Joseph Cotto, 6/10/2014 [Archive]

It's Hard to Find Honor in American Politics

By Joseph Cotto

It's hard to find much worth admiring in politics these days.

This year's midterm elections are shaping up to be a continuation of what we've had for the last few years: Big talk about abstract issues like 'economic equality' or 'family values' while next-to-nothing is mentioned of our trade deficit and currency devaluation.

As for the politicians themselves, little seems to change, despite the country's sociological framework being uprooted. Hillary Clinton appears ready to run for president, the Republican Party can't seem to muster a solid candidate, and special interest groups use their SuperPACs to exert truly unique superpowers.

Such a pathetic situation should make us yearn for something greater.

Enter King Kigeli V, Rwanda's long-displaced monarch. He lives in the Northern Virginia suburb of Oakton, just south of Washington, DC. His Majesty's house does not stand alone; it is connected to many others in a humble subdivision off the fabled Route 66.

Just how on Earth did a situation like this come to pass?

The story begins almost eighty years ago. Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa was born on June 29, 1936; a time when drastic changes were coming down the pike. The then-Belgian-controlled country is a small place — roughly the size of Maryland — but densely populated, with longstanding tribal tensions.

As one might imagine, the Belgians ruthlessly exploited these for monetary and geopolitical purposes. Ndahindurwa's older brother, King Rudahigwa, died suddenly in mid-1959. To this day, many are convinced that Rudahigwa was murdered by Belgian authorities so that an even more receptive leader could be installed.

In any case, what happened next would be far from the norm for any monarch. Ndahindurwa was chosen as his brother's successor, much to his surprise. Upon assuming office, which came with the name 'Kigeli', the 23-year-old found himself standing between two worlds. The first was an autonomous Rwanda, and the second a legacy of foreign control.

Ultimately, his representing a potentially independent state angered the Belgians, while his imperial status reminded several ordinary Rwandans of their non-democratic past.

A public vote indicated that an overwhelming majority of Rwandans wanted to abolish their country's royal house. However, one cannot forget that the Belgian government facilitated this referendum and counted all ballots. If its leaders wanted Kigeli gone, rigging the election would have been almost expected.

His rule lasted only until 1961, and he has not been in Rwanda since.

Without a financially stable Rwandan expat community, Kigeli lived without extensive support for years on end. He drifted from one African country to another until 1992, when an acquaintance led to asylum in the United States.

"His causes are only noble causes," Kigeli's current secretary general, Fort Lauderdale financial advisor Marquis Albert Alexander Montague, explained to me earlier this year, "he only wants to return to his country because he believes that he can help the situation there and he believes that his experiences there will also allow him to help in other countries around the world....I look at this man and he's not like other leaders around that have left their country with massive amounts of wealth that they stole from their people.

"He left with just the clothes on his back....the man is....very intelligent, very religious — he's a strong Catholic — he doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he's in church all the time, he cares about people; all people, not just his own people....he's very mild-mannered; he speaks very carefully — he listens so when people talk with His Majesty a lot of times, it may come across as a language barrier, but his English is very good....his French is immaculate, obviously, but he's always very careful and listens very carefully and speaks only when it's important to speak."

For a man who shunned the high life when it was available to him, chose a path of true nobility when despotism was commonplace, and lives in perplexing obscurity as less enlightened voices garner attention, Kigeli has received so little recognition.

If ever there was a model of citizen-oriented political leadership, he fits the bill bar none.


Copyright 2014 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

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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