For contextual background to this blog post, check this comprehensive summary out:
Thanks in part to social media, scandals stampede over each other like hungry students at the dining hall who just heard of extra meat in their lunch. We can reel off stories that have uprooted and have been uprooted in quick succession: Vic Hammah, GYEEDA, SADA, The tweaaa DCE, Olele Facts, and many more.
The latest scandal involves Fauster Mensah, who through lying and manipulation, got interviewed on GTV about incredible exploits and was honored by the Pentecostal Church, among other things. He perpetuated the lie by creating pages on academia.edu, YouTube and other such sites to promote himself as an über-achiever. Incredibly (or maybe inevitably? I don’t know anymore), people bought into the lie.
On the surface it seems wrong to blame those who fell for the ruse. After all, everyone is accepting to an extent, because gullibility connects with trust – we all trust one way or the other and can be conned. The problem arises when you allow yourself to be scammed by fantastic stories. (This is why I don’t pity ‘victims’ of 419 schemes but that is another story.)
If you believe a young man of 28 who tells you he has been awarded a plethora of awards including a Nobel Prize, you have to happily follow the instructions of an email purportedly from Mobutu’s ghost and sell off your inheritance to gain a share of a billion dollars. Essentially, GTV and the Church of Pentecost did this when they granted him airtime and an award respectively.
Initially I thought this was a joke: by the time he got to GTV and the church, news about him should have been bigger than young Kwesi Enin’s Ivy League sweep; most people also know that the Nobel Prize is not awarded by the United Nations. in his CV he calls a male professor a female professor who raised 6 children and inspired him due to ‘her’ being female. There are many many more intricate lies but a red flag should surely have shot up early. (As a side note, it is very easy to pun on Fauster for Fraudster- ironically, that is his actual name.)
Understandably, public reactions have ranged from disbelief, anger and ridicule to exasperation. Most of them are directed toward the young man but I will focus on two others: the media and the church.
In any serious country the press has major responsibility. The media is known as the 4th estate and rightly so, because of the power to influence public opinion, disseminate information and speak to issues. Like the other three estates – executive, legislature and judiciary – there is the risk of abuse and incompetence. It is important, then, to ensure that various stakeholders work to keep these components of a nation running.
Truth be told, there are excellent journalists and media folk in Ghana doing a positively fantastic job – thus it is unfair to make a sweeping generalization. Sad to say though, the impression created is that GTV’s actions are reflective of the media landscape. From this incident one can only hope that the folks at the Station of the Nation do a better job researching and disseminating correct information. If a young man with amateur photoshop skills could do this, one can only fearfully estimate the damage done at media houses by others.
The church is also an important institution in a religious country like Ghana. As a moral compass and a leader in socio-economic interventions we cannot underestimate its position. Similar to GTV, for the Church of Pentecost to have honored the man without due diligence, implies that we have to be very afraid when we think about people with more dastardly intentions who have engaged with the church.
Ultimately, both GTV and the Church of Pentecost have to acknowledge their role as participants in this fraud and think long and hard about their larger role in developing Ghana.
At the very least, the Church of Pentecost has acknowledged its error, initiating counseling for the young man. I think this is a step in the right direction. Fauster needs help and not condemnation. GTV on the other hand has not yet made public comments apologizing and working toward rebuilding credibility. In the meantime, one hopes they watch the interview again and soak in the presenter’s glee at interviewing a Nobel Prize winner. That would have been the first by a Ghanaian TV station, I should think.
It is sad to note that another scandal will take this one’s place and people will let GTV and the church off the hook. Or maybe I am just pessimistic.