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Rwandan President, Paul Kagame Shuts Down Thousands of Churches and Mosques

Rwanda’s government has closed thousands of churches and dozens of mosques as it seeks to assert more control over a vibrant religious community whose sometimes makeshift operations, authorities say, have threatened the lives of followers.

President Paul Kagame has said he was shocked by the high number of churches in this small East African country. “700 churches in Kigali?” he said of houses of worship in the nation’s capital in March. “Are these boreholes (deep wells) 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 Rwanda doesn’t need so many houses of worship, claiming that such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them.

The closings are bringing mixed reactions in Rwanda, where human rights groups have long accused Kagame’s government of clamping down on freedom of expression, which the president has denied. Six Pentecostal pastors who protested the church closures were arrested and accused of “illegal meetings with bad intentions,” and since then other critics have refused to discuss the issue with The Associated Press.

While Rwanda’s government describes the closures as tackling churches that have failed to comply with building safety standards, it is taking other steps to oversee the religious community in the largely Christian nation of 12 million people.

Proposed legislation aims to regulate faith-based organizations separately from civil society organizations, said Alexis Nkurunziza, president of the private Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum. Suggestions from religious leaders soon will be forwarded to the Rwanda Law Reform Commission for scrutiny and later to parliament, he said. The legislation is expected to be passed as the ruling party holds a majority of parliamentary seats.

The new legislation would require pastors to have a theology degree before they start their own churches so that they teach correct doctrine, said those familiar with the discussions. The aim is to regulate the Pentecostal churches that often spring up under leaders who claim to have received a call to preach. Not everyone, however, has the money for such a degree, some observers have said.

The majority of churches that have been closed are said to be small Pentecostal prayer houses, with some preachers suspected of growing rich off often impoverished followers. Some churches meet in tents or houses that cannot accommodate crowds and noise pollution from nighttime gatherings is a concern, authorities said.

“The prayer houses were found in such poor physical conditions, and we are not targeting any religion,” Anastase Shyaka, the head of the Rwanda Governance Board that regulates faith-based organizations, told the AP. “We are closing prayer houses of all different denominations and asking them to meet existing health and safety standards for their followers.”

Local media in the capital have reported that over 6,000 churches have been closed so far across the country, but Shaka said the actual number was still being compiled.

Rwanda’s government respects freedom of worship but protecting lives of people comes first, he said, adding that churches which meet the required safety standards will be reopened.

One new requirement for churches is the installation of a lightning rod, after a lightning strike in March killed 16 worshippers and injured 140 at a Seventh-Day Adventist church in the country’s south.

Mosques across Rwanda also have been affected. About 100 have been closed, the leader of the country’s Muslim community, Mufti Sheikh Salim Hitimana, told AP.

“We are now trying to fix what the government told us to do,” he said.

Some evangelical leaders said they support Rwanda’s crackdown, saying that protecting the lives of churchgoers is important and having qualified, trained leaders is necessary.

“Government efforts to have churches build better structures are welcome to all of us,” said Esron Maniragaba, president of the Evangelical Free Church of Rwanda and a leader with the Evangelical Alliance of Rwanda.

Some Rwandans said the government should supervise churches and take action against exploitative pastors.

“Some pastors are motivated by greed and start churches to defraud their followers,” said Charles Murinzi, who attends an Anglican church in the capital.

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  1. Well done President Kagame, Churches have destroyed Africa in many ways, morally and economically, the social fabric has been damaged and followers are busy used by a few misguided elements enriching themselves in the name of god. I wish the Zimbabwe authorities will follow this example and put sanity to the criminal church activities in Zimbabwe which have damaged families in many ways. I salute the Rwandan President a noble lessin for Africa.

  2. Africa has been destroyed completely by religion. People fill churches daily praying for prosperity. Nobody wants to study to acquire a skill. With things as they are Africans can never ever be able to advance technologically and do their own manufacturing. Africa is lost if religion is allowed to grow hydra-headed. Paul Kigame has started the revolution.

  3. I second Pdt Kagame’s motion. It is a good move in the right direction. Africans should have by now understood that, religions are killing the African continent. Who believes in religions, not even those who created them. It’s man made tricks to fool the gullible and deprive them of their well-beings. But still, Africans remain stupid in the face of the bible which colonized them. I do wish that the majority of African leaders would follow suite.
    To my dears Tonderayi and Fela Russel Shaw, thank you for your positive comments. We need changes in Africa, and changes require positive thoughts. But for the change to be successful, we need the hearts of the people involved. Is Africa ready to obtain the change and to recover all the advantages we’ve lost?

  4. Mr President, you are out of Order. The Lion of Judah built churches in Ethiopia and provided refuge to Muslims. You will indeed answer for this backward treatment of Jesus Christ and His followers…you are loosing.

  5. Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, is right 100% and great job against criminal pastor, all African leaders must take the same action. Church is not for business and prostitute, human right stand for the nation not for criminal pastors. God bless Kagame. Enough is enough, we didn’t extremist religion and criminals, President Paul Kagame have a right to protect his nation form organized criminals.

  6. Well done Kagame! Religion has done nothing to Africa except used as a tool to increase poverty, ignite civil war and hatred and disturb peace. When I first arrived to Rwanda, I was actually surprised how there is a place of worship almost in every corner. It sure don’t help the lovely country move forward and as H.E. said…xxx in Kigali alone? Come on. I wish more countries follow this step. And no, that’s human rights issue…people can worship freely in Rwanda, as I have seen. Just why do we have churches that pop up every morning? Is there a new discovery in the bible?

  7. Yes President Kagame, i believe that Africa have been waiting for this for so long…We need to liberate from this issue of religion. How i wish Nigerians and Nigeria will have this kind of thought…Kudos to you sir.

  8. Yes President Kagame, i believe that Africa have been waiting for this for so long…We need to liberate from religious issue, and face the true doctorine of it. How i wish Nigerians and Nigeria would have this kind of thought…Kudos to you sir

  9. Paul Kagame is an evil monster. It befuddles me that people are enamored by this vile man. He perpetrated the 95 genocide with the help of western agents, the Congo wars and genocides that followed, the aggression’s against neighboring Burundi and the iron dictatorship that is known as present day Rwanda. How violation of the freedom of worship is celebrated because of the bad examples that manifest in any human organisation is beyond me. He might as well ban every public assembly. We all know the Theological schooling requirements are code for state sanctioned preaching in support of blind obedience and allegiance to the government. SMH

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