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One of the questions the churches of Rwanda are confronted with is whether they must repent and bear the burden of the whole nation for the 1994 genocide that swept away the lives of more than one million people. From the beginning of this century, this small and landlocked country of Central Africa has been evangelized by Western Christianity. The Roman Catholic White Fathers Missionaries of Cardinal Lavigerie inaugurated the movement in 1900. They were followed in 1907 by the Protestant missionaries of the Bethel Mission from Germany. More missionary societies arrived after the first world war including, in the following order, the Seventh Day Adventist missionaries from America, the Anglicans of the Church Missionary Society, the Rwanda Mission, the Danish Baptists, the Free Methodists from the USA and the Pentecostals from Sweden. From then on Christianity became a major social actor, with more than eighty per cent of Rwandans claiming to be affiliated to a church. [1]

In this article, we will attempt to analyse the racial ideology in Rwanda and the role played by Christianity in its development. Many observers have accused the churches of endorsing a colonial anthropology based on the theory of 'race supremacy' among the people of Rwanda. Such an ideology contributed heavily to the 1959 social revolution which left the Rwandan society fractured. The resulting absence of political reconciliation or of any other authentic solution led to several tragic events which culminated in the 1994 genocide and the subsequent ordeal of the refugees in the jungle of Congo.

Ethnicity as ideology

The roots of the 1994 Rwandan genocide lie in an ethnic ideology which has been exploited by the 'Hutu power' hard-liners of the regime of President Habyarimana. 'Hutu Power' was officially inaugurated in October 1993 by a group of dissidents from the opposition political parties who then formed a coalition under the leadership of Habyarimana's Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND, French abbreviation) and its sibling, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR).

There have been at least two major trends in the interpretation of the causes of the tragedy: on the one hand, a tendency to blame the 'secular hatred' between the Bahutu and Batutsi; on the other a judgement against the legacy of colonial policies. Ethnicity or membership in a particular group is not necessarily a negative factor. It is a manifestation of the diversity human beings received as a gift from God. This is expressed through social and cultural diversity. Through their ethnic groups, human beings enjoy their roots and values of reference. Hence, the quest for identity has its roots in the search of the self vis-a-vis the other; it implies uniqueness, sameness and the transcendent Other. This triple concept of identity is formed by a world view shaped by internal and external influences which constitute a process of socialisation. [2] This process maps and informs our identity as a narrative, providing the tools for our good relationships with, or hostility towards, others. It is informed by our me mory, our relationship with the past, the present, the future, and our sense of place and culture.

Recent historical developments in anthropological studies have shown that cultural identity and ethnic membership have been exploited as tools by the leaders of political and ideological systems who serve no democratic ideal. In recent years ethnicity has lost its primary meaning as the manifestation of our cultural diversity, and has been used more often in relation to mobilization and sectarianism. Many violent rulers who want to perpetuate the monopoly of their power through violence have used a group's identity as the foundation of a form of patriotism and nationalism which excludes the others. If a church lives in (un)conscious affiance with that type of regime, that church's teaching must be questioned, as well as the attitudes of the clergy who emphasize ethnic ideology.

Marx and Engels understood ideology as a system of ideas which, while giving the illusion of being autonomous, is actually determined by socio-political and economic reality because it is related to humans who advocate it and produce socio-economic means of existence. [3] In their presentation of the German Ideology, Marx and Engels suggest that the life of human beings is expressed in what they produce to satisfy their basic needs and how they do it. Such a process creates the first real cleavage in society between the oppressors and the oppressed. For them, the history of mankind is, at any epoch, that of class struggle between the exploited, the oppressed proletariat and the ruling class. The proletariat cannot really emancipate itself without being liberated at large from exploitation, oppression, class distinction and struggle.

If there was no such group as the working class in the pre-independent Rwanda due to the absence of industry and bureaucracy, it is right to say that the majority of the impoverished peasantry living in an oral culture were exploited by a small minority of colonial agents and local elites, justified by the systems of 'Hamite supremacy' and, in post-colonial Rwanda, the 'Rubanda Nyamwinshi'. [4] Both became ideologies as they were erected upon a system of ideas, practices and vision coming from the elites, then transmitted to and assimilated by members of different groups. For Marx, in every epoch the ideas of the ruling class predominate, both materially and intellectually. He believed that the feudal order was in itself evil, set up to mislead the many for the advantage of the few. An ideology is a system of ideas and values produced by such an order. It constitutes a world view because, as A. Kee points out, it presents pictures of reality and offers an explanation of the reasons why things are as they are. Because it provides false pictures and false consciousness, it is likely that both those who are served by it and those who suffer under it wouldn't be aware that it is merely a social construction. [5] This article intends to show that both Rwandan elites, the Batutsi and then the Bahutu, have alternatively propagated theories of justifications through selection of mythical history with the same purpose of monopolizing power.

