Something strange has been happening in Rwanda lately. An Anglican bishop has attacked Rick Warren publicly in an online article. Bishop Alexis Bilindabagabo had this to say of Warren:
Pastor Rick Warren has played a role in the creation of Peace Plan organization, but it is not his initiative, as the idea came from other people who co-founded the organization. In the first and second year, Rich Warren attended the annual conference of Peace Plan and contributed some money. But now, we thank God for not allowing Rick Warren to attend Peace Plan conferences and not allowing him to give his money. We praise God for the fact that Rick Warren has not been in Rwanda for a while, because when he comes, he hijacks actions that are not his and people are mislead and attribute him the Peace Plan conference.
The Peace Plan that Bishop Alexis is talking about is an initiative to ostensibly fight poverty and other social ills across Rwanda. You can read more about ithere. Bishop Alexis has been around since before the genocide and is connected to Gen. Salim Saleh Akandwanaho, the brother of Ugandan dictator Museveni. General Salim helps raise funds for the new cathedral being built in Gahini. Bishop Alexis is now the chairperson of the Purpose Driven Ministries’ PEACE Plan. This article on the recent Rwanda Shima Imana celebration makes no mention of Rick Warren! He is being written out of the script.
Until recently, Rick Warren was a best friend of Paul Kagame. Warren has a long history of praising Rwanda and being praised by Rwandans. For example, in 2009 Rwanda’s Anglican Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini visited Saddleback, and Warren’s church presented dictator Paul Kagame with an award. A communication from the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) said:
“There is unity in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. Having Rick Warren there [as preacher] was a blessing.”
While in the LA area, the Archbishop was able to connect with old missionary friends he had been with in the Congo, but hadn’t seen for 12 years. In addition, he participated in and offered an opening blessing during the Saddleback Civil Forum on Reconciliation at Saddleback Church. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, was awarded the International Medal of Peace for his “dedication, sacrifice and leadership in reconciliation, the fight against poverty and disease and efforts towards economic development of Rwanda.”
As recently as the summer of 2015, Fr. Brandon Walsh, an American who works for Archbishop Rwaje met with Rick Warren. He wrote:
…the Archbishop and I traveled the country working on Walk With Rwanda. Our very first meeting was with Rick Warren at Saddleback- who has committed to help us with Walk With Rwanda by promoting it with his (millions strong!) social media presence and by putting one of his top strategists on our board of advisors. He was a humble and kind man who loves the archbishop- it was the best way to start our journey.
What is going on? This article says that the website that published the article lambasting Warren is close to the Rwandan government, and we know that Rwanda is a locked-down dictatorship, so views that are not popular with the government are not published, period.
David Himbara served under Paul Kagame from 2006 to 2010 as the head of strategy and policy in the Office of the President and from 2000 to 2002 as the principal private secretary to the president. He says:
Bishop Birindangabo would not dare trash Warren without approval from the Rwandan dictator Kagame. It is more likely that instructions to embarrass Warren came from the top. That is how Rwanda works.
Himbara pointed out in this post that Warren never followed through or showed up for a much-hyped All Africa Purpose Driven Church Congress set for Kigali in 2015:
The August 2015 conference never happened. Further, Rick Warren was a no show in Rwanda on February 20, 2016 at the annual prayer he normally attends.
At one time, Warren was on Kagame’s “Presidential Advisory Council”, a group of Rwandans and Westerners who meet annually with Kagame. For example, you see his name on the list for the 2009 meeting. In recent years however, Warren seems to have dropped off, as this picture from 2015 attests:
We can only speculate as to what has caused this rupture between Paul Kagame and Rick Warren. Does it come down to money? Did Kagame’s grasp for a third term as President open Warren’s eyes? Did the website Saddleback Can We Talk? cause a stir? Is Kagame’s record as a murderer and oppressor catching up to him in the West? It is impossible to say at this time.
As an Anglican, watching the re-emergence of Bishop Alexis as the mouthpiece for government speaking points is quite interesting. He played a central role in the collapse of the Anglican Mission in America, but seemed to be sidelined a bit when it was succeeded by PEARUSA. With the end of that organization and the transition to Rwanda Ministry Partnerships, perhaps Anglicans in Rwanda are more “free” to support Kagame in public.