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  • The Churches and Ethnic Ideology in the Rwandan Crises 1990-1994
  • Israel Akanji
Tharcisse Gatwa . 2005. The Churches and Ethnic Ideology in the Rwandan Crises 1990-1994. Milton Keynes: Regnum Books International/Paternoster, pp. 282.

Tharcisse Gatwa, a Presbyterian Church leader in Rwanda, in the seven chapters of this book x-rays the role of the churches, Catholic and Protestant, both in complicity and reflexivity, in the development of the ethnic ideology which led to the 1994 genocide of over 800,000 peoplein Rwanda, and the later contributions of these churches to the path of reconciliation.

In chapter one, Gatwa accounts for the three social groups of Rwanda, namely, the Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa, noted as 85%, 14% and 1% respectively (p. xvi). He traces the development of ethnicity by drawing attention to the two main competing schools, namely, the primordial, which claims that the Bahutu and the Batutsi rivalry is a pre-colonial reality and the instrumentalist, which argues that ethnicity is a colonial and missionary invention. He suggests that ethnic rivalry developed through the influence of the colonial powers, missionaries and local elites. In the second chapter, he considers the confrontation between pre-colonial Rwanda and the dual incursion of colonialism and Christianity. The third chapter looks at the role of the church in the promotion of racial ideology through the 'Hamite' theory which made the Batutsi dominant and the [End Page 189] Bahutu dominated. Both Catholic and Protestant churches accepted and promoted this theory of racial supremacy. Gatwa dismisses the Hamite theory and insists on an identical ancestor for the social categories of Rwanda.

Chapter four introduces an abrasive turnaround of events. Gatwa talks about how the colonisers and the missionaries, owing to the 'political and cultural developments' of the 1950s, changed from promoting the Batutsi supremacy, into promoting a new master, the Bahutu. This counter version of the supremacy ideology called for the rule of the majority. As Gatwa says, 'Yesterday's oppressed became the oppressors of today …' (p. 107). Again, he traces some activities of President Habyarimana who gained power in 1973 and later institutionalised ethnic discrimination, whilst enjoying church loyalty. The fifth chapter concentrates on the false report from both the church and government media before, during and after the genocide. Chapter six deals with the crises from 1990 to 1994, including the call of some churches for the implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord. In the last chapter, Gatwa recommends the typology of the German leaders' declaration of guilt after World War II and the South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the abolition of apartheid, for the healing of the church and nation in Rwanda.

Although Gatwa fails to supply supporting documents like letters or reports of meetings held for his claim that the genocide was programmed (pp. 162–3), there is no doubt that he provides a humbling and courageous version of the Rwandan crises by exposing the complicity of the church in the two phases of the ethnic ideology. He also reveals the extremely intimate relationship which existed between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the ruling administration, which ought to have prevented the genocide. This book therefore, which results from PhD researchat the University of Edinburgh, is highly recommended for students of Christianity in Africa.

Israel Akanji
University of Edinburgh


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pp. 189-190
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Archived 2009
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