The churches stood accused

Post-genocide literature, in Rwanda and beyond, is packed with references to the churches. Seminars and conferences have been held on the theme 'the churches and the genocide'. It is understood not as a compliment but rather meant to question their positions and roles. The Commission for Pastoral Activities in the Catholic diocese of Butare referred to the genocide as having been the 'rack and ruin' of Christianity. A pro-Roman Catholic trade union organization, ARTC, spoke of 'a disavowed church in a society in crisis'. In March 1996, twenty-four well known personalities affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church, including politicians, journalists and lawyers, sent a memorandum to the Pope about what they called their 'concerns about the attitude of the Catholic Church in the face of the sociopolitical evolution of the country after the genocide'. The group accused the Catholic Church of not only having been the vehicle of the ideology of the genocide but also of being engaged in a revisionist process. In Marc h 1996 and again in May 1997, the Council of Protestant Churches organized conferences with the help of the All Africa Conference of Churches. The participants, among them some Roman Catholics, published a declaration in which they admitted that the 1994 genocide showed the failure of a church, which had been the herald of racial ideology since 1959.

In December 1996, the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda, acting through its General Synod, became the first to confess and repent before God and the entire Rwandan nation for the omissions and failure of its leaders to denounce and oppose the genocide. Equally, and around the same time, a group of people - lay and clergy, men and women, Catholics and Protestants, Rwandan and European - met in Detmold, Germany. They published a statement in which they confessed and repented of the crimes which their respective groups committed against one another. They invited the churches, the Rwandan people, and all those who share a measure of responsibility and culpability to join them on the path of repentance. It must be added, however, that those who raise the accusations do not all have the same motivation, nor do they in each case have evidence of what they affirm. But it would be a blind attitude to ignore such a cry.

Looking hack

The research on which this article is based acknowledges the accuracy of the analysis which shows the role of the 'Hutu Power' group in planning and carrying out the genocide and massacres. It also tries to look at the root causes of that ideology from two angles. First, it treats the meta-narrative founded in the 'Hamite myth' which defends the supremacy of the Batutsi. Then it will show how some locally educated elite Batutsi, followed later by Bahutu, assimilated these constructs and put them into practice.

The Banyarwanda whom the first European explorers and missionaries encountered were divided into three sub-groups: the Bahutu, the Batutsi and the Batwa. For centuries the Banyarwanda had shared many common traits, such as a cultural unity, language, religion, social organizations like the clan, family traditions like marriage, and social solidarity. Some lineages however were attempting to create their own identity in order to control political power and resources. In fact, some lineages within the Batutsi group in the central kingdom considered themselves superior to others and tried to dominate others. The mark of such domination was propaganda that represented the monarch from the Banyiginya-Bahindiro lineage as being of divine origin with absolute authority over his subjects and resources.

However, as shown by Father Marcel Pauwels, Emmanuel Ntezimana and other historians, Rwanda was not unified until the beginning of the 20th century. [6] The empire was made up of several small monarchies whose duration and size varied. There was a continuing but unsuccessful attempt in the central core of the monarchy to impose its model of hierarchical organization in the peripheral and satellite regions.

Following the encounter between the West and Rwandan society, the image continually projected was that of a land dominated by a 'race' of 'Hamites of Caucasian origin' who had arrived in Rwanda from Ethiopia or Egypt. The Batutsi (or the elite among them) were chosen by the new rulers, colonialists and missionaries, to promote 'Western civilization founded on Christianity'. The other groups, the Bahutu and Batwa, constituted the mass of low-ranking folk (roturiers) relegated to a status of second class citizens.

The Hamites, a civilizing race!

In a region predominated by a web of social and cultural interactions, it is astonishing to notice how ethnologists have not hesitated to isolate people according to a particular set of distinctive factors. Charles Gabriel Seligman, one of the most influential ethnologists of this century has argued, from his chair of ethnology at the University of London, that the Hamites, whom he considered to be of Caucasian and Semitic origin, were the 'great civilizing force of Black Africa'. Specifically with regard to the interlacustrine region that includes Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, West of Tanzania and East of Congo, he drew the following conclusion:

No doubt it is at least in part due to this Caucasian influence that we find the curious mixture of primitive and advanced elements in the social institution of the interlacustrine communities. [7]

While Seligman insisted on the Caucasian origin of the Hamites, those among the Catholic and Protestant missionaries who were ethnologists worked hard to show that the Batutsi (the 'Hamite race') had brought with them from Asia, Egypt and then Ethiopia those elements of the civilization that were deemed valuable, including the cows. Father Arnoux put it as follows:

Obviously, the Batutsi who are related to the Abyssinians, arrived a long time ago after the other races. Those among them who descend from the nomadic root are recognisable by their Semitic features, height and other physical details.... The bovine is the means by which they exerted their domination on the inferior races, through a feudal system exactly similar to the one that developed in the Middle Ages. [8]

For Father Delmas, the Hamites of Rwanda themselves divide into four categories: the true nobles descending from sky; the hybrids of the indigenous Bahutu rulers and the Hamites; the nobles of unknown clans; the Batutsi of foreign origin. As such, the theories of racial purity end in an impasse. It is clear that the first category identified by Delmas is founded on popular myths based in fraud and mystification organized by the ruling circles in their attempt to monopolize power. The three others were either hybrids or of unknown origin. In the end, according to Delmas's study, no Rwandans knew their ethnic origin. [9]

