A North Virginia House Unfit for a King
By Joseph Cotto
When most people think about a house fit for a king, chances are that they conjure images of a palace tucked between rolling hills, standing before a glistening river, and surrounded by sprawling gardens in some faraway land.
While this might be the case for some monarchs — more in past years than today — it is not for one king.
He lives in the Northern Virginia suburb of Oakton, just south of Washington. His Majesty's house does not stand alone; it is connected to many others in a humble subdivision off Interstate 66. Not far away resides his last remaining assistant, who holds the title of chancellor, and supports both of them through a sales job at Sears.
Just how on Earth did a situation like this come to pass? The story begins in what has become one of sub-Saharan Africa's most challenging locales.
Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa was born into Rwanda's royal family on June 29, 1936, during a time when drastic changes were coming down the pike for colonialist and colonized alike. The then-Belgian-controlled country is a small place — roughly the size of Maryland — but densely populated, with longstanding tribal tensions.
"Kigeli was....a son of King Yuhi Musinga, who was deposed in 1931," Dr. Timothy Longman, who heads Boston University's African Studies Center, explained to me, later adding that Kigeli "was regarded as the most pro-Catholic and pro-Western of the sons, so the Belgian authorities pushed him into the position as king.... he had not been expected to succeed to the throne so had little preparation or training to become king. He was only 23 when he came to office."
Kigeli assumed office in 1959. Just two years later, he found himself out of power — to say the least. During his short reign, he surrendered key powers, supported democratization, and worked to end the tribalism which pit neighbor against neighbor for generations.
His refusal to embrace the excesses of European imperialism or take sides in black-on-black ethnic warfare made him unpopular across the board. Instead of using the easy way out, Kigeli chose the righteous, yet long and lonely road. This meant being ejected from his homeland in 1961. He has been drifting in exile ever since.
"I had direct contact with some of the political power in Rwanda....and spoke to the secretary of the President of Rwanda and mentioned to him that King Kigeli was possibly interested in returning to Rwanda," Kigeli's former secretary general, the Marquis Carl Edwin Lindgren, explained to me, "and as far as I got was, 'Well, King Kigeli can return to Rwanda, he can be able to safely live in Rwanda without the problems of being assassinated or harassed in any way, but he cannot use the term 'King' or he cannot seek toward becoming a monarch again.'
"I spoke to King Kigeli and he said, 'Well, it's up to the people of Rwanda that I return. If they wish me to come back in as a monarch, I will do so.' So, we have that stalemate there."
Charles A. Coulombe, who heads the International Monarchist League's Los Angeles chapter, told me that if Kigeli were "a president of the type so familiar in (though far from restricted to) Africa, where kleptocracy has been so common, he doubtless would have salted away a good part of the treasury in foreign bank accounts. But like so many exiled Monarchs, that kind of action never occurred to him."
I know Kigeli's benevolence firsthand. After I wrote a profile of him in 2014, his representative told me that I was in line to receive an honor. This was surprising enough. Imagine my shock when it turned out to be a Grand Cross knighthood.
Who knew that such generosity still existed?
The light at the end of Kigeli's tunnel is not riches or fame, but simply returning home so his countrymen can be assisted. That this goal remains elusive speaks to the grim reality of our world.
However, due to gentlemen such as His Majesty, some degree of hope remains on the horizon. People like him are proof that a better tomorrow is worth striving for.
Kigeli, among many other things, is an inspiration.
Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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