Why an African King Lives on Public Assistance in Virginia

Rwanda's last royal ruler still yearns to reunite his nation

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 31, 2013 5:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – Figure the last king of Rwanda is living on a swanky estate somewhere in Africa? Try again: Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, who ruled from 1959-61, has spent years living in low-income housing in Virginia, where he likes watching wrestling on TV and handing out candies to kids, reports the Washingtonian. But he also dreams of returning to Rwanda and reuniting the Hutus and Tutsis as a benevolent royal figure. Only problem: Rwandan President Paul Kagame doesn't want a king, and Kigeli may have missed his chance, when genocide tore the country apart in 1994 and left nearly a million Rwandans dead.

"I had an explicable sadness,” says the kindly 76-year-old. "The only thing I could do was pray for these people." Kigeli promoted his return on a "peace tour," but critics say he had failed to take necessary steps like learn English or seek help in powerful circles. A friend racks up Kigeli's reticence to poverty and depression; others find it inexplicable. Either way, he now watches as Kagame grows more autocratic and an elite few Tutsis benefit from the nation's economic growth. "My heart, which beats with both Tutsi and Hutu blood, grieves," says Kigeli, himself a Tutsi. But with Rwandan royalty a thing of the past, he may be too: "He was really pushed to the sidelines by the more militant personalities at the time," says a political scientist. "Kigeli—he was essentially just a symbol."

US Army Captain James Van Thach and King Kigeli V of Rwanda attend a function in Washington, DC.
US Army Captain James Van Thach and King Kigeli V of Rwanda attend a function in Washington, DC.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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