Physical Anthropology and the Hamite Theory

Abundant caricatures and stereotypes in the missionary literature and historiography in the region resulted from imagery based on the misconception promoted by the early explorers through their binary opposition between Bahutu and Batutsi. Physical anthropology was called on to justify the theories of 'difference.' In 1902, Father L. Classe, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda (1907-1945, bishop since 1922), wrote: "The Batutsi are superb men, with straightforward and regular features, with something of the Aryan and Semitic type". In the same line, Father Francois Menard, using the wording of Dr Baumann, an Austrian explorer, wrote: "The Mututsi is an European in a black skin." [10] These theories which have been adapted in the interlacustrine region resemble those which flourished in the Middle Ages and the Enlightehment where the nobles, the lords dominated their vassals, as has been outlined by Basil Davidson in his Africa in History." [11]

Michel Foucault argues that such a vision of the world seen through the prism of inferior and superior races has its origin in the Enlightenment. Apparently for self-defence during the period when they were persecuted, Protestants in France considered France as a Germanic state. For them, Germanic law set the limits for the powers of the monarch. The nobles allegedly of Germanic descendants were opposed to the Gauls of Roman descent. This type of theory was then reproduced and adapted to Africa. Jean-Joseph Gobineau in his theory on 'race inequality', affirmed that the Hamites descended from the white superior race living 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia. Confronted with non-

Adamic, black African masses from the south, they must have mixed and diluted.

Physical anthropology is one of the fields where Africa has suffered a lot of prejudice. For example, between 1920 and 1930 the colonial authorities conducted studies about the measurements of heights, size of faces, and weights of the Rwandan, in various regions of Rwanda and Burundi. [12] The study led to an impasse as it appeared to the authors that "in most of the regions, the populations were mixed". Still the results were taken as distinctive features to differentiate the Bahutu from Batutsi and Batwa. The assumption has been that the Hamites were people with "good features' and that these had inner qualities for domination and rule.

The Hamite theory and the insistance on ethnicity

The concepts of Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa have been central to the study of ethnic identity in Rwanda. However, neither traditional oral sources nor different official sources, in particular private literature on which most of the ethnologic studies relied, nor other sources help us to understand the process which led to the present-day mixture. In fact, Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa, in addition to the common factors mentioned above, mix in each of eighteen clans. According to Prof. Marcel d'Hertefelt, the problem can be formulated in the following simple mathematical terms: there are eighteen clans, which are multi-classes; there are three social classes, which constitute respectively 83% of the Hutu, 16% of the Tutsi and 1% of the Twa among the population.

Canon de Lacger and many others have shown that at the eve of colonization, the terms Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa implied social classes; that neither 'ethnicity' nor 'race', 'caste' or 'Hamite' were known among the Banyarwanda people. Canon de Lacger, whose ethnological work on Rwanda has become a classic for researchers, suggests that:

Mututsi and Muhutu are words which tend to lose their racial sense and to become qualifiers or epithets under which are grouped capitalists and workers, governors and the governed. An ordinary Muhutu who had not enough cows to pay the dowry would marry the girl of the common people and gradually fall into the roturiers. The opposite is also true. A Muhutu who had abundance of cattle and other resources would marry a girl of the rich Batutsi family and become one of them. [13]

D'Hertefelt concluded his analysis by suggesting that the major problem of Rwanda has been the 'ethnicising' of the clans by ethnologists, including Father Kagame.

Father Kagame, one of the most learned members of the local elite, started writing in the late 1930s. He was coopted by King Rudahigwa and appointed to the Abiru, an influential institution of constitutional experts. Subscribing to the logic of the Hamite theory, Kagame developed arguments that all the clans were of Hamite origin. Among other ideas he argued that the clans that had strongly resisted the wars of conquest were of the reigning dynasty, the Banyiginya, or had developed intense social relations and intermarried with them. He asserted that the clans which had similar symbolisms of political power to those of the Banyiginya were also of Hamite origin.

Kagame extended his hypotheses about the 'Hamites-conquerors' to the interlacustrine region. He defended his claim that a group called the 'Abarenge' - known in the oral tradition as antecedents to the current population of Rwanda - were Hamites. According to him, they lived in Rwanda, Burundi and East of Zaire-Congo. They were owners of cattle who still had representatives of Batutsi background in the current populations and were invincible warriors. He put it as follows:

The category of Hamites who have left a memory of an unequalled power is that of the Barenge, a denomination related to Rurenge, their eponymous ancestor. They brought the civilization of hoes, hammer and other technologies. These Hamites were strongly equipped, more than modem Rwandans. The empire of the Barenge was much larger than that of present-day Rwanda. It extended to Gishari (in today's terms Congo-Zaire), Burwi and into Burundi.

The question is not really whether 'ethnos' was prior to the clan or vice versa. It might well be that the Rwandan population came from different origins. Yet the Banyarwanda grew up to belong to many common institutions in which they shared common values. The question is why the dominant forces, both foreign and national, did not build on what united people rather than what divided them.

