Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Americans find a common Botswana practice amusing

What is par for the course in Botswana is seen as far from normal behaviour by some sections of the United States media.

A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump, nominated former Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue, to be his secretary of agriculture. In reporting this development, one too many media outlets in the US felt the need to mirthfully point out that as governor, Perdue once led prayer service for rain in 2007. Indeed, Perdue made headlines at the time for seeking divine intervention amidst a crippling drought.

“God, we need you,” Perdue said at the prayer service. “We need rain.”

Praying for rain is standard practice in Botswana and when leaders ask people to pray during drought periods, that never elicits sarcasm in the media. When the sky withheld rain in 2013, no less a leader than President Ian Khama asked people to pray for rain, declaring September the month of prayer for rain. In response to such call, religious leaders held a prayer service for rain at the then almost empty Gaborone Dam. Around the country, people congregated at the kgotla (the traditional public meeting place) to heed Khama’s call. When the parliamentary year started two months later, a cabinet minister, Edwin Batshu, larded his prayer in the chamber with pleas for rain.

The question of whether prayers for rain have the desired result depends on one’s faith ÔÇô or lack of it, but the whole enterprise of praying for rain can be a little confusing. Once before, in another drought year, the leader of the South African-based Zion Christian Church, Bishop Barnabas Lekganyane, visited Botswana. Soon thereafter, there were heavy downpours that filled up rivers and dams, regenerated pastures ÔÇô and destroyed bridges. This rain was attributed to Lekganyane’s visit. Oddly, the ZCC didn’t make similar intercession in other severe drought years – 2013 included, which raises all sorts of interesting questions. One is, “Is information from the weather office of any strategic value to religious leaders who reportedly have rain-making powers?” If the answer is yes, a priest might visit a place for which the weather office has forecast good rains in order that he can claim credit.

When Lekganyane visited in 2013, many concluded that he was bringing rain but the Ministry of Health had to release a statement clarifying that the bishop had been invited to launch the Faith-Based Organization strategy on HIV/AIDS and other prevention strategies. The statement was meant to counter rumours that President Khama had invited Lekganyane to lead a prayer service for rain.  

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