17 July 2007

Uganda: Who is Rev. Kojo Obiri Yeboah?

Kampala — AFTER all that has happened to him, he should be the most terrified man. He is not, at least not by appearance. With a half-moon smile, he spreads his arms wide, welcoming us to his home. He then ushers us into the guest wing of his bungalow. Dressed in a white shirt, stripped necktie, a green pair of trousers and black shoes, this "man of God" looks energetic and vibrant.

"You welkom Brodas," he says in a heavy West African accent.

We are at the home of Rev. Kojo Obiri Yeboah, the man in the news, for the wrong reasons. Last week, the Aviation Police interrogated Kojo about an electric shock machine which he had just received from Europe.

This followed suspicions that the Ghanaian pastor intended to use the 12-volt machine to feign supernatural powers, by shocking his congregation to the ground during prayers.

A standoff has ensued between the Police, Kojo and the public. A man who most people did not even know existed has been thrust into the limelight by fate.

Kojo is a Ghanaian-born businessman-turned preacher and son to the late prophet John Obiri Yeboah, who lived and preached in Uganda over 20 years ago.

His father owned the "Redeemed Church of the Lord Ministries, a powerful association with a string of churches and property in Ghana, England, Italy and other parts of the world. His mother, Betty Quansah, was a housewife. The second-born in a family of eight, this dark-skinned man of medium build and height spent much of his childhood in Ghana and England.

He attended Joseph Strechen Junior School and Aquinas Secondary School in Ghana, before enrolling in Dulwich College in south-east London and later Christ College in Blackheath. After graduating from college, Kojo took to farming. He helped out at his family pineapple farm in Ghana and later joined Vauxhall College in England to pursue a Diploma in Agriculture.

After college, he went back to Ghana to run the family farm. He also managed a travel business and that is where he received a call to serve God.

"I was more interested in business. I was into drinking, women and all kinds of social activities.

"I began to see visions and hear voices calling me to change, but I resisted. However, after praying with prophet Afutu, a prominent Ghanaian preacher and my father's friend, everything came to light," Kojo says. That was about eight or 10 years ago.

"I started prophesying and helping people with problems in Ghana."

He later enrolled at Bulham College in London and Pembetchy Bible College in Denmark for Bible studies. He established "We Are One Ministry" and continued preaching in Ghana and England.

As he continued with his ministry, a thought struck him.

"I had heard a lot about my father's work in Uganda and always wished to visit the country," he recalls.

In July last year, Kojo visited Uganda for the first time. His visit was arranged by pastors Samuel and Loyce Kakande and Godfrey Lule, who worked with his father in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I was well-received and felt inspired to continue my father's work here. Kakande, Lule and Loyce encouraged me," he says.

Kojo spent the first days of his visit at Kakande's Muyenga residence and subsequently established his first church at White Nile in Kibuye, before shifting to Hotel Niagara's conference hall in Najjanankumbi. Last month, he moved his ministry to a double-storey tiled bungalow on Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road.

Surrounded by papyrus fencing and graced by a spacious tarmac compound, the bungalow is Kojo's official residence. It is flanked by a restaurant to the left and a grey makeshift tent to the right, which acts as the church. Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, believers gather in this tent to pray. Sunday service is a five-hour affair, led by Kojo, assisted by Sheila Nvanungi of the Central Broadcasting Service.

Pastor Erik Nsiah, Estone Musisi, a group of energetic young men and a youthful worship team clad in West African Kitenge outfit, prepare the congregation for prayers.

It is an intense moment of activity marked by singing, wailing, groaning, sweating and collapsing of a few individuals. After service, believers are invited to lunch which costs between sh1,000 and sh2,000. Among other things, is the presence of Nvannungi, whose explicit advice on the use of ungodly herbal medicine over the radio has raised concern about her commitment to a faith that detests such practice.

But Pastor Kojo says: "Nvannungi is a committed born-again Christian whose role on radio has been misunderstood. She is doing her job and that does not affect her faith in anyway," he says.

Despite everything, the faithful at this church are not shaken. We have been falsely accused of using electric gadgets; Jesus is our gadget," says pastor Mugisha.

The talk of an electric touch machine is a ploy by envious people to bring us down, but we will not be shaken," says Edward Koojo, a regular at this church.

The National Fellowship of Born Again Pentecostal Churches (NFBAPC) in Uganda has, however, disassociated itself from churches involved in such practices as those brought against Rev. Kojo.

"They are not part of us and, therefore, not bound by the rules that govern our operations," says Apostle Alex Mitala, the NFBAPC chairman.

Kojo denies any foul intentions in importing the electric touch machine.

"This is a mere toy which I bought for my children. It was sent here from England by my mother to spice up my twin daughters' 18th birthday party. I had no other intentions for it," he says.

Kojo stresses that while the power that throws people to the ground during prayer exists, it is not controlled by human beings. "Sometimes, it is the power of the Holy Spirit although it can also be the devil at work," he says.

Surprised at the lack of exposure to such modern gadgets by many Ugandans, he said the rumours about misuse of the electric touch machine are being fuelled by his rivals.

Rev. Kojo nevertheless vows to remain committed to his mission to spread the gospel.

Husband to Jennifer Obiri Yeboah, a British-born African accountant based in England, this father of five children vows to stay on to win more souls. With part of his family here, he continues to run his ministry while managing a business dealing in second-hand goods. What will come of a complicated, unverified case between this man, police and his detractors remains to be seen.

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