Missionary schools: wombs of racial ideology

Both the missionary schools and the catechumenate have been used to shape a model of society based on Hamite supremacy. In this paper, I limit myself to the discussion of the schools. The missionary schools were created to fulfil the classic functions of a colonial institution with a primary aim of preparing a local elite for auxiliaries of the administration of both the colony and missionary activities. For Msgr. Classe, the aim of these schools was to form a social elite 'capable of understanding and implementing change'. Thus there were high expectations invested in them, similar to the formation of catechists and seminarians who were imbued with high ideals and considered capable of leading the masses on the path of conversion to Catholicism. The 1927 colonial report put it as follows:

With the Batutsi Christians the missionaries hope to achieve the creation and formation of a social elite that is pro-European. Such an elite is needed. Christianity will provide it. Cardinal Lavigerie repeated to the missionary societies of Africa that it was necessary to give a firm foundation: that foundation rests on our civilization, namely Christianity. If this did not happen the Negroes would not understand the civilization which is its offspring. [14]

The necessity of having schools exclusively reserved for the sons of the Batutsi was explained in various letters addressed by the missionaries to their superiors. In 1910, Father Schumacher sent a report in which he demonstrated the necessity of 'favouring the Mututsi of Rwanda' so as to stop the Protestants who wanted to evangelize the royal family. Msgr. Classe had also reflected on what he considered the 'relations with the Batutsi in the mission of Rwanda'. With regard to the schools, the head of the Catholic missions in Rwanda expressed the following view:

One of the most crucial questions, which must engage our attention due to the forthcoming changes in Rwanda, is that of schools. The issue is whether the ruling elite will be for us or against us; whether the important places in the indigenous society will be for Catholics or non-Catholics; whether the Church will have through education and formation of youth the predominant influence in Rwanda. [15]

From 1905 onwards the missionaries created several schools in various stations for the sons of 'Batutsi chiefs'. The process culminated in the creation by the colonial authorities of the 'Groupe Scolaire d'Astrida' which was assigned the mission of training the sons of the ruling nobility. The school was entrusted for management to the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity of Gand (Belgium). This obsession of forming an elite from one 'group' was so rooted in the thinking of the missionaries that in 1912 the White Fathers decided to close the schools which functioned at the capital of the monarchy and resettled it in Kabgayi (headquarters of the Vicariate) on the ground that in the former place many sons of the Bahutu were recruited. The Fathers justified the decision on the following lines:

We will take advantage of those circumstances to create a school for the Batutsi at Kabgayi. There, we will truly have the children of the chiefs whom we surely know; otherwise at the capital, it is more or less the dregs of doubtful origin, mostly the Bahutu. [16]

These schools produced an elite who came to be known as 'Indatwa' (the elected) who played an influential role in the country. The colonial policies initiated in 1924 aimed at grouping the districts. The old guard chiefs were dismissed and young literate missionary educated men (Batutsi) were appointed. In each region these were selected and nominated with the consent of the missionaries. Jean Rumiya documented many cases in which the head of the missions (i.e. Father Huntzinger of Save [17]), took the liberty of appointing and dismissing the chiefs and sub-chiefs without consulting with colonial administration.

The pursuit of such race purity was dubious, because even in the very royal family intermarriage among members of the two groups was evident at the time. For Professor Mbonimana, a historian and a former Roman Catholic priest, the authors of the preceding quotation about the 'school for true sons of Batutsi chiefs' ignored the fact that even the son of the king who was just born had as his grandmother a girl of the common people, Nyiranteko, who was of Bahutu background. [18]

In contrast, in neighbouring Burundi, the education offered by missionaries was more liberal and open to the sons of both groups. However, influenced by the developments in Rwanda, this tolerance did not last. Towards 1945 the Bahutu were almost eliminated from schools. In his 1927/28 report, Father Diprimoz, confessional inspector in the Rwandan schools, affirmed that he had to deal with the 'Mututsi element to the exclusion of Muhutu'.

I have referred to the fact that only the young literate Batutsi ('Hamites') were recruited for positions of colonial and missionary administrations. During the so-called colonial reforms under governors Voisin and Mortehan, 1924-1931, which consisted of the regrouping of the chieftaincies from 200 to 40, there was an attempt to appoint some chiefs and sub-chiefs of Bahutu and Batwa background alongside the Batutsi. The idea was resisted strongly by the head of the church, Msgr. Classe. In his famous letter of protest on 21 September 1927, Classe wrote:

If we want to be really practical and to look for the interest of the country, we have in the Mututsi youth an incomparable element for progress.... Ask the Bahutu if they prefer to be commanded by the roturiers, or by the nobles, the response is without hesitation; their preference goes to the Batutsi. And for good reason. Born to be chiefs, the latter have a sense of authority... it is the secret of their conquest of the country.

Later, when Classe thought that the message was not fully understood, he wrote an article in the Essor Colonial et Maritime where again he strongly asserted his position:

The most damaging thing the government could do against itself and against the country would be to destroy the Mututsi caste. A revolution of such kind would lead the country straight to anarchy and to a hatefully anti-European communism. As a general rule, we will have no better, more intelligent, more active chiefs capable of understanding and executing the change and most accepted by the people than the Batutsi. [19]

The position of Msgr. Classe became a time bomb. Not only were the proposed appointments of Bahutu and Batwa suspended, but all the chiefs in the traditional autonomous regions mentioned above were dismissed and replaced by chiefs of Batutsi background.

