Rwanda Update: Declaration of a “False King” Backfires as Country Prepares for a a Royal Funeral and a New King
January 13, 2017. Updated January 19, 2017
Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs in Kigali and elsewhere. Rwanda’s King Kigeli V will be buried alongside his brother, King Mutara III, at the Royal site in Nyanza, in Mwima region, in Rwanda — about 100km from the capital, Kigali — on Sunday, January 15, 2016.
The move ends a period of unprecedented controversy — defying Rwandan tradition that no disagreements should be aired between the death of a king and the enthronement of his successor — but marks the start of yet another phase of challenges, both inside and outside Rwanda. The first new challenge will be an attempt by a small group of expatriate Rwandans and foreign supporters to crown a new king — not approved by the Royal Family — outside the country as soon as the funeral takes place. It is possible that this will be in Portugal.
The legitimate resolution of this crisis has considerable significance for the stability and succession process for the Government of Rwanda going forward, something especially important given that Rwanda has emerged as one of the most successful economies in sub-Saharan Africa and the reality that Pres. Paul Kagame has no obvious successor. At present Rwanda is structured as a republic, because the departing Belgian colonial occupiers had declared the Kingdom to be a republic in 1961, just before they left the country. There is some suggestion that Pres. Kagame may now be considering the “Spanish option” — mirroring Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s restoration of the Spanish monarchy in 1975 — to ensure legitimate continuity in the country after he leaves office.
The political and constitutional controversy which began with the death in exile (in the United States) of Rwanda's King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa on October 16, 2016, progressed significantly as the King’s remains were finally cleared legally, on January 4, 2017, by a US court in Fairfax, Virginia, to be returned to Rwanda for a formal Royal burial, and as the opposition — without waiting for the customary burial of the King to announce a successor — declared the naming of a “false king” in order to keep control of a racket involving the sale of royal orders and decorations to foreigners.
The Royal Family inside Rwanda, meanwhile (and with some senior members of it outside the country), have categorically rejected the claims of the “false king”, and indicated that they would proceed with the naming and coronation — intronisation or enthronement — of the legitimate successor sometime after the January 15, 2016, funeral. The “false king”, named by the commoner who had been acting as Chancellor for the late King Kigeli V, was named as Emmanuel Bushayija, 56, a minor member of the Royal Family living in exile, who would be known — according to his supporters — as King Yuhi VI Bushayija. Significantly, even the one senior member of the Royal Family who had gone through the court proceedings in the US to determine where King Kigeli V should be buried, Prince Gérard Rwigemera, came out strongly against the naming of the “false king” in a statement in Kinyarwanda on the Voice of America, shortly after the court hearing resolved the issue on January 4, 2017.
The late King’s former Chancellor, Boniface Benzinge, his son, and at least one US and one Portuguese supporter, tried to stop the release of the King’s body, even after the Fairfax, Virginia court ruled that it must be released for burial in Rwanda. And Benzinge then issued a statement in which he named himself “head of the Abiru”, the old supporting body which supposedly “kept the secrets of the king” and which — if a king had made known his preference for a successor — announced the new king. That tradition had not been active for several generations, and, in fact, King Kigeli V did not name a successor. But Benzinge, unilaterally naming himself as “head of the Abiru”, then named, on January 9, 2017, Emmanuel Bushayija as the new king. Mr Bushayija had been living in Manchester, in the UK, since 2000.
Even when King Kigeli V was alive in exile in the US, Mr Benzinge kept the King in virtual isolation and raised funds in the King’s name by selling titles, royal orders, and decorations in the King’s name. When advisors to the King tried to warn the King that he was jeopardizing the prestige of the Crown, Benzinge effectively cut them off from access to the King. And when King Kigeli died, and the Crown effectively became again the gift of the Royal Family, Benzinge continued to issue decrees in the name of the Crown and the Royal Family, and attempted to raise funds for the burial and ownership of the King’s remains, even though the Royal Family had indicated that it would cover the costs of transportation and the Royal Funeral at the King’s long-designated gravesite alongside his brother. Benzinge then initiated the court proceedings to stop the King’s remains from being taken back for the Royal Funeral in Rwanda.
In 1959, a Hutu revolt caused many Tutsis to flee to neighboring countries, especially Uganda. That same year, King Mutara III of Rwanda prepared to leave the country to petition the United Nations to force Belgium to give independence to the country. The King died mysteriously while being given an inoculation by a Belgian colonial doctor. Despite the Belgian wish that the monarchy should end, the Elders of Rwanda immediately — as was the custom — at the burial service for the King elected a new Monarch, the brother of the late King. He came to power as Kigeli V, Umwami w’u Rwanda (King of Rwanda). From that time onward, the Belgians immediately began supporting opposition movements who had called for the establishment of a republic, and in 1960, the leaders of a Hutu movement established a so-called Provisional Government.
