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Rwanda’s authoritarian leader closes thousands of churches


23 October 2018

The government of authoritarian president Paul Kagame has shut down thousands of churches across Rwanda, citing building code violations in a move that has reportedly left some Christians meeting to worship in caves.

The closures began in the Christian-majority East African country in February following the introduction of much stricter building regulations. It is thought as many as 7,000 church buildings may have been forced to close. Churches are now meeting secretly, as group prayer is prohibited anywhere other than in government approved buildings.

Thousands of Rwandan churches have been closed down under the orders of President Paul Kagame's government
Image credit: Department for International Development

One analyst told journalists, "The church closures are much more politically influenced than the government says. It signals to the churches that they are under observation, just like other social organizations in Rwanda.”

Kagame secured election for a third term as Rwanda’s president with 99% of the vote in 2017 after amending the constitution to abolish a previous two term limit. Under Kagame Rwanda has seen a time of economic growth and restoration of social order following the 1994 genocide. He has worked to forge ties with America and Rwanda is a significant recipient of US aid, but Kagame’s administration has received criticism for the pressuring and arrest of dissenters and political opponents. This has not deterred support from Christians: following his election victory in 2010, US megachurch pastor Rick Warren prayed for Kagame at his swearing in ceremony, celebrating with him “on behalf of the United States of America”.

From Barnabas Fund contacts