When Belgium took over the colony from the Germans in 1919 under the Versailles treaty, the new administration relied on the White Father missionaries allegedly for their deep knowledge of the kingdom. At that time they ordered a study of social, cultural and political institutions which was elaborated by a group of priests headed by Msgr. Classe. The study has been regarded as the foundation of the colonial reforms of 1924 onwards which asserted Belgian colonial anthropology based on race supremacy. Describing the motivation and the essence of that policy, J. Frank, the new minister, of the colonies, during his first visit to Rwanda in 1919, said "there would be no change in any case, under the pretext of egalitarianism. We found the Watuzi were established from a long time back in history. Intelligent and capable, we respect that reality." For him, the 'Watuzi' were the noble class par excellence. [20]

The role of the dominant Catholic Church in the elaboration and execution of colonial anthropology took another step in 1930 when King Musinga, who had been continually accused of being a threat to colonial and missionary activities, was dismissed and exiled in Moba, Congo. One of the king's sons, Rudahigwa, a convert to Catholicism, was appointed. This episode illustrates beautifully the alliance of the crown and the throne. To use the words of Prof. Reyntjens, the missionaries, and in particular Msgr. Classe, became the 'kingmakers'. Defying all the rules of protocol and tradition, it was not the ritualists of Abiru who enthroned the new king but Governor Voisin and Msgr. Classe. In a memorable ceremony, Governor Voisin proclaimed, "Rudahigwa, par la designation du roi des Belges, je te proclame roi du Ruanda." And Msgr. Classe took over to give the dynastic name of the monarch, "Votre titre de regne est Mutara. Ainsi le veut la regle dynastique." [21]

Though small, dispersed and victims of the Catholic missionaries' alliance with the colonialists, the Protestant missionary societies had a similar point of view with regard to the hierarchy of 'races'. For example, Dr Johanssen, founder of the Bethel Mission, wrote in his memoirs that:

The population of Rwanda comprises organically three races: The Watutsi, the Bahutu and the Batwa. The Watutsi are a clan of hamitic pastoralist origin who, by their stature, their colour and their intellectual possibilities, differ fundamentally from the two other races which it has subjected under domination though it represents less than ten per cent of the population .... These hamitic pastoralist clans did not only introduce the hump bovine from Asia, but also intellectual values of a different nature. Where they succeeded to establish their domination through their legend and graduations, they exerted an influence on the cult, even the spiritual life of the population. [22]

The 'Societe Belge des Missions Protestantes au Congo', [23] which took over the stations of the Bethel mission in 1921, found no other way but to state in its constitution that its objectives were to 'participate in the promotion of the national enterprise of civilization undertaken in the colony.' [24] Commenting on that episode of the history of Rwanda, the Belgian parliament wrote in its 1997 report about the responsibility of their country in the 1994 tragic events of Rwanda:

La tutsification des annees 1930 donna aux Batutsi le monopole politique et administratif (...) l'introduction de la carte d'identite, en 1933, vint mettre l'huile sur le feu: chaque Rwandais fut classifid comme Hutu, Tutsi ou Twa a base de criteres arbitraires. [25]

The shifting of alliances and allegiances

Despite the practice of segregation policies, the Catholic seminaries had been open from the beginning to the children of the Bahutu group who were allowed to train to join the clergy. With the arrival of a new head of the church, Msgr. Deprimoz in the late 1940s, some among those former seminarians were gradually appointed to various positions of influence as teachers and secretaries in the missions. The emancipation of the former colonies of the 1940s/50s led the victims of discrimination to stand against the injustices experienced at the hands of colonial powers. The ruling class, entrenched in their feeling of 'Hamite supremacy' strongly resisted the petitions of some of the representatives of that group. For example, in March 1957 nine Bahutu leaders published a petition in which they asked for the abolition of the sociopolitical system based on inequality and the heresy of 'race supremacy'. In May 1958, the entourage of the Mwami (the king) published two hateful documents in which they used the myth of 'Ibimanuka' (those who descended from the sky) to justify 'race supremacy' as a right given to the 'Hamites'. They totally rejected any suggestion of power sharing with the Bahutu.

Against all odds during that period of political turmoil, the former defenders of the hamite theory, the colonial officials and the Catholic church, converted themselves to the Bahutu cause, which they gave powerful support. These cumulative factors, combined with the suffering of the masses, generated the '1959 social revolution'. The revolution resulted in much violence which made many victims within the two major groups. Many among the former ruling nobility went into exile and political power was transferred from the Batutsi to the Bahutu. These tragic events at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s left the Rwandan society even more fractured.

Many hypotheses have been put forward to account for the shift of position of the Roman Catholic Church. Some analysts suggest that there was a new breed of clergy, which included Msgr. Perraudin of Swiss origin, who were more inclined to desire social justice. Personally I believe that the change of alliance was due rather to a desire on the church's part to anticipate the events from the perspective of inevitable political changes which were being strongly advocated in the UN and by the influential Non-Aligned Movement together with the socialist block. [26] This explains why the change of alliance and allegiance has never been accompanied by any statement of confession or repentance from the church since that time. Talking about the past or repentance requires courage and humility, even to the point of humiliation, which may have to lead to a radical change of attitude. It may also lead to the loss of privileges and the demand for reparation in favour of the victims. The Catholic church, I have suggested, was not ready to depart from its position of domination, which it preserved even in the republican era. But this is a matter for another article.

