Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Victims or Guilty?

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Victims or Guilty?

Article excerpt

THARCISSE GATWA [*]

CAN THE RWANDAN CHURCHES REPENT AND BEAR THE BURDEN OF THE NATION FOR THE 1994 TRAGEDY?

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. …

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