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Rwanda seeks control of narratives in ethos and nationalism, shuts down churches and mosques, imposes new regulations

Paul Kagame, The Rwandan leader closed thousands of churches and dozens of mosques

Rwanda’s Government, under Paul Kagame, 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. The move is greeted, by some analysts, as laudable effort by the Kagame government to assume dominance in the contestation of ideologies for Rwandan nationalism.

President Paul Kagame 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,” REUTERS quoted Kagame as saying.

Stating that such a high number of churches was only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them, Mr Kagame said Rwanda, a nation of 12 million people did not need so many houses of worship.

The proposed legislation aims to regulate faith-based organizations separately from civil society organizations, said Alexis Nkurunziza, president of the private Rwanda Religious Leaders Forum.

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.

Around 6,000 churches and 100 mosques have been closed in the crack down so far.

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 night-time gatherings was a concern, authorities said.

The Government respects freedom of worship but protecting lives of people came first, Mr. Shaka said, adding that churches which met the required safety standards would be reopened.

One new requirement for churches was 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 have also been affected. About 100 have been closed, the leader of the country’s Muslim community, Mufti Sheikh Salim Hitimana said.

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

Some analysts have greeted the Kagame move as a strong punch in defense of Rwandan nationalism.

Nationalism is an idea, a movement that holds that the nation should be congruent with the state.  Nationalism holds that each nation should govern itself, free from outside interference (self-determination).

It is well known that religion, particularly foreign religions, has been a very divisive factor and has, on many occasions, halted genuine efforts at nationalism on the continent. It has bred violence, disunity, and wars.

Churches, whose roots are often overseas, and whose motives are not very clear, are known to influence, by diminishing, nationalistic ethos, values and cultures across Africa.

Preachers have led youths into believing that material success is hinged on prayers and miracles, not on work. Some have led young men and women into committing murders and suicides, in the belief and hope of gaining salvation in paradise.

There is a limitless ocean of ideas out there – a vibrant contestation of narratives of ideologies, says Dr. David Brume, a public affairs analyst.  Look at it in this perspective:

“Your citizen is the most important resource of the nation. The heart and the mind are the most potent weapons of the citizen. The State should stand as a “cherished boss of the hearts and minds of its citizens.” This is how you create congruence, a match, between State and nation. This is the whole essence of nationalism.”

“You would be better off involved in, and even gaining dominance, this contest of narratives, otherwise someone else will mine the hearts of your citizens and direct them to other purposes. Religion is very good at mining hearts. For this reason, and especially for Africa that is struggling at building nations out of post-colonial states, the State must work with and guide religion,” Dr. Brume held in conclusion.

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