Last King of Rwanda Dies in US Exile

King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa lived his older years in 'impoverished obscurity'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2016 12:19 PM CDT
Last King of Rwanda Dies in US Exile
A hilltop village overlooking the central highlands of Rwanda.   (Getty Images)

Kigeli V Ndahindurwa—the last king of Rwanda, who only sat on the throne for two years (more than a year of that time in exile)—died Sunday morning at the age of 80, the BBC and Foreign Policy report. "He was a devout and dedicated believer and the last anointed African Roman Catholic king to reign over a full country," read a statement on his website. Born Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa, he was a member of the country's Tutsi ethic minority group, but when he ascended to the throne in 1959, tensions were already boiling over between the Tutsis and the Belgian-supported Hutus. In July 1960, King Kigeli fled to what is now Tanzania, and in 1961, the Hutus abolished the monarchy altogether and elected a president of their choosing instead.

From that point, King Kigeli lived elsewhere—first in Tanzania, then in Uganda thanks to Idi Amin's asylum offering, and then in Kenya after Amin suffered his own coup in 1979. Ndahindurwa was granted US asylum in 1992, and he continued to harbor hopes of one day returning to Rwanda as its rightful king, despite continuing bloodshed there. He set up a charity here in the US to help Rwandan refugees and orphans, but he spent much of his time in America living in what Foreign Policy describes as "impoverished obscurity." A 2013 Washingtonian profile found the "tottering" 7-foot-2-inch king living outside of DC, surviving on food stamps and a Section 8 housing subsidy. "They call me the King of Africa," he said of his neighbors, relaying how local kids would often show up at his doorstep for chocolates and other treats. (A Rwandan genocide fugitive was found in December after 21 years.)

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