In 2018, the Rwandan government shut down more than 6,000 churches and 100 mosques across the country including 714 in the capital city of Kigali in what was seen as a move by the state to assert more control on religious communities.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame claimed the crackdown on the churches and mosques across the landlocked East African country was over failure to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations.
More than 40 percent of Rwanda’s 12.67 million population is Roman Catholic, more than a third is Protestant, and more than 10 percent is Adventist. Muslims, members of Christian schismatic religious groups and the nonreligious collectively account for less than 10 percent of the population, according to Brittanica.
Kagame was shocked by the number of houses of worship in Rwanda and said the country did not need so many, claiming that such a high number was more fitting for bigger, more developed economies that could sustain them.
“Seven hundred churches in Kigali? Are these boreholes that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? This has been a mess!” Kagame said in dismay.
The law also bars clergy who have been convicted of crimes of genocide, genocidal ideology, discrimination or other sectarian practices.
In 100 days in 1994, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists who were targeting members of the minority Tutsi community as well as their political opponents, irrespective of ethnic origin. The Rwandan genocide began after the death of the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, whose plane was shot down above Kigali airport on April 6, 1994. Some churches participated in the genocide, according to a United Nations criminal tribunal.
“I have closed over 6000 churches and mosques in my country and I am now demanding for a theology degree for every religious leader. Stop playing with people’s faith and making it a business. Rwanda is already a blessed country,” Twitter user Africa Archives (@Africa_Archives) quoted President Kagame saying.
While some Christian leaders protested against the closure of the churches, many supported the action.
Esron Maniragaba, President of the Evangelical Free Church of Rwanda, said the closure was necessary for their safety. “Government efforts to have churches build better structures are welcome to all of us.”
Six Pentecostal pastors who protested the church closures and new law were arrested and charged with holding “illegal meetings with bad intentions.”
The Muslim community took action to reopen the shut-down mosques.
“We are trying to fix what the government told us to do,” said Mufti Sheikh Salim Hitimana, leader of the Muslim community in Rwanda.
President Kagame has been praised for transforming the devastated country by encouraging rapid economic growth. He has tried to turn Rwanda into a tech hub and is active on Twitter. However, his critics say he does is intolerant of dissent and freedom of expression and has disappeared his opponents.
“Rwanda has always been a tightly controlled society, organised like a pyramid from each district up to the top of government,” BBC reported. “It is illegal in Rwanda to talk about ethnicity.”
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