (link). And that if America of all nations could run out of medical supplies then the Lord have mercy on Africa or Africans should run for their lives. “This is the moment where God would have to come through for you” he says.
In this one hour fifteen minutes sermon, the prophet re-echoes Great Ampong’s point, that the pandemic is a wake up call to mankind to repent and turn to God because punishment has come upon the earth. He then quizzes: “Coronavirus, is it from God, the devil, or by nature. In response he argues that it is neither from the devil nor by nature but a punishment from God because:
Coronavirus can never attack spirits because he that is born of the spirits is spirit. And he that is born of the flesh is flesh. Corona is a virus, it can only attack the flesh, but he that is spirit can never go through that, therefore the righteous should rather relax and enjoy your life. He that is born of God overcomes the world, overcomes anything that attacks the world system. If there is anything anyone would have to do, is to repent. Stop arguing on useless philosophical, medical, psychological and sociological nonsense and repent. The virus is dangerous, you cannot joke with it. The world and the nations have sinned against God (link – original in English with subtitles and slightly edited by the author).
Like the musician Ampong, Oduro considers Corona to be the wrath of God against mankind, hence the only sufficient solution to the crisis is prayers and repentance. While Christian denominations such as the Methodists, Catholics, and Church of Pentecost possibly share in this notion of understanding Corona as an indication of the wrath of God, they however take the virus serious as a medical calamity for which adequate profane measurements are to be taken. The above mentioned prophets however feel such profane measurements are “useless and nonsense” and propose spiritual solutions only. Ironically, traditional priests, by comparison are combining medical with spiritual means in a manner that many would not expect a traditionalist to do (see Angelantonio Grossi’s blog).
Corona as Equaliser
In this period, the reigning vocabularies have been “quarantine”, “isolation” and “social distancing”. Of these, quarantine appears to be the favorite word for Prophet Yiadom. He gives the word a political meaning quite different from its medical usage. In his song he makes a comparison between rural dwellers (the vulnerable and marginalized) and those with international exposure (the supposed rich and powerful). He taunts religious leaders who boast in having churches in England, Germany, South Africa, America etc. He challenges such pastors: “open your mouth and utter such foolish words again and see”, the President will “quarantine you”. He taunts people who brag about having lived in European countries and the USA for years, and thus travel all the time between these countries. He argues that Corona has endangered these prestigious lifestyles because one is likely to be quarantined at the airport. For him, Corona has balanced the equation of living between the rich and the poor (that is the big men and the small boys) because the rich are now being quarantined while people from small towns move freely. He asserts that “those of us who are marginalised have now become relevant. God brought the virus to the world to bring down the wealthyand powerfuland then elevate those of us who are poor. So we will not be affected by the virus.” Prophet Oduro argues that this is the first time he has seen that travelling to America or India is not a breakthrough. Quarantine is one of the government responses to the pandemic. However, Prophet Yiadom interprets it as a weapon to silence the arrogance of the elite in society. Yiadom’s notion of “quarantine” also has implications for spatial relations: the movement of the international elite is curtailed, monitored and their freedom is restricted. The reverse holds true for rural dwellers: they move freely without major hindrances. The Coronavirus is seen as altering and reordering power relations in society. This is not the first time quarantine has been used as a response to disease outbreak in Ghana, however, it did not elicit this sort of religious interpretation.
Satirising Government Policies: Closure of Churches
Another target of Prophet Yiadom’s ridicules has been the government whom he scolds for closing down churches. He asserts that the lockdown policy has not been able to mitigate the spread of the virus in places like America, Italy, and Canada etc. It is not working for Ghanaians either, he says. Hence, the Ghana government should adopt a new approach different from that of the advanced countries. He suggests that the government should allow churches to operate but with strict observation of the precautionary measures recommended by WHO. He warns the national leaders to stop annoying God by their insistence on closing churches. He says the search for solutions through their scientific knowledge has not yielded any positive results because if “God does not watch over the city, the watchman watches in vain”. He then poses the rhetorical question: why are you worrying us like that?” For him, the solution to the pandemic lies with God and not in the closure of churches. It is important to note that, Prophet Yiadom wrongly represents his observation on the Corona situation in Italy, the USA and Canada. The lockdown in these countries has yielded positive results. It is also significant to state that the complaint for the reopening of churches is predicated against the fact that the source of income for some of these prophets is curtailed as a result of the government’s policy. For instance, Prophet Yiadom cried during a live broadcast on TV because he claimed he did not know how he and his entourage were going to eat or survive (link). So, at the heart of Yiadom’s challenges of both fellow religious as well as political authorities could well be economic reasons.
The satirical religious songs and sermons tell the story of a contagious virus/a global threat that needs to be contained. The songs and sermons express the punitive notion of the pandemic, capitalizing on people’s fear. This fear captures the terrible realities of the corona pandemic. The songs and sermons thus serve as alternative narratives to governments’ responses to the pandemic and mock the fear created by political leaders as well as their management of the situation. Instead, the songs and sermons reshape or redirect the fear people feel because the Corona measures and public statements by Ghana’s government towards the idea of the wrath and punishment of God, and the need for repentance. The secular approach to handling the crisis is taunted by these prophets as limited human knowledge, “useless and nonsense”. However, this spiritual reframing of the Corona pandemic seems to accelerate fear rather than alleviating it. In addition, these prophets in their satirical songs and sermons express ideas which are in line with the larger and prevalent notion among certain Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Christians in Ghana and elsewhere in the world, that diseases and disasters, like the Corona, are the wrath of God and only prayers and faith can remedy the situation. One is then compelled to ask whether Christianity, which has long been the vanguard of modernity is now in conflict with science, and is thus profiling itself as highly irrational?
This blog is a part of ‘Dossier Corona’, introduced by Religious Matters in the spring of 2020.
I would like to express my gratitude to Birgit Meyer, Martha T. Frederiks, Samuel N. Ntewusu, and Akwasi Kwarteng Amoako-Gyampah for their critical comments and suggestions.
 He goes by the monikers: Prophet 1, the Musical Prophet. The Nation’s Prophet. The prophet has his own TV station, Prophet 1 TV.
 Informal communication with Dr Akwasi Kwarteng Amoako-Gyampah, Public Health Historian, 05-05-2020.
 K. David Patterson, “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19 in the Gold Coast”. The Journal of African History, Vol. 24, No. 4 (1983), pp. 485-502.