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The last King of Rwanda, Kigeli V, dies at the age of 80

The last King of Rwanda, Kigeli V, who was driven into exile after the 1959 Hutu revolution, has died in the United States at the age of 80.


Photo Credit: Rwanda Library via Wikimedia Commons CC

The former monarch, who had been living in exile in the US, was overthrown as King in January 1961.

Kigeli V became the monarch of Rwanda in 1959 after his half-brother, King Mutara III Rudahigwa, died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. As King Mutara had no children, the throne was left to his half brother in controversial circumstances.

At the time of Kigeli’s accession to the throne, Rwanda was under the Belgian administration; although they were not involved with the selection of who would become the country’s new figurehead.

Just a few months after Kigeli became King, there was a huge revolt which was encouraged by the Belgian military.

In 1960, Kigeli fled to Congo, which only days earlier declared its independence from Belgium. In 1961, with the King still in exile, the Belgian government took over the day to day running of Rwanda and held a referendum which decided the fate of the country’s monarchy.

With a huge turnout of 95%, 80% of voters voted to abolish the monarchy. Kigeli accused the referendum of being rigged, and returned to Rwanda only to be placed under house arrest until he was deported to Tanzania in October 1961.

Kigeli applied for political asylum in the US in 1992; where he has lived since.

Nine years ago, during an interview with the BBC, Kigeli said that he would return to Rwanda if the people would be prepared to accept him as their constitutional monarch. He said that he spoke to the country’s President, who assured him that he was free to return to Rwanda. Kigeli never did return as he said he would only do so if he was confident the Rwandan people wanted him as King.

Up until his death, the former monarch’s focus was on the King Kigeli V Foundation, a charity which aimed to present humanitarian initiatives on the behalf of Rwandan refugees.

Featured Photo Credit: Darwinek via Wikimedia Commons CC

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