The Catholic Church, Islamic community and the Anglican Church in Rwanda are working towards creating a self-regulatory body, Rwanda Inter-Faith council, to oversee the operations of faith-based organisations in the country.
The move was announced in a statement signed by senior clergy from various denominations.
According to church leaders, the move will help Faith Based Organisations to discuss and solve their issues independently.
According to Anglican Archbishop Dr Laurent Mbanda the council will be an effective platform for the churches to come together and discuss the issues regarding their operations.
“We need a place where we sit together and discuss our own issues. The similar body exits in many other countries among faith based organisations. Churches have to intervene in their own issues and context rather than government comes and reminds us what to do,” Mdanda told the Gospel Time.
He added, “Under the council, we can advise the government, be a voice for voiceless, and advocate. The body will give us a big voice as religious groups. I am so excited. Soon, we shall submit the requirement to Rwanda Governance Board for registration. “
Bishop Philippe Rukamba, the Bishop of Butare Diocese and the President of the Catholic Episcopal Conference; Archbishop of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, Dr Laurent Mbanda; the Mufti of Rwanda, Sheikh Salim Hitimana; Bishop Samuel Kayinamura, the chairperson of Rwanda Protestant Council; and Bishop Alexis Birindabagabo (Rtd), the head of Peace Plan have blessed the move.
The statement shows that the organisation aims at creating a mechanism for faith-based organisations to regulate themselves and make sure they adhere to the minimum standards expected of religious organisations.
The self- regulatory mechanism will initially work with the government to agree on principles that guide faith-based organisations and the role of the new institution in making sure the guidelines are respected.
The President of the Catholic Episcopal Conference, Bishop Philippe Rukamba, emphasised that the new body will not interfere with the governance of any religious organisation, adding that what they put forward is to share advice and advocate about anything that can ease the operations of the religious organisations and how they relate with the various stakeholders.
Rukamba pointed out that by putting in place a peer institution that regulates faith-based organisation, coordination would be streamlined, giving an example of the recent closure of churches that did not meet basic standards such as safety of places of worship.
“At the moment, you have to consult churches one by one which takes a lot of efforts,” Rukamba said.
With self-regulation, Rukamba said, “we would be holding each other accountable.”
“We will be holding (inter-faith) talks and tell the wrongdoers to change,” he added.
The religious leaders also nominated a committee for the new self-regulatory body.
Currently, the regulation is carried out by Rwandan Governance Board (RGB). When contacted for comment, the Chief Executive Officer of RGB, Prof. Anastase Shyaka, said that the move by the faith-based organisations is long overdue.
“I am glad because elsewhere religious organisations rarely work together as it’s done in Rwanda. It shows the freedom of worship that we have in the country,” he said.
Shyaka said that challenges that could occur will have to be resolved smoothly with the active involvement of religious organisations themselves.
“The issues of standards and hygiene within places of worship will no longer be (a) problem for the government as the new advocacy institution will have dealt with them”.
Speaking at a swearing in ceremony of new ADEPR executive committee on Saturday Justus Kangwagye, the Head of Political Parties and Civil Society Department at the Rwanda Governance Board, embraced the move saying that the body is expected to bring changes in the operations of Faith Based Organisations.
By The New Times’ Elisée Mpirwa. Additional reporting by Gospel Time