Churches: supportive organ of the MIRND regime

Many embarrassing examples of human rights violation have marked the regimes of Kayibanda (1961-1973) and in particular of Habyarimana (19731994) with which the churches, Catholic and Reformed, became allies. The republican regime proceeded to carry out systematic massacres of the population each time an Inyenzi (cockroaches) rebel movement developed among the 1959 refugees, attempting to regain control of power in Rwanda. There was also the politically motivated violence in schools in 1973, which gave pretext to the army commanded by major general J. Habyarimana to overthrow the

Kayibanda regime. Kayibanda and hundreds of the politicians of his regime were cynically assassinated in the Ruliengeri prison with horrific methods resembling those used during the 1994 genocide. Lastly, the Habyarimana regime organized massacres of targeted groups of the population following the October 1990 attack of the RPF/Inkotanyi. [27]

The church's legitimization of the 1973-1994 military regime had two axes. First, the hierarchy accepted the invitation to participate individually in the organs of the ruling party such as the MRND Congress Central Committee and at various other levels such as the committees and councils at district and local levels. Second, by rule of law every single Rwandan born or to be born was forcibly enrolled as a member of the MRND. The Constitution as well as the statutes of the state-party compelled each Rwandan of every age, sex, ethnic group and religion to belong to, and become an active member of, Habyarimana's MRND. Article 7 of the constitution of 1978 read that the Rwandan people were politically organized within the MRND and no political activity could take place outside that institution. This clause was much better rendered in the Kinyarwanda version where it read 'Uwitwa Umunyarwanda wese aba ari muri MRND' (whoever is Rwandan is a member of the MRND).

Like any other institution in the land, the churches had their institutions, members and clergy grouped in the local organs of the party - the cells (a minimum of thirty members for employees and employers) and from fifty to a hundred families in villages and cities. Hence, the offices of the bishops, church moderators and other church organizations, such as religious orders, church schools, hospitals, medical institutions and charity organizations, joined other institutions as active members of the party.

Articles 61 and 63 of the statutes of the MRND compel the directorate of the cell to account to the head of the party in their respective constituencies at local, regional or national levels. Each religious institution was generally headed by a member of the clergy. Thus the life of the church fell under the control of the MRND world view. Among the main obligations were the compulsory payment of taxes by the whole population, participation in the devotion to the cult of personality of the general-president, and for the officials and members of various organs, the wearing of medals and clothes bearing the head of Habyarimana, the so-called 'medal of the party'. This situation, I suggest, has fundamentally and negatively influenced the theology of the churches and Christian ethics in a society which needed more prophets to speak out against corruption and intrigue.

During this period of dictatorship the churches were the only organized force which could have stood up as an advocate of the suffering population. This, I believe, is the central core of the manifestation of the humanity of God in Christ (Luke 4:18-19). We Rwandan Christians failed to assume our ethical role. The church leaders were involved in a process of legitimization, as described above, and they had not engaged in any assessment of the theological implication of the existing policies and the exercise of power of the mission.

For example, from 1986 onwards, members of religious groups and some members of the official churches who refused to pay homage and to wear the symbols of the president were subject to heavy state repression. At least fifteen were killed and more than three hundred thrown in prison. Many were sentenced to fifteen years and more. Some official churches publicly supported and advocated that repression, a position they have not regretted up until now as far as the author of this article is informed. It was only when an international campaign was launched that the repression stopped.

In 1990, two major developments took place. The birth of a pluralist society to which the dictatorial regime responded with repression, and the outbreak of the war in the north. In fact, in October 1990, some Rwandan refugees who had become members of the NRA army of Yoweri Musevenir after he had taken power in Uganda in 1986, attacked Rwanda from the north. With the help of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the church leaders of Rwanda undertook some initiatives which, combined with diplomatic mediation, brought the belligerents to the negotiation table.

Inside the country, the church leaders mediated between the new political parties and the former state-party and helped them to form a coalition government in April 1992. According to many observers, this move was an attempt to help the elites share the national cake. With regard to the war, various mediation resulted in talks in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. An agreement, signed on 4 August 1993, insisted on power-sharing between the three major camps: the existing regime, the new opposition and the rebels. This agreement became the battleground for retaining or regaining power in Kigali. The ever-increasing violence resulted in the death of President Habyarimana of Rwanda and Ntaryamira of Burundi on 6 April 1994 when the plane carrying both presidents was shot down by a missile in Kigali. The crash was followed by the genocide. During this difficult period, the church leaders' messages were perceived as an endorsement of the position of the regime.

It must be stated however that, like society as whole, the churches have also been victims of the genocide, the massacres and the war. Nevertheless, I suggest that due to the churches' abject failure to assert moral and spiritual guidance before and after the independence of Rwanda, they should consider in what ways they need to confess and repent so as to renew their covenant with God and regain some credibility.

Repentance, a controversial issue

Such an act of repentance is one of the most controversial issues even within the Christian community. For example, it was not until 1997 that the Catholic church repented for what it did to the Jewish people and specifically for the fact of what Christians have considered for 2000 years as the 'guilt of the Jewish people in the death of Christ'. In the opinion of the Church of France, such an attitude led the Catholic church in Europe to remain indifferent to the holocaust of the Jews during the second world war. However, one year later, in March 1998, the Pontifical Secretariat for the Dialogue with Non-Christians published a long-expected document on the same issue, in which they rejected the Catholic church's responsibility in the holocaust.

