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Rwanda shuts down 700 Churches for noise pollution

Rwanda has ordered about 700 churches be closed down for failing to comply with building regulations and for noise pollution.

A government official told the BBC that some of the more than 700 buildings shut down have already reopened after they were approved by inspectors. Most of them are small Pentecostal churches. A mosque was closed.

Pentecostal churches, often run by charismatic preachers claiming to be able to perform miracles, have grown rapidly in many parts of Africa in recent years.

According to a proposed new law, all preachers must have theological training before opening a church.

Government official Justus Kangwagye the Head of Political Parties and Civil Society Department at the Rwanda Governance Board, places of worship are required to meet basic requirements in terms of safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality which those affected were found to be lacking.

He told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that they simply required the churches to meet “modest standards”.

HALT OPERATIONS

Some are massive, attracting thousands of worshippers each Sunday, but others consist of tiny structures built without planning permission.

Church leaders have at times been criticised for using loud public address systems to attract worshippers.

Some churches premises and exposes worshippers to unnecessary risks and could “cause danger to those worshipping,” Mr Kangwagye told the Rwandan New Times newspaper.

The vast majority of Rwandans are Christians but many also follow traditional practices.

In an interview on Monday, Kangwagye said most of the affected places of worship were asked to halt operations until they meet the expected standards.

“Worshiping should be done in an organised way and meet minimum standards. Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people’s rights.  They have been asked to halt operations until they meet the requirements,” he said.

DANGER TO WORSHIPERS

Kangwagye said some premises exposed worshipers to risks.

“For instance, if the infrastructure is deemed likely to cause danger to those worshiping, it is obvious that it fails to meet the requirements,” he explained.

Others were found to have inadequacies such as lack of parking lots which would lead to their members parking by the roadsides and causing traffic jam.

“Churches that are hosted in tents were also asked to review their premises before they can continue their operations. As for hygiene and sanitation, you cannot have a gathering where there is no water for washing hands, no toilets among other issues,” he said.

Others, he added, were warned on the lack of safety and security installations and asked to look into it or risk closure.

For instance, a number of churches were found not to have metal detectors for security measures, which is a requirement, or a lightening arrestor.