The Christian Churches, the State, and Genocide in Rwanda

Anthony Court


The churches in Rwanda have exercised considerable political influence during both the colonial and post-colonial periods. Although formally autonomous institutions subordinate to the state, in actuality they have cultivated political influence through their religious teachings and secular role as the loci of material and social resources. However, there is at least one key factor, which has contributed to their fluctuating political influence within Rwanda. During the colonial period, the dominant Catholic Church functioned within a colonial regime of indirect rule, predicated on sustaining the political authority of a Tutsi-dominated Central Court presiding over the territories roughly contiguous with the present-day republic. This threefold division of power and authority acted as a brake upon the hegemonic ambitions of the Church, the royal house and the colonial administrators. Following the abolition of the monarchy in 1961, the structure of political power and authority of the state was fundamentally transformed, clearing the way for the emergence of a state church whose political role in the two Hutu dominated post-colonial republics would have significant historical implications. In this essay, I argue that it was this structural transformation of the Rwandan polity - marking the shift from a trilateral to a dual relationship between state and Church -, which contributes to our understanding of how the Church became embroiled in the mass violence and genocide in the twentieth century Rwandan polity


Christian Churches, Genocide, Rwanda

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