After the second world war, some German church leaders published under the mediation of the World Council of Churches the 'Stuttgart Confession' in which they confessed and repented for the suffering caused to people of many nations by Nazi ideology. They however never mentioned the Jewish holocaust. Yet the confession provoked a widespread anger in German churches, media and politics. As shown by Shriver, even very well known theologians and church leaders, like Jurgen Moltmann and Eberhard Bethge, rejected the confession. Moltmann, who though a prisoner of war in Glasgow, never ceased to condemn the Nazis for having sent people of his generation to be exterminated, said that persons who acknowledge their guilt become vulnerable. They have their head bowed and no longer remain in control of their acts, whilst, on the other hand, the victims keep their vivid memories for much longer. For him the confession of guilt had no raison detre. [25]

Likewise the 'Detmold Confession' mentioned above, in which Rwandan Christians from various confessions tried to avoid generalization or self-justification, was accused of naivete, which could endanger the incriminated group. Again, one should remember that in the case of Germany, people like Bethge also wanted the crimes of the Allies, such as the bombing of the cities like Dresden and the slaughter of innocent civilians, to be condemned. Much of the criticism with regard to the 'Detmold Declaration' had to do with a wish that the crimes in both camps would be held in balance. Some were more of the opinion that the Rwandan people have been educated in a 'culture of vendetta' and fixed in three 'ethnic groups', which makes the act of repentance seem irrelevant.

From the point of view of the author of this article, the New Testament opened an era where the use of force, weapons, dehumanizing propaganda and other cynical means have failed. Rather, through Christ, God sealed with humanity an alliance based on his son's incarnation of human suffering. This incarnation of suffering, even to the cross, is the sign and the possibility for humans to discover each other in dignity and rights, and to become friends. Some church leaders say that because the church is holy, only individuals ought to confess and repent. Others affirm that the Roman Catholic Church, who from 1959 espoused the Bahutu's cause automatically became the church of the oppressed.

I want to acknowledge these images given to the church by its 'fathers', but at the same time challenge the views resisting repentance on three bases. First, I have demonstrated that, before 1959 and after, not only have the churches refused to listen to the cries of the victims of injustice, but some even participated in the shaping of policies and of a model of society clearly based on discrimination. To paraphrase the 'Road to Damascus' document [29], the mission of the churches is challenged because they became allies to oppressive elites, mute to the call of God, blind to his presence among the suffering people.

Clearly, and this is my second point, the ordained Rwandan nobility has sinned in attitudes and practices. With such a past charged with injustices, prejudices and rancor, the church has always been a body made of sinful members. To help society recover its integrity, the church ought to contribute by addressing the fundamental question of a history distorted through the social darwinist theories which it continued to spread in Rwanda.

For Christians, to abstain from repentance resembles a denial of identity. Until now the Roman Catholic Church has as one of its pillars the apostolic succession through Peter. A significant dimension of the life-story of Peter is his repentance for denying Jesus. Peter's and Judas's betrayals of Jesus have the same magnitude. But the gaze of mercy and forgiveness met the gaze of recognition of guilt and sorrow, which led Peter to repent. [30] He then became the pillar of the church. Likewise, the future of Rwanda lies not on the guilty people who must be isolated to bear or share the weight of their forfeit, but on the martyrs, the small remnants of heroes and those who repent of their guilt and cowardice.

With regard to 'repentance-identification' which assumes the guilt of a whole community, and this is my third point, there are two basic foundations: spiritual and sociological. On the one hand, Christians belong to the same body of Christ through baptism and his blood. They are members of one body and when one member suffers all members suffer (1 Car 12:26). As a spiritual community, we are co-responsible for one another (Dan 9:4-20; Neh 1:6; Jer 3:25).

On the other hand, the Rwandan and African people express the idea of organic solidarity as members of one body, family or nation in which traditional ethics appeal to collective responsibility as a moral duty. In Rwanda, the church hierarchy either refused to see the suffering of the victims or blamed them or other people for being responsible. Because of this condemnation, because of the 'refusal' of the church to bear the suffering, blame and guilt of the Rwandan people, these continue to cripple under the wrath of the evil.


This paper has proposed a reading of some meta-narratives perpetuated by the missionary ethnologists in Rwanda in perfect harmony with the Belgian colonial. anthropology. The major fracture resulting from the 1959 revolution did not heal because of the absence of a project of political reconciliation. Recent developments in the interlacustrine region exhumed suspicions of the supposed 'Hamite supremacy' which some decided to oppose through violence.

God calls us to participate in his divine plan for humanity. In our relations with other beings we learn something new for which we owe a debt towards others and to our Creator. This principle has been misunderstood by the moral, political and military forces external and internal to the region. This is why a confession of guilt and repentance becomes of paramount importance. However, like Jesus who took our sins upon the cross, 'repentance-identification' does not remove individual judiciary responsibility. What it does do is, first, open the way of grace by an expression of mutual encounter in which the perpetrators or the representatives of the guilty discover the meaning of the suffering of the victims. Second, it helps to identify and eradicate the evil and stop its transmission from generation to generation. Third, it allows both parties to re-establish the communication which may open new relations and new community as in the case of the brothers of Joseph (Gen 46: 28-30). This is my deepest wish for t he churches and the people of Rwanda.

(*.) Tharcisse Gatwa, a journalist from Rwanda, obtained his PhD in theology from the University of Edinburgh in July 1998. He was a member of the Central Committee of the WCC from 1983 to 1991. A visiting fellow of the Faculty of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, he is the director of Editions CLE, Yaounde, Cameroon.


(1.) Gatwa, Th. and Karamaga, A., Les Autres Chretiens Rwandais. Presence Protestante. Kigali, Urwego, 1990.

