On the eve of the August 9 presidential election, thousands of believers gathered at Amahoro National Stadium to pray for a peaceful voting exercise. Many religious leaders had already rallied their respective faithful to participate in the poll as any other eligible Rwandan.
Both the Christian and Muslim leaders were united in calling for massive participation in the electoral process, all arguing their followers to vote ‘wisely’. Some of them were more categorical, openly campaigning for their preferred candidates.
Over the past 16 years, many religious leaders have been keen on supporting the government reconciliation and development programmes. But peace was not the message of some disgraced religious leaders during the 1994 Genocide. Many actively participated in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of refugees who had sought shelter at different places of worship. Others made no effort to protect their ‘sheep’, leaving them at the mercy of marauding interahamwe militia and the genocidal government forces.
In Bugesera, a Catholic church has since been turned into a genocide memorial, after thousands of innocent Tutsis were killed from there.
However, that’s an image many present-day leaders of religious denominations are determined to cut links with.
At a function prior to the elections, Rwandan Mufti, Sheikh Swaleh Habimana told Muslims that voting was their right not only granted to them by the country’s laws, but also the Quran.
“Everyone has a right to vote a candidate of their choice but voting wisely without sentiments is a prerequisite in our holy book Quoran,” quoting Chapter 28:26 of the holy book.
Pastor Daniel Uwimana, the head of the Association of Rwanda Pentecostals Church (ADEPR) in the Western Province told Christians to “vote wisely” a day before the elections.
Apostle Paul Gitwaza, the senior Pastor of Kigali’s Zion Temple church, on many occasions reminded Christians about the country’s past and present, challenging them to vote for a better future.
“This is all what we wanted; we had peaceful elections, we told believers that it is everyone’s right to vote. Now we thank God that people did not only turn up in numbers to vote but they also voted for a bright future,” he told The New Times, in the aftermath of the elections. “We prayed and God answered our prayers”
On his part, the Anglican Archbishop, Emmanuel Kolini, said good leaders are appointed by God. “It’s only God that appoints a leader, but He does it through citizens, so if you are elected by them, you are also elected by God,” said Kolini.
“Therefore, the President-elect was God’s choice as well,” he added.