In 1961, because of these events, King Kigeli V left the country to meet with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who was visiting nearby Kinshasa in the Congo. The Belgian colonial authorities took the moment to impose a new constitution which banned the King from returning, and deemed the King nonexistent, both by name and title.
The King had earlier gone to New York to petition the UN, and General Assembly Resolution 1579(XV) and 1580(XV) of December 20, 1960, and Resolution 1605(XV) of April 21, 1961, were passed demanding that Belgium undertake three things before granting independence: (1) Repatriate all refugees (there were then some two-million outside the country); (2) Allow the King’s return to his country; and (3) Release all political prisoners. The Belgians failed to address any of these demands.
On July 1, 1962, the Belgian trusteeship was ended by the UN and the country was granted full independence.
US Court Decision Frees Release of the Remains of Rwanda’s King Kigeli V for Royal Burial in Rwanda
January 5, 2016
The question of where King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa of Rwanda — who died in exile in the United States on October 16, 2016 — should be buried was decided by a court hearing in Fairfax, Virginia, on January 3-4, 2017, during which distant relatives of the King — backed by the King’s former, but estranged, Chancellor, Boniface Benzinge — petitioned for the King to be buried outside Rwanda. A Rwandan delegation, backed by Speciosa Mukabayojo, petitioned to have the King’s remains returned to the mainstream family for return to Rwanda, and burial in Nyanza, in Mwima region, alongside the grave of his brother, King Mutara III. The US court told the claimant for the body to be buried outside Rwanda, the King’s nephew, Gérard Rwigemera, who lived in Oslo, Norway, to “stop wasting the court’s time”, and decided in favor of the return of the King’s remains to Rwanda.
Rwanda at a Pivotal Point: External Attempts to Enthrone a “False King”; Kagame Hints at Stepping Down
Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Kigali, London, and Oslo. Rwanda is moving into uncharted political and social territory as external opponents of the Government are attempting to enthrone their own successor to the late King Kigeli V. Meanwhile, inside Rwanda, there have been hints by Pres. Paul Kagame that he would step down in 2017 at the end of his second term, despite now having a constitutional mandate for a third.
The attempt to announce a “false king” — in other words, one announced by a minority faction, opposed to the mainstream process which has been employed for almost a thousand years — would again polarize Rwanda within living memory of the great Hutu-Tutsi polarization which led to the genocide of 1994.
In the political spectrum, a referendum in late 2015 confirmed a constitutional change which would allow Pres. Kagame to run for a third term — this time for seven years — following his first two five-year terms. It is not clear whether the latest reports of his intention not to take up the third term were genuine, or whether the report was intended to provoke a public acclamation for him to continue in office.
It is significant, however, that the reports emerged at the same time that the constitutional crisis began building over the succession to King Kigeli V, who had ruled Rwanda in the country from 1959 to 1962, and then was kept in exile until his death in the Washington, DC, area of the US on October 16, 2016.
See below: “Rwanda Moves Quietly Toward Pivotal Constitutional Crisis” in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, November 30, 2016.
The senior members and most of the Royal Family of Rwanda had urged that the King’s body — now held in a private mortuary (the Money & King Funeral Home) in Vienna, northern Virginia, in the US — be returned for a Royal burial alongside his brother, King Mutara III, at the Royal site in Nyanza, in Mwima region, in Rwanda. Under Rwandan tradition, since the beginning of the dynasty in 1147 CE, when a King is buried, then the Abiru, the group of elders who decide who the successor would be, announces the identity of the successor.
It is now emerging that the main reason the former Chancellor to King Kigeli V, Boniface Benzinge, and the former Secretary to the King in the US — a US citizen, Guye Pennington — have petitioned to keep the King’s body in the US or Portugal for burial is because they have been seeking to have a new king named from one of the members of the Royal Family living in exile. The “candidate” being proposed for the Throne is a nephew of the late King, Gérard Rwigemera, who lives in Oslo, Norway.
Pennington continues to claim that he represents, or works with, “the Royal Council”, which no longer exists as a legal entity, but was created by the late King, and ceased to function with his death. And Pennington has claimed that he represents the interests of several members of the Royal Family. Significantly, none of them appear to be in Africa.
Pennington has also claimed that some dissident members of the Royal Family had broken into the King’s home in exile and stolen documents, including his will, but Virginia police have actually investigated this claim and dismissed it. Moreover, neither Pennington nor Benzinge have actually seen, or have knowledge of, a will by the King.
There is now growing evidence that Pennington and Benzinge are attempting to have the King buried at a time of their choosing outside of Rwanda, so that they can then declare Gerald Rwigemera as the new King. Certainly, the Abiru — the extended grouping has the historical task of determining succession within the Royal Family — does not support this, but Pennington and Benzinge have set in train a process which would polarize the Rwandan community.
