Rwanda’s experiences show that, religion has some aspects that can be a latent source of conflict.
All religions have their accepted dogma, which followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other ‘beliefs’. Religion and religious leaders say that, theirs is a word of God and no one can compromise it. Ironically, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation.
They thus fight hard to win followers through its interpretation. Followers, who are divided depending on the interpretation of the ‘Word of God’, are generally motivated into action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition. Besides that the unfortunate part of all things is that, individuals are often ignorant of their own faiths and are in most cases driven sheepishly.
Religion is not necessarily a source of conflict but, as with ethnicity or race, religion serves, as a way to distinguish one’s self and one’s group from the other. That is why we have of recent witnessed various religious sects mushrooming all over the country.
Religious leaders may capitalise on the said people’s strong beliefs to propagate hatred. I am saying this because religion had a big hand in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
It would be futile today; to repeat what was already said, as far as the role of religion in the 1994 Rwandan genocide is concerned. But my concern is that religion and religious leaders are not doing enough to build peace in the country and yet they have the same machinery they used to create hatred in Rwanda.
They started what is known as ‘Christian Gacaca’ and then an interfaith dialogue. These are positive initiatives, but unfortunately the two are lacking the very values they are supposed to be giving to Christians and Moslems.
I therefore, find a great irresponsibility on part of religious leaders in the country. Religious leaders have a key role to play in healing and reconciling the society, but they are doing too little.
They should not just stop at denouncing the genocide verbally; we need to see them in practical roles, helping Christians to live in peace and harmony.
They should use their religious dogmas to build peace in Rwanda. Experience has shown us that religion has strong instruments that can be used in escalating conflicts and violence.
These very instruments however, can be channelled to forge reconciliation in a post conflict society like Rwanda. The Rwandan society was indeed brainwashed and up to today, even the people who survived death while in church, remain strong believers.
They still go to the same churches to worship. This explains how strong religious beliefs can be. Religion has the power to brainwash people and can thus automatically determine the way they behave.
It is also worth noting that the strong belief in people’s mind, cannot allow us to secularise our society. We cannot thus deny the fact that religion is part of our people’s lives, but again it has to give us positive values. It would be so damaging if religious leaders decided to take this advantage and destroy our country.
It should be remembered that religious leaders used the power they had over their followers, to commit crimes against humanity in the 1994 genocide.
The society thus needs to see church leaders, do something to reverse the trend. And much of the blame goes to the Catholic Church because Rwanda has a strong Catholic majority. Other churches are no better, but due to the fact that they have few followers, little is known and said about them. The Catholic Church should therefore leave no stone unturned in its efforts to build peace and reconciliation in Rwanda. Religious leaders have no any other alternative but to start teaching positive values, which will help Rwandans to live in peace.