(2.) Slattery, M., Issues of Identity in the Churches of Northern Ireland and Rwanda. A dissertation for a Master's degree, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University, 1996.

(3.) Bante, M. and Izard, M., Dictionnaire d'Ethnologie et d'Anthropologie, Paris, PUF, 1991, p. 345.

(4.) Rubanda Nyamwinshi ("numerous people, or the unclean masses") - This term was adopted by ethno-politicians after independence in order to express the power of the majority. However in fact, its use implied the hidden meaning of the power of the Bahutu (the majority) and the exclusion of the Batutsi (the minority) whose elite had just lost power.

(5.) Kee, A., "Imperial Cult: Unmasking of an Ideology" in Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, vol. VI, no. 2, Autumn 1985, pp. 113 -14.

(6.) Pauwels, M., Karinga, le Tambour - enseigne de la Dynastie des Banyiginya, Roma, Annali del Pontifica Museo Missiologica Ethnologica, Vol. XXVI, 1962, p. 221-256.

(7.) Seligman, G., Races of Africa, London, Thornton and Butterworth, 1930, p. 214.

(8.) Arnoux, A., Les Peres Blancs aux Sources du Nil, Paris-Namur, Editions Saint Paul-Grands Lacs, 1948, p. 24.

(9.) Pere Leon Delmas of the Missionaries of Africa (Peres Blancs), missionary and anthropologist in Rwanda. Genealogie de la noblesse Batutsi du Rwanda, Kabgayi, 1950, cited by Muzungu, B., "Ethnies et Clans au Rwanda" in Cahiers du Centre Saint Dominique, Kigali, 1995, pp. 43-45.

(10.) Chretien, J-P., Burundi, les Ethnies ont une Histoire, Paris, Karthala, 1989, p. 138.

(11.) Davidson, B. Africa in History, London, Allen Lane, 1978, p. 150 ff.

(12.) Dupaquier, J-F., "Rwanda. A Qui la Faute?" in L'Evenement du Jeudi, 25-31 Aout 1994, p. 39-51.

(13.) D'Hertefelt, M., Les Clans du Rwanda Ancien. Elements d'Ethno-sociologie et d'Ethno-his-toire, Tervuren, MRAC, 1971, p. 58.

(14.) Administration Coloniale du Ruanda-Urundi, Rapport 1927, p. 48.

(15.) Van der Meersch, J., Le Catechumenat au Rwanda. De 1900 a 1993. Kigali, Pallotti Presse, 1993, p. 104.

(16.) Schumacher, P., "Les Rapports avec le Mututsi dans la Mission du Rwanda", report addressed to the superior of the Apostolic Vicariate and the superior of the Societe des Missionnaires d'Afrique a Alger, 1913, p. 95.

(17.) Father Huntzinger of Save was the superior of the Mission de Save which was the first mission station founded by the White Fathers, the first Catholic missionaries, in Rwanda in 1900.

(18.) Mbonimana, G, "Ethnies et Eglise Catholique" in Cahiers du Centre Saint Dominique, Kigali, 1995, p. 60. Mbonimana expresses his critique of the author of the article referred to which was written by Father Pierre Schumacher, then superior of the Kabgayi Mission. Rudahigwa, the son of the king referred to. was born in 1911. He was enthroned in 1931 under the dynastic name of Mutara III.

(19.) Reyntjens, Filip, L'Afrique de. Grands Lacs (Rwanda-Burundi: 1988-1994) en Crise, Paris, Karthala. 1994. p 19.

(20.) Gatwa, in., "The Churches and Ethnic ideology in the Rwandan Crises. 1900-1994", thesis, University of Edinburgh. 1998. p. 120.

(21.) Van Overschelde. A. Un audacieux pacifique: Monseigneur Leon-Paul Classe, apotre du Ruanda. Ed. Grands Lacs, 1946. P. 197.

(22.) Johanssen, Ernst, Memoirs, Ruanda, 1907-1916, livre V, p. 56

(23.) SBMPC (Societe Beige des Missions Protestantes au Congo). Created in 1910 in Brussels by some Protestant churches, the missionary society was meant to undertake its activities in the Congo. Due to lack of human and material resources, a handful of missionaries were sent with funding from the churches of Holland.

(24.) "Rapport Administration Coloniale Ruanda-Urundi", 1927, p. 51.

(25.) Mahoux and Verhofstadt, "Rapport du Parlement Beige sur les Evenements Tragiques au Rwanda de 1994', Bruxelles, Parlement Beige, 1997, p. 66 (from Internet).

(26.) Gatwa, Th., op. cit., p. 137.

(27.) Inkotanyi "fierce combatants' the rebels of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (Front Patriotique Rwandais), known under the name FPR/Inkotanyi. Historically, Inkotanyi was the name of one of King Rwabugiri's militia. He was the father of King Musinga and died in 1895.

(28.) Shriver, D., An Ethics for Enemies, Forgiveness in Politics, London/New York, Oxford University. 1995,

(29.) Road to Damascus, written by theologians from Africa, Latin America and Asia, was published by the Institute of Contextual Theology, Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1987 as a follow-up to the Kairos document published by the same institute in 1985.

(30.) Gatwa, Th. op. cit., p. 285.
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Title Annotation:churches in Rwanda after the genocide
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:6RWAN
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Previous Article:EDITORIAL.

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