King Mutara III Rudahigwa: Life and Death of A National Hero
In March 1911, a son was born to the royal family of Yuhi V Musinga and Radegonde Nyiramavugo Kankazi in Rwesero village of current Nyanza district, Southern province of Rwanda.
He came to the world during a very difficult period of time since the accession to power of his father was quickly followed by the arrival of German forces in Rwanda, along with a powerful missionary order, the “Missionnaires d’Afrique” (the “White Fathers”), creating a colonial context that marked Musinga’s reign, and then Belgian rulers.
Musinga opposed the Belgian rule in Rwanda following several abuses including trashing Rwandan culture and making the monarchy a useless system.
This created hostility between the King and the Belgian colonial rule, an event that culminated to the deposition of the king in 1931, and replacing him by his son King Mutara III Rudahigwa Charles Leon Pierre.
A centenarian citizen and retired pastor of Seventh Day Adventist Church Ezra Mpyisi happened to be one of those people who were on advisory board of Mutara III Rudahigwa under Conseil National du Pays(CNP).
He is among a few (if not only one) people still alive who tells the real story on the life of the King, and why he deserves the tribute of a Rwandan hero.
Despite his advanced age, Mpyisi recalls this story as something which happened yesterday.
“He reigned during a very difficult period; he came on power after his father was deposited,” Mpyisi told us from his home in Kagarama, a premium neighbourhood in Kicukiro, capital Kigali.
“He found the colonialists forging hatred to bring in confrontation the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, in disguise of seeking to usher the country to independence.”
Mpyisi indicated that upon accession to power, Rudahigwa adopted the attitude of his father where he sought the country’s independence vis-à-vis the Belgian rule, but he had to do it wisely, and this was painful because he had no real power.
“The Belgian rule found a formula to oppose the court’s staff against the king by giving them favours and encouraged them to beat the Hutu manpower so as to create a crisis,” he said.
To end this, the king abolished every activity that was giving room to abuse and hatred among the citizen. He abolished Uburetwa which was associated with some colonial burdens and Ubuhake which was a service to the wealthier in the society.
Ambassador Isaïe Murashi, a historian told KT Press that basically, ubuhake was a way of distribution of goods, because the rich would employ the poor and give them cows and/or land in return.
Ubuhake could earn people cows and land, but the Belgians used it as a weapon to oppose the Hutu against the Tutsi while saying it was nothing else, but servitude.
The king continued to lead efforts to keep the powers in the hands of the citizen by putting in place the national council of the country, which included representatives of several actors, from the civil society to religious delegates and from the local administration to the colonial rule.
Unfortunately, the council met a challenge of some extremist Hutus who started allying themselves on the side of the Belgian rules to bring petitions of selfish interests.
At the helm, the list had one Joseph Gitera, and Glegoire Kayibanda who would come from nowhere.
Ambassador Murashi reminds that the colonial rule put forward the name Kayibanda as an opponent of King Rudahigwa.
“They started a biblical comparison and said: Rudahigwa is the Goriath of Nyanza, while Kayibagnda is the David of Kabgayi,” he said quoting history findings.
Under colonial rule, Belgians who feared Rwanda’s resilience and bravery imported soldiers from Congo Belge to serve as body guards and security officers. From their Lingala language where they used to say the word Ba‘Biso’, meaning ‘Us’, Rwandans called them ba ‘Bisu.’
The king worked on a plan to train a Rwandan modern artillery, a plan which would be discovered by the Belgians prematurely.
The colonial masters had got a plan to spy on the king, activities that were led by religious leaders like Monsignor Class and his successors Deprimoz and then Perraudin.
Despite all odds, the resilient king maintained efforts to promote the wellbeing and development of Rwandans, including; fighting illiteracy and poverty.
Mpyisi recalls Rwandans who were awarded the King’s scholarship and those include people like one Rwayitare who ended life in Tanzania and then one Binagwaho.
“Hutu, like Tutsi were awarded this scholarship,” Mpyisi said adding that however, the colonial masters did not want Rwandans to study.
“Sometimes, Rwandan applicants secured scholarship and once in Belgium, they were denied to proceed. The National council of the country which was presided by the King decided that Rwanda would pay the scholarship,” Mpyisi who was member of the thirty (30) people council recalls.
The Mwami’s Mysterious Death in Bujumbura
King Mutara III Rudahigwa faced strong opposition from the Belgian rule, the catholic church which promoted the opponents who, according to our sources, “were motivated by personal gains rather than the national cause.”
Towards the end of his journey on earth, the King did some trips in Europe, mostly Belgium and then Germany (the later angered colonial masters).
In his time, the fight for independence was high in the region with key people who went down in history as incorruptible fighters of their countries’ emancipation including Patrice Lumumba in DRC, Louis Rwagasore in Burundi and Rudahigwa in Rwanda.
