Antoine Rutayisire the founder of the African Evangelistic Enterprise was one of the key speakers at the Lausanne Congress of on World Evangelization taking place in Cape Town. Rutayisire is also the vice chairman for the National Reconciliation Commission and the dean of the Anglican Church in Kigali. In his message, he scoffed the pre-genocide church, while praising the current church for “rediscovering a new identity." The "new" church, he says, is promoting truth and reconciliation in Rwanda.
A close ally of Rick Warren, Rutayisiye was among the translators of Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life into Kinyarwanda. Together with Bishop John Rucyana of the Anglican Shyira diocese, the duo represents the top leadership of the “new” church in Rwanda. Both men are Tutsi who spent many years in Uganda, were educated in the United States and are said to be very close to the Rwanda leader, Paul Kagame.
Rutayisire’s vision for the church in Rwanda is good and welcome. Liberation of the nation ought to start with the church. But churches in Rwanda are still organized along ethnic lines, and most leadership roles in the mainstream churches have been “liberated” and given to individuals with close ties to the ruling regime.
It is for this reason that I think Rutayisire overstates the reform that has taken place in the current church. Although the power base has shifted, the structures have unfortunately remained the same. The church is still ethnic based and a cheer-leading platform for the ruling party . It is a church that seems to foster the interests of one group instead of offering the much needed healing and reconciliation for all Rwandans.
Regardless of how we understand Rwandan history, it is clear that the so called 1959 revolution would not have occurred had it not been for the support of the Belgian missionaries. Unfortunately, the leaders of the revolution mistook democracy for a majoritarian dictatorship. Similarly, the church suffered one major shortcoming. It remained indifferent even as injustice against the Tutsi minority became an accepted way of life.
The church soon became willingly co-opted by the state. The late President Juvenal Habyarimana was seen by the church as a morally sound leader. His warm relations with the church were maintained at the expense of the Tutsi minority. A sad example of this is the late Monsignor Nsengiyumva, the archbishop of Kigali also served as the chairman of the ruling party’s central committee for 14 years.
To understand today’s Rwanda one needs to dig beyond the surface. The smiling faces can be deceptive and often gives the wrong impression that everything is well. But the reality is that the many years of ethnic strife have eroded communal trust. As a result, Rwandans have developed a unique way of communicating that is often confusing to foreigners.
The confusion might indeed give the impression that Rwanda has dramatically changed.
The truth is that reconciliation is only “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Rwandans are yet to have an honest engagement into their past. The biggest and most obvious reason being that the government favors a one sided history that divides the society in two camps of good and bad. And that the church, has endorsed this message.
As in the past, the church today has found it comfortable to side with the strong against the weak. The catholic European missionaries of yesterday are back in the form of evangelicals who endorse Kagame’s murderous regime. Using their strong ties, the evangelical missionaries are able to manipulate the global perceptions of President Kagame. Consider this: In tribute to Kagame in 2009, Rev. Warren wrote to the Times that, “Kagame's leadership has a number of uncommon characteristics. One is his willingness to listen to and learn from those who oppose him.”
Yet even as he wrote this, the members of the opposition was facing constant persecution. Rwanda was bankrolling rogue militia leaders such as Laurent Nkunda whose CNDP was on a killing spree in eastern Congo. This was a well known fact, but fiercely ignored by the church.
Lastly, the one sided view of Rutayisire's speech is hard to forgive. At no time did he mention that the same Rwanda he praised is also responsible for the mass atrocities committed in the DRC which targeted its Hutu citizens. How can the church reconcile Rwanda when the same church is reluctant to recognize the failures of its government?
To me the key challenge facing reconciling in Rwanda is the lack of acceptance, consensus and truth. Rwanda will only cease to be the “birth place of hate” if church leaders take a higher moral ground and rise beyond ethnic politics to speak for all, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Considering what has befallen our nation in the last 16 years, we cannot afford another divisive church.
But the slogan “never again” has no meaning, if the government continues to torture its own citizens and to favor assassinations as a means of conflict resolution. This is happening in our country, and the church is silent again. In fact, after the Mapping report on DRC was released, I was perturbed to learn that a section of protestant leaders were at the forefront of protesting the report which they claimed was an attack against the government.
Rwandans are tired of a church that sides with an oppressive government against the people. How can such a politicized church reconcile the people?It is simply and sadly not possible.
N.B Correction: One of my readers informed me that Rutayisire, although an insider of the regime, is not a member of the Ugandan returnees faction.