Catholic Peacebuilding Network

Enhancing the study and practice of Catholic peacebuilding

The Struggle for Peace in Rwanda

By Frère Antoine KAMBANDA
Nya Kibanala, Rwanda

General facts about Rwanda:

  • It is a country that existed for more than five centuries as a monarchy. It was colonized in 19th century by the Germans. It later became a protectorate of Belgium until its independence in 1962, when it turned into a modern state.
  • Rwanda has a territory of 26,340 square kilometres and a population of 8 million. Rwanda is considered as the most densely populated country in Africa with 303 persons per square kilometre.
  • Life expectancy is 41 years.
  • The literacy rate is 70% of the adults
  • 60% of the people live under poverty line
  • 50% of the population are Catholics; 27% protestants; 12% Adventists, and; 2% Muslims

    The role played by the Catholic Church in Peacebuilding in Rwanda.

    1. The Nature of the Problem of Peace in Rwanda
    - The main cause of the lack of peace in Rwanda is the ethnic division and conflict. Hutu, Tutsi and Twa are not real ethnic groups or tribes. Normally an ethnic group or a tribe has its own language, culture and a territory. This is not the case in Rwanda. Indeed, Hutu and Twa have the same language, the same culture and they live side-by-side in all parts of the country. There are no particular regions for Hutu or Tutsi or Twa. The ethnic group or tribe in Rwanda should be Banyarwanda as we have Baganda, Batoro, Banyankore or Banyoro in Uganda. It is a one-tribe nation.
    Originally the grouping and identification of the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa was based on different trades in the society which were complementary. The Hutu were cultivators, the Tutsi were cattle keepers and the Twa were pot makers, hunters and artists. They competed with one another economically, culturally, religiously and politically for several centuries in building the Rwandan nation.

    During this time, the idea of an ethnic group had no permanence. For example, when a Hutu acquired a big number of cows, he could become a recognized cattle keeper and therefore a Tutsi. When a Tutsi progressively moved away from cattle and shifted to agriculture, he could little by little become identified as Hutu. The ethnic identity was flexible and often could go with the change of social status and trade.
    This flexibility of ethnic identity was changed by the introduction of the identity card by the Belgians in 1932 which included ethnic identification. From then on the ethnic identity was fixed definitively for the generations to come. Even in case of mixed marriages the children would be given the ethnic identity of the father.
    With the coming of the politics of modern states in Africa and the introduction of political parties and ideologies, the ethnic groups were manipulated and became politically different and adversarial. Since that time, the real conflict in Rwanda has become not ethnic but political. When African countries began to seek independence, Belgian colonialists were not satisfied with the Tutsis who were in power at that time. They decided to support the Hutu’s bloody revolution through which the Hutu came to power. Meanwhile, many Tutsi were exiled and others were killed.

    A series of violent ethnic clashes followed 1959. Many human lives were lost and many refugees ran away to neighboring countries in 1963, 1973, 1990 and the climax was the genocide in 1994.
    After the genocide in 1994 Rwandan society is left with many complex problems. After all, the genocide was not committed against strangers but very closely related people. Neighbors killed neighbors, people who had lived together for years, colleagues from school and work, mixed marriages and children from these marriages and biological relatives. Even religious ties were not exempt from the massacre of the Tutsis.

    As a consequence we have:
    - Intimate, natural and Christian relations between the aggressors and people destroyed or injured.
    - The survivors of genocide who are deeply injured physically, morally, psychologically and spiritually.
    - Thousands of prisoners and thousands who are free but suspected or accused
    - The families of the accused and the survivors living side by side at work, in schools, in church etc…
    - Thousands who do not know where their people died without a decent burial

    2. The Catholic Church in Rwanda
    The Catholic Church was the first new religion to come to Rwanda and to be well received by Rwandans. It has had significant influence in the development of Rwanda into a modern state. It was the Catholic Church that started schools, health centers, hospitals and had a leading role in socio-economic development. 50% of the population of Rwanda are Catholics and practicing Catholics. In some areas Catholics are even more than 60% of the population. The Catholic Church has structures that reach each and every corner of the country —Dioceses, parishes, sub-parishes and basic Christian communities (15-20 families). Moreover, there is a commission of justice and peace in each of these structures. People trust the church and in general listen to it willingly. As a leading educational institution in the country, the Catholic church has the opportunity to transmit the Christian values of peacebuilding.

    3. The Efforts and Challenges of the Catholic Church

    After the genocide, there existed a community of people who were morally wounded , spiritually traumatized and physically handicapped. The Catholic Church itself, as was any other institution and community in Rwanda, was also deeply affected by the genocide and required physical, moral and spiritual reconstruction. The first step was to reconstruct the basic structures and to provide the basic necessities. It is still important to find a way to pacify the bitterness of the traumatized people who still hold a lot of fear and the anger in their hearts. We need to find the ways for reconciliation by a special synod and active participation in Gacaca courts, as well as the courage to ask for forgiveness and to forgive.

    4. The Challenges in the Catholic Church
    The first challenge is to set up adapted post-genocide pastoral work for peacebuilding rooted in basic moral values, memory purification and reconciliation with our past. Research in Catholic theology would be also useful to develop the means that can make relations between Rwandans stronger in baptism than ethnic relations. Finally, the use of the sacrament of penance for reconciliation and healing of ethnic hatred and the reconciliation with oneself, with God and with the others, would be significant to develop a faith characterized by trust that overcomes the fear of the other.