Pyrex Journal of African Studies and Development (PJASD)

May 2017 Vol. 3(1), pp. 1-12

ISSN: 2985-8763

Copyright © 2017 Pyrex Journals

Full Length Research Paper

The Dual Role of Religion Regarding the Rwandan 1994 Genocide: Both Instigator and Healer

Jean d’Amour Banyanga and Kaj Björkqvist

Peace Studies and Developmental Psychology, Åbo Akademi University, Vasa, Finland.

Corresponding Author E-mail:

Accepted 5th May, 2017


In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed during a little more than 100 days. Basically, Hutu hardliners killed Tutsis but also Hutus who were Tutsi sympathizers. This study explores the complex role of religion regarding the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. On one hand, there is evidence to suggest that religion played a crucial role in helping to create the conditions which made the genocide possible in the first place. This argument is presented through an analysis of existing literature and documents on the matter. The churches of the former colonial times, both Catholic and Protestant, favored the Tutsis and discriminated against the Hutus, thereby laying the ground for the future catastrophe. On the other hand, seemingly paradoxically, religion has also played a central role in the trauma healing process among the genocide survivors. This second argument is presented through interviews with 291 respondents (141 men and 150 women) belonging to the Rwandan diaspora in Belgium. Even though more people died while seeking shelter inside churches than anywhere else during the 1994 genocide, this study found that religion was the most important coping mechanism used by these survivors.

Keywords: Religion, Rwanda, church, genocide.

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