Malawi is the poorest country in the world. The southeastern African country of has a population of 15 million. Roughly 74% of its population lives below the poverty line of $1.90 a day. Malawi suffers from a number of major challenges including weather that routinely devastates the agricultural sector, making it very difficult to simply grow food. Furthermore, according to the 2019 UNAIDS AIDSinfo report, roughly 9% of adult Malawians have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. That same report estimates that around 1.1 million people are living with HIV in Malawi.
Given these grave facts, you might be surprised to learn that the richest person in Malawi is a preacher. A Christian preacher named Shepherd Bushiri.
His exact personal fortune is almost impossible to estimate. When you google “Shepherd Bushiri net worth” you will find a number of sites that estimate his fortune at $100 – $150 million. If true, that would easily make him one of richest people in Malawi and very likely THE richest.
A November 2020 New York Times article titled “Millionaire Preacher Skips Bail in South Africa, Fueling International Dispute” stated that Bushiri has “amassed tremendous wealth after founding the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in South Africa’s capital of Pretoria.“
Bushiri is a different kind of Christian preacher. He’s a self-styled “prophet” who also goes by the name “Major 1.”
Tens of thousands of people attend services at his church daily. Over the years, he’s reportedly claimed to have cured people of HIV/AIDS, made the blind see, and on at least one occasion his followers claim to have seen him walk on air.
He’s also been arrested a few times…
Bushiri grew up poor in the northern Malawi city of Mzuzu. He claims he had a spiritual encounter with a supernatural power when he was 10 that made it clear his life was meant to be lived in the service of God. He founded his church in Malawi in 2010. Later, he moved the headquarters of EGC to Pretoria, the capitol of South Africa.
To put his popularity in perspective – he’s filled sports stadiums with a capacity of 100,000 with followers. He’s said to have more than one million followers in South Africa alone.
Unfortunately, Shepherd has been accused of exploiting his poverty-stricken followers who are desperate to improve their lives by selling “miracle oil” and other merchandise. Critics have called Bushiri a snake oil salesman who preys on the poor in his country while he travels by private jet, drives luxury cars, and owns a number of mansions.
Here’s a video of Shepherd arriving in a motorcade of Rolls Royce limousines to speak in front of a sold-out stadium in 2018:
Authorities in Botswana shut down the branch of the Enlightened Christian Gathering in their country when Bushiri claimed he could summon money out of thin air. That claim violated their financial laws. The ban was temporary though as the courts later ruled that Bushiri’s church was allowed to continue operating in Botswana, but he’d need to obtain a visa every time he wants to enter the country.
Outside of preaching, Bushiri also runs a global investment company called Shepherd Bushiri Investments. The investment company has interests in everything from mining, an airline and real.
Shepherd justifies his vast fortune by saying men of God should be rich.
According to the New York Times, during a church service in March 2017, he allegedly promised his followers a 50% return on their investment in a month if they pledged 100,000 South African Rand (roughly equivalent to $6,500 USD). He called it a “commodity investment opportunity.” Nearly two years later, many of the people who did invest money with Bushiri had reportedly still not received a return. It was eventually reported that those funds were not invested in “gold minerals” in Zambia as the congregants had been told. Instead, the funds were reportedly deposited directly into the church’s bank account.
Bushiri and his wife Mary were arrested in South Africa on charges of fraud and money laundering on February 1, 2019. The courts tried to confiscate his Gulfstream jet, claiming it had been bought with funds Bushiri acquired illegally. That attempt failed and the jet was returned. Bushiri and his wife were also soon released on bail.
On October 20, 2020, they were arrested again, this time on charges of money laundering, theft, and fraud unrelated to the original charges. Their passports were revoked and they were released from custody. Still, they somehow managed to make their way across the border into Malawi. It’s believed they were smuggled aboard a flight Malawian officials took to South Africa. An international warrant was issued for his arrest.
In November 2020, Bushiri and his wife appeared before a judge in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi about that warrant. The judge ordered Bushiri and his wife freed. As his motorcade drove away from the court, throngs of supporters ran behind it, cheering and chanting.
And it should be noted that American preachers aren’t exactly sinless either. According to the Associated Press, yesterday American televangelist Jim Bakker and his Missouri-based Morningside Church Productions Inc. agreed to pay a $156,000 settlement to settle a lawsuit that accused the pastor of selling a silver supplement that he claimed could cure COVID-19.
This is the same Jim Bakker who in the 1980s ran a Christian television program called “The PTL Club” which at its peak raked in $1 million per week in viewer contributions. A 1985 IRS report claimed that $1.3 million worth of ministry funds were used for Jim’s personal benefit over a three year period.
This is the same Jim Bakker who was accused of rape by a church secretary named Jessica Hahn.
In 1988 Jim Bakker was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and a single count of conspiracy. A jury found him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine. The fine and sentence were later vacated and instead he was ordered to serve 8 years. He served five years.