How a ‘fake’ Togolese king pulled an interesting scam in the U.S. and Israel for decades

July 03, 2019 at 12:03 pm | History

Etsey Atisu

Etsey Atisu | Staff Writer

July 03, 2019 at 12:03 pm | History

Francois Ayi claimed to be the Messiah and the king of lost Jewish tribes in Togo, Africa

He claimed to be the King of Togo when there is nothing like that in the West African Republic today. He claimed to be planning a meeting of hundreds of kings from Africa to Israel when there aren’t even so many kings on the continent. He claimed to have spoken to God when it was obvious he just needed another lie to build on the several others he had been telling for so long.

Francois Ayi might not have commanded armies or wielded riches and power but he sure did play a great mind game on some of the most respected rabbinic figures of Israel when he showed up from nowhere, riding on the back of such a revered tag.

He claimed he was the Messiah and he had organised his own coronation in America in 1994 while naming the Embassy of Togo as a co-sponsor when the former had no idea of such a thing.

That, in summary, is the grand scheme of lies and fraudulent lifestyle of the self-proclaimed king of the Republic of Togo, a man who was at a point referred to as the King of Kings in Africa.

His journey from the coastlines of Togo in West Africa to Israel was one fraught with one of many major things in mind – establish a claim over something that didn’t even exist using an excuse of a desire to be converted into a Jew.

Before his fame in Israel, Ayi started as an ordinary immigrant who moved to the United States in 1989. He publicized his princehood in 1992 to local churches and businesses and later organized a coronation in a hotel in Washington DC in 1994.

His Majesty King Ayi from the Republic of Togo, as he was called, was already called a fraud since the 1990s by Rev. Gordon White, a Pennsylvania minister who knew him in Togo before his emigration. The U.S. State Department also does not recognize Ayi as an official representative of Togo.

Despite the questions surrounding his claim, Ayi created non-profit foundations; Royal Ayi Foundation and the Royal Green Cross that boast of opening schools and orphanages and distributing food and medical supplies in Togo.

He has been invited to several gatherings around the U.S. and presented as an African king. He also organised fundraisers for his foundation.

Francois Ayi got involved with the Jewish community in 2014 and decided to embark on a pilgrimage to Israel. “After searching, now I know that certain teachings are good, the other religion misled. Now I make my choice, to stay with the Torah that has been given to us,” said Ayi in Israel where he widely covered by major news media as the African king who has Jewish roots.

‘Lost Tribe King’ To Bring Hundreds of African-Jewish Royals to Jerusalem for ‘Spiritual Pilgrimage’ by the Forward

Rabbi Daniel Assur (the man to oversee the conversion of this ‘king’ from Africa into Judaism) was the first rabbi Ayi approached. To the Rabbis of Israel, it was great and welcoming news since the nation had recently been trying to trace its Jewish roots in Africa.

Photo: YouTube

To make his conversion a more official exercise, Rabbi Assur, in consultation with other respected Rabbis, got a green light to speed up processes at getting this man converted and accepted as an African king with Jewish roots.  

Following that, ministers from the Israeli government also gave him audience as well as influential rabbinic figures, including Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, an Israeli rabbi and posek considered a leading authority in Haredi Jewish society.

Photo: Breaking Israel News

Not enough for him to claim to be a king, Francois Ayi also led the Rabbis to believe his ability and plan to bring together hundreds of African kings to Israel for a conference during an upcoming Sukkot (Festival of Booths) holiday “as a gesture of spiritual connection to the God of Israel.”

Soon, Rabbi Assur would find out that none of the assertions by this ‘king’ was true. In 2016, he called him a fraud and an idol worshipper who wanted to introduce idolatry into Judaism. When confronted, Ayi claimed, “He said all those things because God told him to say them.”

Rabbi Assur, disappointed and shocked, then asked him when he spoke to God and that was when “He began to speak as if he was a prophet,” Rabbi Assur said.

“He was with me for two months. I was willing to help him, as long as he did what I told him, agreed to and signed on to, as long as he followed the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments),” said Rabbi Assur to Kikar Shabbat, a Hebrew language Orthodox news service.

Photo: Breaking Israel News

“Little by little, I began to notice that he wasn’t adhering to these things. I saw that he was using his cell-phone on Shabbat to make announcements. But even worse than that, I saw in the media that he was taking part in ceremonies that were nothing less than idol worship. It is impossible to include foreign Gods into Judaism. It is either one or the other, but not both.”

But that was not all of the most outrageous things that he would claim to be able to do.

When Ayi met the Israeli Religious Affairs Minister, David Azulai, in what was an unusual visit from a member of royalty with an even more unusual request, he asked that the State of Israel officially recognize the people of Togo as one of the lost tribes of Israel. His claim too was that his mission was not only nationalistic but Messianic.  

“It is impossible to continue to work with this man if he declares that he is the Messiah,” said Rabbi Asur. “His intention was to crown himself in Jerusalem.”

Later, Rabbi Assur would reveal that “I spoke to the son of the actual king in Ghana. The son converted and lives in Holon and is a pious and learned Jew. The King of Ghana never heard of Francois Ayi. Francois claimed to be the King of African Kings. It isn’t possible that he would be so, and the King of Ghana never heard of him. Also, a professor in Togo wrote a paper about the seventeen kings of Togo. Francois Ayi does not appear on that list.”

Rich Appleton of the U.S. State Department’s Togo Desk once described him as “The guy is very, very good at spinning stories. For him to say this stuff seems an exaggeration at the least. I can tell you this much – there’s no kingdom, and there’s no king.”

Despite his obvious disappointment, Rabbi Assur stated that this was the act of one person. “He lied to some of the greatest rabbis in Israel,” Rabbi Assur said. “There are tribes of Israel in Africa. We will continue with this. He endangered something very important. Had he continued, he would have locked the door on others who have good intentions.”

Photo: Israel Rising

Ayi’s chief promoter, anti-missionary activist, Daniel Asor, eventually admitted that the man who claimed to be the king of lost Jewish tribes in Togo, Africa, and intimating that he wanted to draw them back to their ancestral faith did not even have clothes.

“Today our paths separated,” he told the Israeli chareidi press“At the time he came to me, he claimed that he was a Christian but belonged to the Lost Tribes. I brought him to the gedolei Yisroel and said that they would decide whether to convert him. They gave me their blessing to convert him… But after a while, I noticed that he was sending text messages on Shabbos and I saw that he was involved in certain Christian or magic rituals. This doesn’t go with Judaism.”

As the head of Israel Rising, a website that works towards connecting Israel and Africa, David Mark was deeply dismayed by the fraud perpetrated by Francois Ayi. He had spent many hours with Francois, helping him in his professed mission to convert and reconnect the lost tribes that were in Africa. Mark was dismayed by Ayi’s constant demands for money from those he met, and even more dismayed by people believing Ayi’s messianic pretensions.

“I expect more and more of these leaders will arise as we continue within our redemptive process, which is a global process,” Mark wrote. “We must filter those who seek to harm us and our friends from within and connect with those forces who are like-minded in seeing a world that is rectified.”

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