According to Pastor Mpyisi, after visiting Belgium, King Rudahigwa was convinced that if he secured an appointment from the super power-United States of America, he would advance Rwanda’s independence wish and succeed to have Belgium ousted from Rwanda.
“I personally secured an appointment of the king to the USA President Elsenhower, through the universal leader of Adventist church,” Mpyisi said.
Unfortunately, said Mpyisi, the king had to acquire a visa from the Belgium rule-precisely Jean Paul Harroy, the then Vice Governor of Congo Belge and Rwanda-Urundi with headquarter in Bujumbura.
He also needed the vaccination against yellow fever and he had to get it from his Belgian doctor in Bujumbura.
Ambassador Murashi explored events around Rudahigwa death. He wrote in his book ‘La Fabrication du Hutism ou l’ideologie du Genocide contre les Tutsi’, that the king left Rwanda on July 23, 1959 and drove to Bujumbura to meet Harroy and complete travel documents.
“It was a Friday. The King used to drive himself and he went to meet Harroy who had given him an appointment, but when he arrived at his residence, he did not find him,” narrates Murashi.
After realizing that governor Harroy was nowhere to be seen, King Mutara arranged other meetings with different people, hoping to see him after the weekend, the following Monday, July 26, 1959.
One Doctor Nyarwaya(RIP), then a young Rwandan student in Bujumbura, was among the people whom the King met during this trip.
Murashi quoted Nyarwaya as saying; “the King met us at school and told us: I am going to the United States to negotiate Rwanda’s independence. You should study hard to occupy the leadership positions back home.”
On Sunday, July 25,1959, the king also met the Senegalese investors who had pledged to tap into endless opportunities in Rwanda which was virgin for investments.
He met them shortly from the Hotel Paguidas where he was accommodated and they agreed they would watch a movie together in evening.
After the brief meeting by noon, he drove to seek yellow fever vaccine from his Doctor, the Belgian Julien Vinch at Prince Reagent Charles, which is two-minute drive from the hotel.
“He told people who were together with him including one Runuya and Muhikira: I am coming back in a short while,” Murashi narrates.
“He left them, drove himself alone, but entering the Hospital, he did not come back,” he said.
The death of the King came with several controversies, including some defamations from Belgium rules, but Rwandans believed, the king succumbed to a poisonous injection, which suggests that his death had to be blamed on the Belgians.
“Of all writers however, Rwanda’s priest Alexis Kagame showed the hint. He wrote in his ‘Abrégé de l’histoire du Rwanda’, that the news of the King’s death was announced by a Congolese nurse,” Ambassador Murashi says.
“In 1984, I was fortunate to meet the said nurse; his name Bernard Mulamba in Nyawera-Bukavu at a bar where I used to hang out.”
Mulamba said he saw the Doctor killing the king, but he was not clear which injection he would have given him.
“It was terrible,” he only said.
At that time, Murashi rested the case until recently when he verified this information while writing his latest book.
He asked one Doctor George Ntabashwa, a medical doctor who trained many in Bujumbura, and who happened to also work at Prince Regeant Charles.
“Mulamba was a good surgeon at the moment and the only way of communication, to people outside hospital was a landline phone in a small cabin from the surgeon room,” said George Ntabashwa.
According to this veteran doctor, in that afternoon, governor Harroy and the doctor had planned the plot to kill the king, when other staff had left on weekend.
They didn’t realise that Mulamba was on weekend shift.
“When Rudahigwa arrived, the doctor administered him a fatal injection,” said the doctor who worked with Mulamba at the same hospital.
“After the injection, the king fell down and the doctor rushed to the telephone cabin and told Governor Harroy: Mission Accompli, le Mwami du Rwanda vient d’éxpirer (Mission accomplished. The king has just breathed his last).”
Chaos at the Burial of the King
Then came the time to repatriate the body of the King. Governor Haroy came to Nyanza in Rwanda for the funeral.
Pastor Mpyisi who was present narrates that Mayaga fighters had come in scores with their arrows and traditional weapons, to fight if ever the Belgians attempted to refuse the traditional system of putting in place a successor to the King.
As they had guessed, prior to descending the body of King Mutara Rudahigwa in the grave, Governor Harroy took the floor and said: We are going to burry the King, and, as for his successor, we shall see afterwards.”
People shouted in disagreement and one Rukeba who once served at the King Palace courageously stood up and warned.
“Dear Haroy, it never happened in our tradition, that a king is buried without announcing a successor. So, we will have to announce the successor now!”
Harroy said it was not possible, which incited the anger of the mourners who would tell Rukeba “fear not Rukeba! We are behind you!”
Then Rukeba told Harroy “You kill one thousands of us, the rest will deal with you!”
The governor would realise that it wouldn’t be easy to defy the wish of the people, therefore allowed the King Secretary to say the name of the successor and Kigeli V Ndahindurwa was proclaimed the King.