This year, authorities in Rwanda have closed down at least 7,000 churches, more than 700 of which were in the capital city of Kigali. The government began shutting down these churches in March 2018, after lightning struck a Seventh-day Adventist church that had not properly installed a government-mandated lightning rod. As a result of the incident, 16 people died. Following the incident, authorities claimed that they started inspecting churches to ensure they were safe and complied with health, safety, and noise regulations as mandated by the Rwandan government. According to the government, many of these churches did not meet the required standards.
President Paul Kagame was vocal in his support of the shutdowns, but was shocked by the number of churches. Kagame claimed that a nation as small as Rwanda did not need so many churches. He claimed that “such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them.” Outraged by this statement, church leaders organized a protest, which ultimately led to the arrest of six Pentecostal pastors.
While the government claims that they are shutting down the churches based on their physical condition or the excessive noise the they create, many have their doubts. An analyst, told World Watch Monitor, “On checking which churches were included (in closures), all churches are suffering the same fate, and … even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close.”
It appears that the majority of the churches closing are Protestant churches that vary regarding their size and building conditions. However, Rwanda lacks freedom of press, making it challenging to obtain accurate news regarding exactly which churches have been shut down and why. After the six Pentecostal pastors were arrested, few have been willing to speak on the subject, fearing government backlash.