Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a two-day visit to Rwanda. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Rwanda which is Africa’s one of the fastest growing economies and a very resource-rich country. PM Modi received a red-carpet welcome when his aircraft landed at the Kigali International Airport. President of Rwanda Paul Kagame personally received PM Modi.
Among the many important things that he did in Rwanda was visiting the Genocide Memorial. Kigali Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the victims of Rwandan genocide. The Rwandan genocide is also known as the genocide against the Tutsi community. During the Rwandan genocide, members belonging to the Hutu majority community launched a genocidal mass slaughter of members belonging to the Tutsi community. According to the estimates, over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives during the 100 days long Rwanda genocide. The Catholic Church played a pivotal role in engineering the genocide against Tutsis. In fact, during the genocide at many places Church enthusiastically participated in slaughtering the Tutsi minority. On 20th November 2016, the Catholic Church apologized for its role in the Rwandan genocide.
The Genocide Explained:
From 1894 to 1918, Rwanda was part of German East Africa. Later on, along with neighboring Burundi, Rwanda was colonized by Belgium. During the colonial period, the minority Tutsis were favored over the majority Hutu community. About 85 per cent of the population of Rwanda was of Hutus and rests were the Tutsis. Despite being the minority, Tutsis were the ruling elites. Main government positions belonged to Tutsis and the majority Hutus were pushed to the backstage. The Belgians took advantage of this and entered into a mutually beneficial relationship with Tutsis and ruled the country by proxy. They widened the differences between the two ethnic communities by favoring one over the other and discriminating between the Tutsis and Hutus on the basis of body height, size and shape of their nose.
Tutsis were also very educated and were exposed to new ideas that were gaining prominence at that time. The communist idea gained currency among the educated Tutsis community. This new development disturbed the Belgian colonizers who were ruling the country through the Church. So, the Church declared Communism as devilish, anti-Christian and finally a taboo.
There were several agitations led by the Tutsis demanding Rwanda to make an independent communist state. This angered the colonial authorities and they ended all the ties with the Tutsis and began aligning with the Hutu majority. A Hutu revolution broke out in 1959 which forced many Tutsis to flee the country. The exodus turned them into an even smaller minority. By the year 1961, Hutus overthrew Rwanda’s Tutsi monarch and declared Rwanda a republic. In July 1962, Belgium also granted independence to Rwanda.
Ethnically motivated violence continued even after the independence. In 1973, a Hutu Major General Juvenal Habyarimana came to power and ruled the ccountry for the next two decades.
In 1990, a guerilla army, Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), mostly consisting of exiled Tutsis, invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda and challenged the leadership of the Hutus. The war lasted for three years. In the year 1993, Hutus’ President Habyarimana signed a peace agreement with RPF led by Paul Kagame against the wishes of the Church. The peace agreement is known as the Arusha Peace agreement. It called for the creation of a transition government that would include RPF as well. This angered the Hutu extremists and the President Habyarimana also began supporting the training of a Hutu Militia group called Interahamwe. This militia group was trained to eliminate the Tutsi minority. It had set the stage for one of the most brutal and inhumane genocides in the history of the world.
Trigger point to the genocide was the shooting-down of the plane carrying President Habyarimana, allegedly on the orders of the incumbent Rwanda President Paul Kagame. This gave an excuse to Hutu Militia for their barbaric act against the Tutsis. A bloodthirsty Hutu majority slaughtered Tutsi minority continuously for hundred days. The situation came under control only when the RPF took control over the capital Kigali and threw out the genocidal regime. After that, Paul Kagame became the leader of Rwanda and started correcting the wrongs and took many steps to ensure that such ethnic cleansing never takes place again in Rwanda. One of the major steps which he took to prevent any ethnic conflict in future was to launch a crackdown on Churches and Mosques.
Church’s role in Rwandan genocide
During the colonialism period of Rwanda, the Churches enjoyed ultimate authority. The Churches helped Belgians a lot in colonizing Rwanda. Until the advent of communism, the Tutsis and the Church enjoyed a good relationship. With the help of Tutsi elites, the church established a monopoly in almost all the walks of life of a common man in Rwanda. But the popularity of communism among the Tutsis rattled the Church and they turned against the Tutsis. The Church aligned with the Hutu majority and dethroned the Tutsi monarchy and the Hutus came to power in Rwanda.
With the coming of Hutus in power, the Church began enjoying more and more power and authority. Archbishop Andre Perraudin declared the followers of communism as devil and the enemies of God. The Tutsis were portrayed as the demons. People were taught in Churches to hate Tutsis because they are an obstacle to the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Hutu rulers of the country began to involve the church in every tier of the government. Priests became important members of the government, and the archbishop of the Catholic Church used to be a member of the central government. People were asked to follow whatever is taught in the Churches. Challenging the Church became a crime in Rwanda. The church became an inseparable part of Rwandan government. Hutu rulers highlighted ethnic differences between the Hutus and Tutsis. The Tutsis were demonized in the Churches.
While all this was going on, a group of young Tutsis managed to form Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with an aim to invade Rwanda and get back their rightful place. The RPF also attained success in its efforts but ended up paying a heavy price of their success. That price was the genocide of their Tutsi brethern. Arusha peace agreement signed in 1993 was never followed because it was against the Church’s view. The Church was of the view that there can be no accord between Gods and demons. The Church was not at all happy with the Arusha Peace Accord.
From the very moment of signing of the Arusha Peace Accord, the Church started propagating anti-Tutsi propaganda. The Church literally asked the people to kill the Tutsis. Pastor Ignace Yirirwhahandi who took part in the genocide of Tutsis taught people to completely wipe out the Tutsis. References of the Bible were cited to justify the killings of Tutsis. People were brainwashed to believe that they are going to fight and kill the enemies of God and they will emerge victorious as the God is with them. The Church promised allegiance to the government and also promised to support the genocidal Rwandan Armed forces. The Christian Democratic International also extended their support to the Church in its actions.
In order to save their lives, when Tutsis ran to take shelter in Catholic Church, there also they were massacred. At Ntarama Catholic Church over five thousand Tutsis were massacred. The same slaughtering of Tutsis happened in Nyamata, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille.
At some places, priests and nuns first welcomed the Tutsis and then turned against them and started slaughtering them. At many places, priests of the Church remained a mute spectator to the gruesome killings of Tutsis. Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka who encouraged people to rape and murder is now a free. Nyange parish massacre in which 2000 thousand Tutsis lost their lives was carried out under the tutelage of Father Athanase Seromba. He first asked Tutsis to take shelter and then bulldozed the entire building. As if this was not enough, he called Hutu militia to eliminate the survivors. Archbishop Perraudin provided the biblical base for the actions of Hutu militias. He also enthusiastically participated in the genocide and espoused the hateful ideology of Hutu power.
Nothing can be more sad and tragic than being deceived by those who they trusted the most at the time of major crisis. In the initial years after the genocide, the Church refused to accept that they committed any crime. It was 22 years after the genocide that they accepted their crime and also issued an apology for that. No apology can bring the lives of innocent people whom church carefully exterminated.
The Church’s sinful role was known to the people of Rwanda, especially Tutsis were very much aware of the nefarious acts of the Church. That’s why the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame closed down over thousands of churches and mosques in Rwanda. He is trying his level best to protect his country from predatory religions. Rwanda, after seeing such barbaric genocide, has now realized the dangers of imported religions and they are working towards safeguarding themselves from predatory religions.