Rwanda President Paul Kagame has closed down 6000 churches and arrested nine pastors for alleged subversion.
According to military intelligence, the churches were being operated by retired soldiers and most of the pastors who are ex-soldiers, including a retired colonel, was connected to Ugandan pastors who President Museveni controls directly.
“So the onslaught on churches was because of they have connections with Uganda,” a source said.
“Seven hundred churches in Kigali? Are these boreholes that give people water?” asked Kagame when he heard that more than 700 churches had been closed down by authorities.
“I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories? But 700 churches, which you even, had to close? This has been a mess!”
The closure this week by the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) was meant to tighten rules on registration and functioning of churches in the country in the face of rising cases of fraud and security concerns.
Religious and rights groups said the closure amounts to infringement on the right to worship, but the government says the crackdown is timely, in the face of thousands of mushrooming churches in the largely Christian country.
Kagame, while officiating at the closure of a four-day national leadership retreat on Thursday, commented on the on-going operation saying that he was surprised by the large number of churches.
He pointed out that had there been proper planning, the situation would not have got to a level where the government has to close churches.
He said that Rwanda has not reached a level where it needs all these churches, noting that such a big number of churches is suitable in bigger and developed economies that have the means and systems to sustain them, which is one of the two scenarios such a development can be explained.
“The second scenario is that you will find such a mess of churches in societies which have nothing like ours for different reasons. In Rwanda and Africa, there are those who want to see us in such chaos. When authorities intervene and stop them, they lament that it is a human rights abuse. People should have a right to worship in whatever church, they say,” said Kagame.
He however said that Rwandans do not have the luxury and means to sustain such churches, supporting the move to shut them down.
The heads of Pentecostal churches which are the most affected have lamented the decision to close churches, which they said was hastily implemented.
“We needed more time to put things in order and later an inspection would determine which churches to close,” said Bishop Liliane Mukabadege of Mountain of Hope, pointing out that some of the closed churches can meet the standards given a grace period.