Hundreds of people turned out for the funeral of Rwanda’s last king, Kigeli V, in the country’s former royal capital Nyanza on Jan.15.
Kigeli was buried in his homeland after his body was repatriated from Washington on Jan.09. He had been living in exile in the United States since 1992.
Kigeli actually died in October at the age of 80 but his funeral was delayed by a court battle between his relatives, arguing over where he should be buried — in the U.S. or his place of birth.
The religious ceremony took place outdoors in the grounds of the old King’s Palace, now a modest museum, in Nyanza, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the capital Kigali, a local journalist told AFP.
The Rwandan king’s crown was placed on Kigeli’s grey coffin while his family wore traditional “umushanana” dress.
Dozens of local residents joined Kigeli’s family and Rwanda’s culture minister Julienne Uwacu to pay their respects.
“He was a man who fought for Rwanda’s independence,” said 69-year-old farmer Anastaze Musonera.
“Even in exile, he was a friend of Rwanda. He didn’t criticise, he didn’t tarnish Rwanda’s image.”
Jean de Dieu Tuyinsize said he had learnt about Kigeli at school.
“We’re happy he’s come home to be buried here in Rwanda,” said the 27-year-old builder.
The former monarch was buried on a hill near the tomb of his half-brother and predecessor Mutara III, who died in 1959.
The monarchy was abolished in 1961, two years after Kigeli, born Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa, ascended to the throne.
But by then he had already left the country after clashing with colonial power Belgium in 1960, having approached the United Nations for help in obtaining independence.
He was exiled first to east Africa before eventually settling in the U.S.
Kigeli had tried to come back to his homeland while still alive but failed to reach agreement with the country’s government.
He insisted on returning as king, whereas President Paul Kagame, in power since the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, would accept him only as a private citizen.
King Kigeli’s successor has been named as his nephew Emmanuel Bushayija – a naturalised British citizen. According to The Guardian newspaper in UK, the announcement of the successor was made by Kigeli’s chief courtier.
“The Rwandan Royal Council of Abiru hereby informs all Rwandans and friends of Rwanda that in keeping with the ancient custom, it has acclaimed His Royal Highness Prince Emmanuel Bushayija as the successor of his late majesty,” the edict read.
In a video posted on Facebook, Boniface Benzinge, who describes himself as the deceased king’s assistant and best friend, read the statement over tinny piano music saying that Kigeli had named his brother’s son as his successor in 2006 and that he wished the new king “long life and success”.
Father of two Bushayija, or Yuhi VI as his new royal title has him, has so far remained silent about the announcement.
Answering the door of his neat and well-kept house on Wednesday morning, a family member said he was not in and would not be speaking to the press.
The Rwandan royal family was exiled in 1961, when Bushayija was a baby, and he was schooled in Uganda, where he later worked for Pepsi. He moved back to Rwanda in 1994, before relocating to the UK in 2000.
Wendy Otoo, 50, a foster carer who lives two doors down from the family, said Bushayija had mentioned his big news to her husband, but that she did not think it would change much for the family.
“He’s very laid back and humble,” she said. “He’s a lovely man. I look after my granddaughters full time and he’s great with them. He always stops for a chat, so he’s not very king-like.”
Rwanda became a republic in 1961 following a referendum, a year before it gained independence from Belgian rule. The result suggested that 80% of the public opposed the monarchy but King Kigeli claimed that the vote had been rigged.
In 2013, Washingtonian magazine found Kigeli living in subsidised housing in Virginia, living off food stamps. He told the magazine that Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda had permitted him to return to his home country but said that he could not resume the throne.
While alive, Kigeli spent much of his time attempting to preserve the traditions of the Rwandan monarchy, subsidising his small income with the sale of knighthoods, and hoping that his people would one day invite him back.
Following his death, a row broke out about where he should be laid to rest and a US court ruled in favour of relatives who wanted his body returned to Rwanda.
Benzinge insisted that his friend would not have wanted to be buried in his home land “as long as the current government administration that was hostile to his majesty in life was still in power”.
Benzinge’s announcement that Bushayija is the new king has also been controversial. Pastor Ezra Mpyisi, a former adviser to the Rwandan king, told journalists in the country’s capital that he would not recognise the new king.
“[Benzinge] cannot name the new king because he is in no position to do so. He has no powers to do so because he is not part of the royal family or related to the king in any way,” he said.