Benzinge himself, however, has fled from Virginia and is, in his own words, “in hiding” in London, where he has told people that he fears for his life, presumably from agents of the Kagame Government.
Meanwhile, a court in Fairfax, Virginia, will reconvene on January 3, 2016, to hear the case as to whom it should release the body of the late King Kigeli. It is uncertain whether Mr Benzinge or Gérard Rwigemera (who was one of two nephews who signed the affidavit to the Fairfax, Virginia, court, swearing that the King’s wishes were to be buried outside Rwanda) would appear at the January 3, 2017, hearing.
Guye Pennington, meanwhile, has claimed to have been paying the ongoing expenses at the Money & King Funeral Home, given that the King Kigeli V Foundation accounts were frozen at his death, pending a resolution of the issues.
Rwanda Moves Quietly Toward Pivotal Constitutional Crisis
Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources in Kigali, Washington, DC, and Lisbon. The death of the King (Mwami) of Rwanda, King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, 80, in the Washington, DC, area on October 16, 2016, has set in train a number of events which are of major strategic significance in the way Rwanda moves forward politically and in terms of continuity of government.
How Rwanda now handles this event will determine whether there is a stable transition of government when incumbent Pres. Paul Kagame eventually leaves office.
What is causing the constitutional crisis is the fact that the former Chancellor to the King in exile, Mr Boniface Benzinge, has claimed — despite clear evidence to the contrary — that the King did not wish to return to Rwanda or to be buried there. Mr Benzinge, who had constantly positioned the Crown as an opponent of the Government, has petitioned for his body to remain in the US, or possibly to be buried in Portugal.
Mr Benzinge had consistently thwarted attempts by Rwandan groups, including the present Government of Pres. Paul Kagame, to have the King return to Rwanda or to negotiate a rapprochement between the Crown and the Government.
Mr Benzinge had claimed, when the King was alive, that the only way in which he would accept the King’s return was as a reigning monarch with full political authority, and, as a result, he sabotaged all attempts at reconciliation aimed at the return of King Kigeli to Rwanda as a constitutional monarch. Mr Benzinge, a Rwandan and lifelong friend of the King, has lived in the US for several decades.
In recent years, he had recruited a US citizen, who has never traveled to Rwanda, as the King’s “private secretary”, and that person, an employee of the US Government, Guye Pennington, has been the principal actor since the King’s death in legal actions to stop the return of the King for burial in Rwanda.
Given that the King is now deceased, and that the Crown is once again formally in the gift of the Abiru — the council of elders and the House of the Royal Family which decides the next monarch — Mr Pennington and Mr Benzinge have been left operating without legal basis, but still claim to be functioning as “the Royal House of Rwanda” to raise funds in the late King’s name. Significantly, these funds have in a number of instances been sought to be paid directly to Mr Pennington, and the senior members of the Royal Family have engaged US and Rwandan legal counsel to stop what they see as fraud.
The irony of the current situation is reflected in the fact that the King, while he was alive and in exile in Africa and later the United States, was unable to influence affairs in Rwanda and — despite heroic efforts — was unable to prevent the genocide in the country in 1994. Now his death may lead, finally, to a normalization of the Rwandan polity, provided his burial in the Royal plot in Rwanda is allowed to proceed.
The passing of King Kigeli means that his successor is likely to be crowned and remain inside the country, implying a restoration of the monarchy, albeit under new terms as a traditional and constitutional institution. There is considerable hope among many Rwandese that the restoration could bring Rwanda back to a normalcy — or at least a legitimacy of a domestically-determined governance — which has not been possible since before Germany seized the country in 1885 and then was forced to cede it to Belgium after World War I.
The Belgian Government made repeated attempts to abolish the almost 1,000-year-old monarchy [the dynasty was founded in 1147 CE], including the assassination of King Kigeli V’s predecessor, and brother, King Mutara III, and then would not allow King Kigeli to return to his country after he had gone abroad to petition the United Nations to force the Belgians out of Rwanda.
The Belgian colonial authorities left Rwanda in 1962, but not until it had installed a government of its own choosing from among the Hutu population. The pre-colonial governance of Rwanda, under the traditional monarchy, was non-tribal, and therefore represented the two major ethnic groups (the Hutu and Tutsi) and the minor ethnic groups, including the Twa. The major ethnic divisions, leading to the genocidal war of 1994, were put in play by the Belgian move to keep the King out of Rwanda (a move continued by its designated successor Government) and therefore to end the millennium of consensus leadership in the State.
