Religious Beliefs In Rwanda

Catholic church in Rwanda.
Catholic church in Rwanda.

The country of Rwanda is a small, landlocked country located in East Africa. The country is known for its rainforests, national parks, and endangered animal species. Sadly, it is also known for its violent and turbulent recent past featuring the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This article mentions the history and current status of the six major religious beliefs in the country.

The Major Religious Beliefs In Rwanda

Roman Catholic Christianity

Roman Catholic Christianity is the largest Christian group and the most popular religion in Rwanda with 46.5% of the population adhering to the religion. In the late 19th century, Roman Catholicism was introduced to the Rwandan people when the country was part of German East Africa (1891-1919). One of the major missionary groups to introduce the religion was the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers, who established their first mission station in 1900. It was during this time that the Roman Catholic missionaries are seen as having played a significant role in fomenting racial divisions between Hutu and Tutsi via the Hamitic theory of race origins. In 1912 the White Fathers set up the first vicariate called the Apostolic Vicariate of Kivu that served the area until 1922.

Today, the church in Rwanda is divided up into nine dioceses, with one archdiocese that was erected by the Pope in 1976. On November 20, 2016, the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda released a statement officially apologizing for their role in the 1994 genocide, which was signed by the country's nine bishops. In the past, several Catholic priests have been indicted by international tribunals for crimes committed during the genocide but the Church never officially acknowledged its role till this statement.

Protestant Christianity

Protestant Christianity is the second largest Christian group in the country and the second largest religion, followed by 45.4% of the population of Rwanda. In 1908, German Lutherans arrived in Rwanda to work but were expelled during World War One (1914-18). Following the war, Belgium gained control of Rwanda as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi (1916-1962) and during this time the Belgian Protestant missionaries entered the country, especially the Anglicans and Seventh Day Adventists. In the 1930s, Protestantism gained importance in the country and surrounding regions. It has been argued that some members of the Protestant Church, along with the Catholic Church, helped to make the Rwandan genocide possible by giving moral sanction to the killings. However, not all members of the churches supported the genocide. Many risked and lost their lives trying to save others during the massacre by hiding them in churches. Since the genocide Protestants, especially the Anglicans, have benefited from new leaders who were educated in neighboring Uganda. In recent years the Pentecostal branch of Protestantism has grown quickly in the country.

Other Forms of Christianity

All of the other forms of Christianity combine to be the third largest religious belief in Rwanda, representing a total of 4.4% of the country's population. The Jehovah's Witnesses are the most notable and harassed group out of all the other forms of Christianity in Rwanda.


Islam is the fourth largest religious belief in Rwanda, but only 1.8% of the population practices the religion. Most of the Muslims in the country follow Sunni Islam. Islam is believed to have first arrived in Rwanda in the 18th century via Muslim traders from the East Coast of Africa. However, it did not gain any kind of foothold in the country until the very end of the 19th century. The first mosque in the country was the al-Fatah mosque, built in 1913. Muslims in the country have mostly settled in urban areas and have been marginalized in the country.

Atheism Or Agnosticism

The combined number of people in Rwanda who say that they are either atheists or agnostics constitute 1.8% of the population. Atheists and agnostics in Rwanda are not officially counted in the country, and there is a stigma attached to being non-religious in this highly religious country. Since the Rwandan Genocide, there has been a rise in the number of people who say that they are atheist or agnostic.

African Folk Beliefs

The number of people in Rwanda who say that they follow African folk beliefs is only 0.1% of the population. Only a few people in Rwanda practice African folk beliefs but many followers of other faiths in the country incorporate some traditional elements into their religious practices. The major beliefs in African folk beliefs are the belief in a supreme being called Imaana, as well as other lesser deities. They also believe that these deities can be communicated with via the spirits of ancestors.

The Status Of Religious Relations In Rwanda

Even though it has been more than two decades since the Rwandan genocide there has still been a propagation of small and usually Christian schismatic religious groups that have popped up in the country. For its part however, the amount of discrimination based on religious belief in the country has been extremely low in recent years. The Constitution of Rwanda provides for freedom of religion and the government has usually respected this right.

Religious Beliefs In Rwanda

RankBelief SystemShare of Rwandan Population
1Roman Catholic Christianity46.5%
2Protestant Christianity45.4%
3Other Forms of Christianity4.4%
5Atheism or Agnosticism
6African Folk Beliefs0.1%

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