What clerics know about a colleague’s role in Genocide

The Anglican Church in the United Kingdom has opened investigations that could unearth the role played by one of its clerics, Rev. Jonathan Ruhumuliza, in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
People listening to testimonies during a commemoration ceremony at Amahoro Stadium in 2012. File
People listening to testimonies during a commemoration ceremony at Amahoro Stadium in 2012. File

The Anglican Church in the United Kingdom has opened investigations that could unearth the role played by one of its clerics, Rev. Jonathan Ruhumuliza, in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Through discussions with the preacher’s colleagues in the Anglican Church and neighbours who knew him before and during the Genocide, The New Times has learnt that Ruhumuliza’s behaviour during the Genocide revolved around a conflict of interest that may have ended up into a criminal act.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source from the church indicated that a conflict arose between Ruhumuliza, a Hutu, and one Alphonse Karuhije, a Tutsi who was the secretary of Kigali Diocese over a job.

According to the source, the two had been promised by then Kigali Bishop, Adonia Sebununguli, that they would replace him on the post when he retired.

The source said Sebununguli decided to promote Ruhumuliza to the post of Bishop of Butare Diocese in 1992, allegedly to bring rivalry against the then Butare bishop Justin Ndandali, who was believed to be a critic of the then Habyarimana government.

Alexis Birindabagabo, the current bishop of Gahini Diocese in Eastern Province who was also a target of the Interahamwe militia, said Ndandali had allegedly joined Socialist Party (PSD) which was opposing the then ruling party, MRND.

One anonymous source said “the appointment of Ruhumuliza did not follow proper procedures because the bishops were not consulted and that security officials were deployed in Huye stadium to contain any tensions.

As anticipated, tensions followed the nomination and Sebununguli was forced to bring Ruhumuliza to Kigali in 1993 and nominate him his successor.

Then Sebununguli attempted to appoint Karuhije as first bishop of Kibungo Diocese but Birindabagabo said it didn’t work out because there was fear that the appointment was partly a plot to kill him once he arrived in the Eastern part of the country. 

The post of bishop of Kibungo was thus given to Augustin Mvunabandi, the current bishop of Kigeme Diocese in the Southern Province.

The conflict between Ruhumuliza and Karuhije, over who would succeed Sebununguli, continued until the arrival of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (Inkotanyi) and the clerics thought they would flee the war and go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the anonymous source said “Ruhumuliza warned Sebununguli that he would not move with Karuhije because the Interahamwe would kill him along the way”.

They left him in the Saint Etienne cathedral, the headquarters of Kigali Diocese, and the source believes Ruhumuliza came back to this place and notified the Interahamwe militia who took Karuhije and killed him.

“I cannot say that I saw Ruhumuliza killing people but I know he wanted to become bishop at any cost,” the source said.

As for Birindabagabo, he charges that “while I was in need of someone to save me from the killing, I notified him and he did not help me”.

Yet, all Birindabagabo remembers about Ruhumuliza is that he was in good relation with the authorities and used to move across the country with quite a lot of freedom during the Genocide.

Ruhumuliza in exile

Ruhumuliza, who allegedly served as a spokesperson for the genocidal government, stayed in Kenya for a while after fleeing Rwanda but later came back to Rwanda in early 1995 with a letter from his boss, Sebununguli, appointing him as Bishop of Kigali.

The anonymous source remembers that there was such a shortage of clerics that Ruhumuliza found no church structure in place and imposed his orders.

Meanwhile, Birindabagabo who had founded Barakabaho, an association that aimed at rehabilitating Genocide survivors, said he had partly given up clerical service because Ruhumuliza had said that he was envying his seat.

Later in 1996, Ruhumuliza ended up in confrontation with security guards at Saint Etienne Cathedral.

He was injured and he went abroad for medication .

“I think he would have returned to Rwanda if he was innocent and the church would have appointed him bishop for some new dioceses that were created later,” one source said.

Daniel Nzamurambaho, 62, is a farmer who says that he knew Ruhumuliza when he was a religious leader in Kigeme Hospital in the current Southern Province.

Nzamurambaho said he used to read about Ruhumuliza’s hatred for Tutsis in Isibo newspaper in the 1990s but never saw him killing anyone.

The current archbishop of the Anglican Church in Rwanda, Onesphore Rwaje, was the bishop of Byumba Diocese during the 1994 Genocide.

He said he learnt about Ruhumuliza’s whereabouts in the media when he disappeared in 1996.

Rwaje said his church is yet to investigate anything about Ruhumuliza because the Anglican Church in England had not communicated the matter to the Church in Rwanda.

But he dissociated the Church from any clergyman who may have intentionally betrayed Tutsis and suggested they should be individually held accountable.

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