Kigeli V Ndahindurwa (born Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa; 29 June 1936 – 16 October 2016) was the last ruling King (Mwami) ofRwanda, from 28 July 1959 until the overthrow of the Rwandan monarchy on 28 January 1961, shortly before the country acceded to independence from Belgium.
The titular King lived in exile during the final part of his life in the U.S. town of Oakton, Virginia. In exile, he was known for heading the King Kigeli V Foundation, promoting humanitarian work for Rwandan refugees, and for his activities in maintaining the cultural heritage of his formerly reigning royal house.
Early life and education
Kigeli was born Ndahindurwa on 29 June 1936 in Kamembe, Rwanda, to Yuhi Musinga, the deposed King Yuhi V of Rwanda, and Queen Mukashema, one of his wives. He is ethnically Tutsi. Kigeli had fourteen siblings, being one of the youngest of his father’s many children.
When Kigeli was 4 years old, his father was exiled by the Belgian government to Moba, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Following the death of his father, in 1944 he returned to Rwanda. Kigeli was baptised in the Catholic Church in his teens, taking the Christian name Jean-Baptiste, and remained a devout Catholic throughout his life.
He received his education at the Groupe Scolaire Astrida (now Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare) in Rwanda, and at the Nyangezi College in the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. After he finished school in 1956, he worked in local government in Rwanda until 1959.
Reign in Rwanda
After his half-brother, King Mutara III Rudahigwa, died under mysterious circumstances on 25 July 1959, it was announced on 28 July that Kigeli would succeed him as King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa. “Kigeli” is sometimes transcribed as “Kigeri”. Though married, Kigeli’s late half-brother had had no children; the abrupt, shocking nature of the death prompted widespread talk of some kind of assassinationhaving occurred.
Kigeli’s appointment was a surprise to the Belgian administration, who were not involved in his selection, and who described the event as a coup d’état, a view shared by the newly politically empowered Hutu elite. Kigeli himself also felt shocked and overwhelmed at the news of his ascension. The tense atmosphere and presence of armed Rwandans at the funeral prevented the Belgians from objecting, as well as preventing Hutu interference. Despite this, Kigeli was initially favoured by all sides: Tutsi traditionalists, Hutu nationalists, and the Catholic clergy all felt optimistic on his appointment. However, the manner of his appointment led to a loss of prestige for the Belgian authorities, and gave both Hutu and Tutsi revolutionaries the impression that violence might further their goals. The fact that the Tutsi establishment had engineered the rise to power also compromised Kigeli’s ability to act in the traditional role as a neutral arbiter of differing factions.
Kigeli duly followed regal tradition by disregarding past ethnic and ideological affiliations, embracing the role of the ‘father of all Rwandan people’. However, political instability and tribal conflict grew despite efforts by the monarchy and others. Only a month after Kigeli’s November 1959 ascension, Hutu versus Tutsi militancy increased to the point that hundreds died. Many Tutsi went into exile. Issues with the increasingly restive Hutu population were encouraged by the Belgian military, promoting widespread revolt. Kigeli later wrote, “I am not clinging to power… I will always accept the people’s verdict; what I cannot accept is that the Belgian Administration should influence or distort this verdict.”
In July 1960, Kigeli sought safe haven in the newly independent nation of Congo. In 1961, Kigeli was in Kinshasa to meet Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld when Dominique Mbonyumutwa, with the support of the Belgian government, led a coup d’état that took control of the Rwandan state. The monarchy’s rule was formally overthrown on 28 January 1961. The coup resulted in the 1961 referendum about the fate of the nation’s royal system.
The election results showed that, with about 95% turnout, around 80% of voters opposed the continuation of the monarchy. Kigeli criticized the affair as rigged; soon after re-entering Rwanda prior to the election, Belgian officials put him under house arrest.
The government officially deported Kigeli to what is now Tanzania on 2 October 1961. He subsequently lived in multiple other locations, leaving the region of Tanganyika (living inDar es Salaam) for places such as Kampala, Uganda, and Nairobi, Kenya. He was granted political asylum in the United States in July 1992. He resided in the U.S. for the rest of his life.
Granted political asylum by the United States, he settled near Washington, D.C., where he claimed welfare, and lived in subsidized housing. He subsequently settled in theOakton, Virginia, area.
He traveled internationally to speak on behalf of the Rwandan people and repeatedly called for peace and harmony between the different groups. Kigeli continued to remember the victims of the Rwandan Genocide and attempted to reconcile all political, ethnic, and religious parties in Rwanda to use the democratic process to solve any disputes. Kigeli was a friend of former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and the Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Patrice Lumumba.
In an August 2007 BBC interview, Kigeli expressed an interest in returning to Rwanda if the Rwandan people were prepared to accept him as their constitutional monarch. He said that he had met President Paul Kagame and that Kagame had told him that he and his family were free to return, but Kigeli said that in order to do so, he needed to know if the people still wanted him to be king. According to Kigeli, Kagame said that he would consult the government about the issue.
Kigeli died at the age of eighty on the morning of 16 October 2016.