5 March 2018

Rwanda: Closure of Substandard Churches Is in Public Interest

Photo: New Times
A choir performs at a Pentecostal church in Kigali. Over 700 churches have been closed down by authorities in recent weeks over standards.

Last week, the local government authorities and the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) closed down 714 churches in Kigali for operating below the minimum required standards.

In addition to the issue of standards, the incident also brought to light the increasing number of churches sprouting all over the city.

In Kigali's three districts, there are a total of 1,351 registered churches in the city, with unofficial estimates pointing to over 100 unregistered churches.

Kicukiro District has 352 registered churches, Gasabo has 699 while Nyarugenge has 300.

The number of churches in the city is way higher than hospitals, dispensaries, schools and factories (in the same locality) combined leading most to question the need for the high number of churches.

According to the Rwanda Governance Board, the decision to implement the regulations required of churches was in the interest of the Rwandan people.

"It is about honouring God. It means that if we are Christians where we worship must meet standards showing respect for God. Standards that reflect the importance of God in our lives," Anastase Shyaka the Chief Executive of RGB told The New Times.

He added that the move also aimed at dignifying worshipers as well as ensuring that worshiping is conducted in decent places without inconveniencing others.

While there have been claims that the demand for standards compromises freedom of worship, it has been clear that the operational standards of several churches have been found wanting.

A majority of the churches that were shut down over the course of the previous week were found to be lacking in aspects such as safety of occupants with some operating in weak structures such as tents.

And, over the last couple of years, Police has had to be called several times to intervene as the noise coming out of churches was unbearable for residents living close to the churches, with calls for installation of sound-proof falling on deaf ears.

According to Shyaka, one of the reasons why there is an increasing number is due to conflict that has characterized faith based organisations.

"The mushrooming of churches comes partially as a consequence of too many internal wrangles. Their members then move to create their own faith-based organizations," Shyaka explained.

The RGB boss also called out religious leaders who operate churches like a business running them like enterprises with some fleecing their followers to create livelihoods for themselves.

This could be a motivating factor for some to open up churches.

RGB has drafted a new legal framework to guide the operations of faith-based organisations to help weed out unscrupulous activities among religious groups.

The draft legislation, is under review by Rwanda Law Reform Commission.

The process to close down errant churches, Shyaka said, is being done in consultation with local religious leaders and their members.

"We believe in collaboration and we would not like the exercise to be misunderstood as Rwanda's attempt to infringe on freedom to worship. We are doing it in total transparency together with local faith-based organization leaders, local governments,"

"It should be free of any critics regarding the government's commitment to what is enshrined in the constitution regarding freedom of worship. We very much respect the freedom to worship but we would like it exercised within the law," the RGB boss emphasized.

Some local religious leaders agree with the move saying that it is for the good of the followers, the public and Christianity as a whole.

Bishop John Rucyahana, a retired Anglican Bishop told The New Times that churches ought to serve as positive examples to the rest of the society on the importance of obeying the laws of the land and meeting required standards.

"The work of the Lord is not inferior that it can be done in sub-standard places. It has to be safe for occupants," he said.

Bishop Rucyahana pointed out that Rwandans ought to confront and castigate religious leaders they find to be manipulative or operating below required standards.

"Why should we wait for the government to close down these churches? The government has a lot to do in other aspects of development. As Christians we should know what is the standard and acceptable for a place of worship and confront and avoid religious leaders who do not. We should also do the same for those we consider to be manipulative religious leaders," he said.


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