Togo's high priest of voodoo and the tabloid press

Lome, Togo - "May our ancestors protect you and guide your every step," newspaper editor and voodoo high priest Togbui Gnagblondjro III whispers to the children who have come to pay their respects.

He is standing in front of the offices of his paper Tingo Tingo, one of the best-selling dailies in Togo, as he speaks the blessing, proving that he has little trouble combining his twin roles.

After four years of instruction in a voodoo convent in Vogan, 100km north of the capital of Lome, 40-something Gnagblondjro on Sunday celebrated his inauguration as a priest at a ceremony attended by hundreds of believers.

Henceforth he will be known as High Priest Heviosso, borrowing his name from the voodoo god of thunder, one of the main deities in this African religion based on communication with the ancestors.

In some parts of West Africa it is the dominant faith and about half of Togo's population of five million people practice voodoo, though Gnagblondjro says he resisted his calling as a priest for a long time.

"One day, I heard that the oracles of Vogan had designated me as a voodoo high priest. For a while I did not want to do this, because my wife is a pastor in her church", he says.

"But in the end I accepted, mainly because of all the misfortunes that befell my family during the time that I was dithering."

His new responsibilities mean that he has to commute daily between the newspaper offices in Lomé and Vogan, where he ministers to members of his flock and, he says, occasionally to "very important foreign people".

He listens to their problems and then intervenes on their behalf with the ancestors, passing on confessions and praying for blessings.

"People come from all parts of the country to consult me on their problems. The other day a German lady came back to see me, just to thank me for the advice I gave her last time," he says proudly.

"She has never been able to have children. She explained her problem to us and we helped her. Today she is six months pregnant."

Gnagblondjro believes voodoo does not deserve its reputation as a shadowy cult whose followers often use it to cast spells on their opponents.

"Voodoo does no harm. It protects you if you are honest and sincere. It hates treason and lies," he explains.

The religion is said to have been born on the banks of the Mono River which forms the border between Benin and Togo in the 16th century and has more than 150 gods.

In West Africa alone an estimated 30-million people practise voodoo, while elsewhere on the continent it is often seamlessly combined with elements of Christianity.

Gnagblondjro says most of the journalists at Tingo Tingo, which he has edited for 10 years, are firm believers in voodoo.

"I have no problem running my newspaper. Most of my colleagues are voodoo followers and we have worked together in a good spirit for many years."