The end of last week saw massive religious assemblies in different parts of Rwanda.
There was Kibeho and Nyundo where thousands of Catholics gathered to celebrate the Assumption Day to mark the ascension to heaven of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. Services were led by Monsignors Philippe Rukamba and Joseph Habiyambere, respectively.
Kibeho (south of Rwanda) has a special status in the Catholic Church as an official recognised place of Mary’s apparitions.
That was Friday August, 15, and Saturday came the golden jubilee celebrations of Protestant Council of Rwanda on Saturday, led by Bishop Alexis Birindabagabo, with premier Anastase Murekezi in attendance.
Following (on Sunday) was the Shima Imana (Thanksgiving) Rwanda, at Amahoro National Stadium, led by the American evangelist, Pastor Rick Warren.
I can’t emphasise more on the impressive turn–out of all these events.
A couple of weeks earlier, it was the not less attended Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadhan and the prayers at Kigali Regional Stadium were led by Rwanda’s Mufti Ibrahim Kayitare.
The Tweet ( both in Kinyarwanda and English) from President Paul Kagame of best wishes to Muslims (in Rwanda and across the world) didn’t go unnoticed as it was ‘Re-tweeted’ and ‘Favorited’ over 400 times (combined).
Many other people didn’t attend all the above mentioned religious events, but only learnt about them from different media outlets and platforms.
Although you and I may tend to rush in truly thanking the media for that coverage, however, the real questions to ask are (and should be): Why can’t media go beyond events when it comes to cover religion? What kind of job is the Media doing (or should do) in explaining religion in society to the public? Broadly, how is the relationship between media and religious organisations in Rwanda and the region?
If you dismiss the need of media coverage of religious activities, I know so many people who’ll disagree with you with strong arguments.
Religious organisations have had a huge impact on world affairs for a long time.
It would be naïve to think that churches deal with only matters of faith. Religious organisations influence and, in some cases, decide, what courses to take in terms of politics, economics and social life of societies.
The relationship between the Government of Rwanda with religious organisations, mostly Catholic Church, is among the interesting ones.
These organisations were involved in segregating education from the arrival of white men in Rwanda; removal and expulsion of a sitting King (Yuhi V Musinga); so called popular revolution of 1959; and even the Genocide in 1994.
In the early 2002, media in both Europe and America devoted huge space on scandals of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy. Another related massive coverage came in 2010, this time much of the reporting focused on sexual abuse of children in Europe. It is still arguable by media and scholars whether the then Pope, Benedict XVI, did not do a good a job in addressing those scandals, though he punished, sacked and profusely apologised several times.
Yet Rwandans are still waiting for any gesture from Vatican on its reps’ role in the Genocide.
At the just concluded Rwanda Shima Imana-Thanksgiving conference, in Kigali, it’s interesting to note that people attended this event regardless of their beliefs and churches.
Pastor Rick Warren underlined that the only way to help/change and/or work with the people is to do it through the most grassroots organisations and that number one is the Church.
Pastor Warren went on to say that: “in the absence of a functioning government, a vibrant private sector or a serious church, a nation would crumble”, equating it to a three-legged stool.
Back to the principal point, media coverage of religious events isn’t good enough. There’s a need of deep unfolding of religious stances on family planning, abortion, education, finance and other key aspects of life.
I am not sure if the Media’s priorities are chosen appropriately.
For example, sports and entertainment receive far more coverage than religion, yet, far more people attend religious services than football games and concerts.
But both in our print and broadcast media sports and entertainment beat religious stories hands down.
Covering religion is, surely, a tricky business and it’s hard to say if it’s because of negligence, ignorance or otherwise.
That is one of the reasons a dozen of media practitioners met in Bujumbura, Burundi, on August 1, 2014 and established the Inter-Media GL (Great Lakes), a regional association with a mission of promoting the media coverage of religion. Founding members are from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.
The birth of Inter-Media GL, led by Burundian Deogratias Ndayishimiye, was supported by The Media Project, a Washington DC based organisation which (according to its site) “challenges and equips mainstream journalists, editors, journalism educators and media analysts in all facets of media to cover religion as an essential part of public life in all corners of the world.”
Media practitioners in the Great Lakes Region of Africa should understand that shooting for a higher standard of excellence in religion reporting is not only a noble goal, but a valuable public service.
Individual journalists, the media at large, and the people of Great Lakes region of Africa, as a whole, will gain from a media that not only takes religion seriously, but also strives to report it accurately.
Martin Semukanya is a Media Consultant.