What I have in common with Prophet Bushiri, TayGrin and Kachali

 It was a fresh Monday morning, just before I closed my laptop and left for a preparatory briefing on an “All Stakeholders’ Meeting.” A notification popped up on my Blackberry. “Call me,” the message read, the moment I pressed the OK button. It was from someone, a delegate actually, who was supposed to be part of the meeting. Reading the message further left me trembling – with my mouth agape and eyes agoggle. The phone fell to the floor. My Personal Assistant, probably after finding out that I was taking more than too long to leave the office and maybe because of the sound of a phone crashing to the floor, hastily entered the office, without knocking and asked: “Are you OK?”I threw my eyes on him, without a word, and pointed at the phone which was still lying on the floor.

“This can’t be true,” my P.A. said having picked up the phone. “Try calling him.” Indeed it could not be true. This man confirmed three days ago that he would attend the meeting. He never mentioned about being in Manila, Philippines for a short vacation.

“It can’t be possible,” further said my P.A., shaking his head. I picked up the phone, called Jimmy’s number, and listening to his voice at the other end of the line left me sighing with relief. “Jimmy, Jimmy? Are you OK?” I said shrieking.  “You just sent an e-mail that you were mugged in Philippines with Alice. Are you both OK?” He assured me that he was okay, and that he never sent me any email that day. I was shocked!

Prophet Bushiri

Prophet Bushiri

Still, I managed to make it for the meeting primarily to believe if Jimmy was really alive and not mugged. We talked about what I had received with the other colleagues for some minutes before starting the meeting. They all seemed to have gotten used to such kind of messages. I was the odd one out that day of the meeting.

But the experiences, the shock I had experienced is something I would never wish for anyone out there. It could be a strategy of trying to evade one’s scanty conditions of living; but the art of some people masquerading as others, to get help in the name of I’m-in-great-trouble-please-help – a phenomenon that is slowly but steadily growing winds in Malawi. In that letter, the author shrewdly knew I could help Jimmy with whatever penny I had in my account – even if it meant the last one from my deposit box. Jimmy and I are childhood friends, having spent more than ten years of our early lives together. Fate joined us again in the fight for human rights and equality in Malawi; though with different but leading NGOs.

The sender of the bogus message asked for a help (or loan as s/he called it) of $2650 an equivalent of about K1.5 million. And he followed his request with: “I promise to make the refund once we get back home. Please let me know if you can help and I need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way I can reach you.”

Of course, he claimed to have lost a phone; and never mentioned Malawi. But I realized later that that was deliberate. The thief did not know where I stayed and did not even know my phone number. I also learned from the discussion, with the colleagues, that if I had only responded to the e-mail, they would have asked me to send the money through Money Gram or such other online money transfer media to someone who is known in the area they were mugged who was supporting them. At a snap of a finger, my K1.5 million could have been history just like that.

I was also informed of another tactic these thugs were using. Subscribers of a certain mobile network in Malawi received many anonymous messages from people wishing to be their girlfriends or saying they were in trying-situations like that of Jimmy.

Also, with the influx of social network pages such as Facebook on Malawi’s technological scene, and its immeasurable proliferation, Malawian users have more than a million times complained of having their accounts hacked or made available to the public in duplicate. This also occurs when a particular impersonator sends you a request to be their girlfriend or boyfriend. Responding to such messages leaves your account vulnerable to hacking or people can get your personal details and claim weeks or months later to be you and send a message to your relatives for urgent help. When they realise that they have been tripped, it could be late for your innocent relatives. Millions of kwachas lost.

It is; therefore, important to seriously treat these messages with caution – either trashing the messages or reporting the questionable accounts to Facebook as spam. There are three major cases in Malawi which came to my attention in the aftermath of my ordeal. One is the one involving the country’s president. There are many fake Joyce Banda accounts on Facebook. I recall with vividness that such bogus accounts were created just months after Pres Banda had launched her official Facebook Page. The impersonator, following the controversial letter that alleged President Banda had resigned claimed, in the shoes of Pres Joyce Banda, that indeed she had resigned following doctors’ advice.

The second case is Shepherd Bushiri – Malawi’s youthful prophet who heads the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG). The Man of God, as many of his admirers call him, had tested the juice of being a celebrity with many accounts created in his name. On one hand, it is alleged that some of ‘his impersonators’, using Bushiri’s fame, have been asking girls out. Taking photos of themselves (without a face or a digitalised nude picture) and sending them to young women who think have a relationship with the prophet. With the spirit of ‘Groupies’ sneaking into the girls’ culture, some girls have been sending back some nude images of themselves to the satisfaction of the troll. I also heard of the alleged Bushiri accounts demanding some money from poor in exchange of miracles and prophecies.

I remember very well of my garden boy had told me that Bushiri had sent him a message requesting money for prophecies. He was told that something huge will happen in his family, but he has to earn the prophecy through a monetary delivery. Luckily, I gave him the phone to call ECG to verify the claims. He was told that Bushiri was in South Africa for his extravagant birthday. Indeed, an extravagant man like Bushiri how could he demand ma hundred when he is literary bathing in gold.

Another major reason for setting up fake social network accounts is trolling which is becoming common these days – with many blackmailing people for money.  One delegate, talked about another case involving a fake account of TayGrin, a stage name for Limbani Kalilani. From that account, a nude picture alleged of Taygrin was sent to some girls in her neighbourhood until they realised that true Taygrin uses his birth name on Facebook.  But it was too late for the girls as they had already exchanged unpalatable images with the fake Taygrin.

What we discussed last on the topic was Khumbo Kachali – Malawi’s incumbent Vice President. We all cerebrated when someone who claimed to be KK announced that he was on Facebook. Indeed, this happened just some few hours after President Banda had dumped him, opting for Sosten Gwengwe as her running mate. Khumbo’s case is also fascinating because he renounced the alleged page just after coming back to terms with Pres Banda. But one delegate said: Asa wadya chibanzi uyu, I have evidence. While another claimed: ndiye impersonator uja ndi wanzeru kuposa a Khumbo’tu.

Another delegate, who had remained quite perusing through his notes and seemed not taken by our discussions throughout, chipped in: Koma man of god nawo, all those beautiful girls mu tchalichi mpaka asikana osasamba ngati awa? We broke into uncontrollable stitches of laughter as he showed us a profile of one of the girls who alleged to have an affair with Bushiri.

As I looked at her profile, I then remembered a case involving a British woman who was recently convicted to about 2 years for trolling herself on Facebook. The woman created many fake Facebook accounts through which she could send to her real account vile, sexually explicit pictures and messages, even death threats just to frame her step mother. As I was about to tell people in that room about this case, the chairperson of the meeting walked in and we all went to our seats.

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