The Rwandan government has gone on a crackdown on religious organizations or faith-based organizations (FBOs) as the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) terms them. Two weeks ago, over 700 churches were shut down for operating below ‘the minimum required standards.’
The affected churches were found to be lacking in safety for worshippers with some operating in weak and shoddy structures that pose a danger to occupants, health-wise and otherwise. There were also issues of noise pollution and allegations of pastors preaching misleading sermons. This advanced talks that religious leaders in the country should also acquire theological training.
“Some people advance the notion of calling, but this is not enough, we should know that (your) calling is complemented by theological skills”, said Professor Anastase Shyaka, chief executive, RGB.
President Paul Kagame was reportedly shocked at the number of ‘substandard churches’ that were shut down in Kigali alone, Rwanda’s capital city. “Seven hundred churches in Kigali? Are these boreholes that give people water? I don’t think we have as many boreholes. Do we even have as many factories?” President Kagame asked.
Moving forward, the RGB has drafted laws that will guide the operations of FBOs; laws to address illegalities and other inappropriate activities. “We need to institute measures that help make faith-based organisations pillars of society’s advancement and well-being”, said Professor Shyaka.
The new legislation will tackle several issues including the registration of religious organizations, leadership, management, and the minimum standards for places of worship. Once the laws are approved, the board will monitor FBOs closely to ensure strict compliance. The new laws will give FBO’s a year’s grace to meet required standards or be shut down.
Two years ago, Nigeria witnessed something similar to the recent events in Rwanda when the Lagos State government shutdown 70 churches, 20 mosques, and 10 hotels, clubs, and bars for noise pollution. It was in line with the states now seemingly abandoned vision for a noise-free Lagos in 2020. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that for every church, mosque, and club that was shut down back then, several more have sprung up.
However, while the state’s focus was on noise pollution, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Lagos, Nigeria, and other African countries to follow Rwanda’s lead; shutting down FBO’s, bars and clubs that do not meet a required standard; places that pose a danger to people’s mind, soul and body. There have been countless cases and reports of swindlers posing as prophets, and diabolical preachers who subject their congregations to ridiculous and inhuman treatments, some leading to death.
But perhaps, before enforcing such laws or while enforcing them, structures should be put in place to pre-empt ignorance and deter desperation. More FBO’s are springing up simply to exploit the desperate yearnings of citizens for change across Africa.
Like Napoléon Bonaparte said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” It also the only bright light in a sea of darkness for many. At least if the working conditions do not improve and living standards do not change for the better; if people are constantly being subjected to poverty by a system that ought to make life easier for them, surely they will cling to whatever promise of salvation they are offered whether here or in the afterlife.