KIGALI, Rwanda – Nigerian Catholic bishops urged their Rwandan counterparts to become a more public force for peace and democracy in Rwanda.
Noting that Africans “must look inward for our resources for promoting integral human development,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria said, “The church must assume the role of the midwife of peace” and play a “more visible role in the peace processes.”
Representatives of the Nigerian bishops’ conference met with officials of the Rwandan bishops’ conference and government Dec. 14-17 “to reinforce the spirit of solidarity and mutual interdependence” between the church in the two countries.
In their statement released Dec. 17, the Nigerian bishops noted Rwanda’s general successes with reconciliation and peace in rebuilding the country after the genocide in the mid-1990s.
However, the bishops said, “Multiple restrictions on political and civil liberty which hinder popular participation in political processes on equal footing for all” remain in Rwanda and “the significant control over the activities of political parties does not yield the ideals of democracy.”
Democracy in Rwanda “is manifestly faced with the risk of electoral and political competition based exclusively on ethnic divide. … We urge the church to participate more actively in the restructuring of Rwandan political culture through popular education and the increased accountability of political leaders,” the Nigerian bishops said.
Rwanda was the scene of one of Africa’s most deadly and infamous genocides during 100 days in 1994-1995, when Rwandans from the majority Hutu tribe hacked to death nearly 1 million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Some priests participated in the genocide, and the church has been accused of being complicit.
Today, nearly 85 percent of Rwandans are Hutus while about 15 percent are Tutsi. More than 50 percent of Rwandans are Catholic.
The Rwandan government recently has been accused of supporting Tutsi rebels in neighboring Congo, where violence since August has displaced hundreds of thousands of Congolese. Rwanda has denied the charges and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi military leader, has criticized the United Nations for failing to quash a Hutu rebel movement in eastern Congo.
The Nigerian bishops told the Rwandan bishops they recognized that since 1959 there had been “uneasiness between your two principal ethnic populations, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The events that led to these situations are highly regrettable, particularly when it is possible to think that the church could have been involved in manners that were not impartial.
“It must be said that the situation where a ruling group wields almost exclusive military, political and economic control and tolerates no criticism or challenge to its authority cannot be acceptable,” they added.