The remains of Rwanda’s last king, Kigeli V, have been returned from the United States to Rwanda, after a protracted legal battle between his relatives over where he should be laid to rest.
The former monarch had allegedly asked not to be buried in Rwanda as long as President Paul Kagame’s regime was in power, according to the BBC.
However, a court in the United States granted the request by Kigeli’s relatives in Rwanda for his body to be repatriated.
“We are very happy to have him back in his country of birth,” James Vuningoma, the executive secretary of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC) said.
King Kigeli died last October at the age of 80.
According to the king’s Royal Council, Kigeli didn’t want to be buried in Rwanda during the reign of the current government because of its hostility toward the monarchy.
King Kigeli, originally named Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa, ascended to the throne in 1959 as the last of monarchs from the minority Tutsi ethnic group.
However, he didn’t rule for long before he was forced in to exile following a coup by the majority Hutus who were backed by the Belgians, the country’s former colonial power.
The monarchy was abolished in 1961 through a referendum.
After enjoying asylum in several African countries, King Kigeli moved to the United States in 1992, where he established a charity to help Rwandan refugees and orphans.
In 2013, he was reported to be living in government-subsidized housing and survived on food stamps.
After the deadly Rwandan genocide in 1994, Kigeli requested to return to the country as a monarch, but President Kagame’s administration turned down the request, insisting that he could only return as a private citizen.
The Kingdom of Rwanda
The Rwandan monarchy was a pre-colonial empire that survived, with some of its sovereignty intact, under German and Belgian colonial rule until its existence was abolished by a Rwandan establishment.
The kingdom was formed following the disintegration of the larger Bunyoro-Kitara Empire (Bachwezi Empire), which consisted of what is now Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and some parts of Tanzania.
Before the 19th century, the Tutsi ethnic group held military leadership while the Hutus worked as peasants. However, the king’s council advisers were exclusively Hutu and held significant influence.
Over time, the king’s advisors became increasingly marginalized, causing serious tribal animosity, which culminated in the deadly genocide of 1994.