[The Royal Family of Rwanda is Tutsi in origin, but when a King takes the Throne, he abandons his ethnic or tribal allegiance to represent the entire country. Significantly, this approach has tended to offer significant protection to the Hutu people.]
The Belgian authorities were unable, after the assassination of King Mutara III, to prevent the Abiru, the traditional family which names the successor to the Throne, from naming King Kigeli V as monarch on July 28, 1959. [The Abiru — which translates into “the keepers of the secrets of the King” — is a family group which, down the generations, acts as a council to the Royal Family and decides on the successor to the Throne; primogeniture is not practiced in Rwanda, although the Throne always remains within the Royal Family.]
The fact that the Belgians declared an end to the monarchy in 1961, just before they were forced to leave Rwanda in 1962, was not accepted as a legal act by most Rwandans, the international community, and the General Assembly of United Nations by its resolutions, and the King refused to abdicate, keeping the Crown regnant even though the Belgians and their appointed successor administration fought to keep him from the country.
Significantly, Pres. Paul Kagame — who had often been at odds with the King (or at least with how then-Chancellor Benzinge positioned the King) — is supporting a return to normalization of the Rwandan situation. The restoration of the monarchy would legitimize the elected Government of Pres. Kagame’s Front Patriotique Rwandais (Rwandan Patriotic Front: FPR or RPF), and would help ensure a continuity of succession of governance in the country when Pres. Kagame leaves office.
Significantly, any restoration would be on clearly-defined terms to be negotiated, with elected government separate from the unifying and symbolic rôle of the Crown as a protector of national values.
There was no question, however, that King Kigeli and Pres. Kagame were wary of each other for many years, but the growing success of the RPF Government in stabilizing Rwanda and creating prosperity essentially meant that the functions of the Government could be seen as separate from those of the symbolic and unifying leadership of the Crown, as in most monarchical societies. As a result, the Rwandan Government now would benefit from the Crown’s rôle as a unifying factor in the country, addressing the sense of pre-colonial nationalistic sentiment which is growing in many African states.
Few African states have a sovereign geopolitical unity which pre-dates the colonial era, but in those that do — Rwanda, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Morocco, Egypt — societies are moving increasingly toward rallying around the historical national identities. Even in many post-colonial African states — such as Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa — sub-national sovereign hierarchies are becoming increasingly significant in sustaining social cohesion.
In the case of Rwanda’s current situation, several factors prevail:
Significantly, Pennington had conveyed to his target list of possible donors the comment that although the next monarch would not be announced until the late King was buried, he knew who it would be — presumably referring to one of the two nephews of the King in Europe — although this was a questionable and misleading claim. GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources indicated as late as November 29, 2016, that no agreement of who the next monarch would be had yet been made, although the King had almost certainly conveyed the name of his preferred successor to the Royal Family and the Abiru.
The Abiru and the Royal Family have been shocked that royal traditions should have been so violated by external forces, and have attempted to downplay the matter, given that Rwandan tradition has been that nothing controversial should be said after a monarch’s death and before his burial which would promote discord in the society. This, in part, explains the tensions created by the activities of Mr Pennington. Former Chancellor Benzinge, who is aware of the traditions, has been operating quietly behind the scenes, allowing Mr Pennington to be the public face of the controversy.
At the heart of concerns by both sides is fear that the burial of King Kigeli V inside or outside Rwanda could facilitate one faction or another to create what would be claimed as an “illegitimate intronisation [enthronement]” of a new King, possibly (as senior members of the Royal Family are concerned) one in exile to whom political opposition groups would rally. For that reason, the Abiru and Royal Family elders seem anxious to ensure that the entire process of the King’s burial be absolutely removed from controversy and political issues, and that the Crown be seen as being above politics. The allegations by Messrs Benzinge and Pennington are similar in that they do not wish the burial of the King in Rwanda at this time to become political capital for the Government. At the same time, they have claimed that at this time there were no guarantees that the Government would, in any event, give the King the appropriate State funeral for a former, recognized head-of-state, one who the United Nations had demanded be restored to the Throne. Former Chancellor Benzinge, in a radio interview in October 2016, also referred to the possibility that King Kigeli would be made [by the Rwandan Government] the “last King of Rwanda”, indicating a concern that, after the King’s burial in Rwanda, no legitimate enthronement could or would be allowed to be made by the Abiru.
Now, and particularly because of the controversy, the Rwandan Government has been forced into a position where it must seek a resolution to the crisis as quickly as possible, and in a way which sees the traditions and customs of Rwanda honored, or else face significant public unrest. Any unrest would in itself go against the King’s final wishes, which included his wish for unity and reconciliation in Rwandan society. Mishandling the transition to a new enthronement would almost certainly regenerate unrest and damage the Government in a country which knows full well the scale to which social polarization can reach.
© 2017, The International Strategic Studies Association