Rwanda: The Rwandan royal family, including their current presence in Rwanda and abroad; perception and treatment of members of the royal family by society and authorities (2016-September 2018) [RWA106169.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources indicate that the Rwandan monarchy was issued from the Tutsi ethnicity (Daily Monitor 16 Mar. 2016; The Washington Post 18 Oct. 2016; BBC 17 Aug. 2007). According to sources, a Hutu revolt began in 1959 which led to the independence of Rwanda from Belgium and the collapse of the monarchy (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Freedom House 2013; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Sources add that the King [mwami], Kigeli V [Ndahindurwa], was exiled in 1961 (Reuters 15 Jan. 2017; Newsweek 17 Oct. 2016; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Sources indicate that during a referendum held in 1961, 80 percent of voters chose to abolish the monarchy in Rwanda (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017; Le Monde 13 July 2013). However, sources report that according to Kigeli the vote had been manipulated (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017).

A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing in Rwanda states that "[w]ith the end of the monarchy and the outbreak of violence that followed, significant numbers of former leaders and their families went into exile" (UN 31 Jan. 2013, para. 4). According to the BBC, this included "the entire royal family" and supporters of the monarchy (BBC 17 Aug. 2007). The Guardian similarly states that the "royal family was exiled in 1961" (The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017).

2. Situation of Members of the Royal Family Abroad

According to sources, Kigeli V was granted asylum in the US in 1992 (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; Daily Monitor 16 Mar. 2016; Time n.d.), after previously living in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Sources report that while in the US, he lived on social assistance (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; Time n.d.), and through donations (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014). Sources indicate that Kigeli died in the US in October 2016 at the age of 80 (Reuters 15 Jan. 2017; RFI 15 Jan. 2017; BBC 9 Jan. 2017).

Washington, DC-based weekly magazine Washingtonian states, in an article profiling Kigeli, that "most of [his] relatives were in exile at the time of the 1994 [g]enocide" and that according to Kigeli, "just one of his siblings—a sister, Princess Speciosa, in Kenya," was still alive as of March 2013 (Washingtonian 27. Mar. 2013). Sources report that Kigeli did not marry due to a Rwandan tradition forbidding marriage for a king in exile, and did not have any children (Daily Monitor 16 Mar. 2016; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). However, some Rwandan media sources report that Kigeli had a daughter out of wedlock [Jacqueline Rwivanga (KT Press 20 Jan. 2017)] whose existence was kept secret and only revealed after Kigeli's death (IGIHE 21 Jan. 2017; KT Press 20 Jan. 2017). According to Rwandan news website IGIHE, the daughter was born in 1975 in Uganda (IGIHE 21 Jan. 2017). Sources report that the daughter has either five children (KT Press 20 Jan. 2017), or four children who are studying in England (IGIHE 21 Jan. 2017). According to the Washingtonian, royal successors are exclusively male (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013).

In January 2017, it was announced [by Kigeli's long-time courtier who had followed him in exile] that Emmanuel Bushayija, nephew of Kigeli, had been named as his successor under the name Yuhi VI (Reuters 13 Jan. 2017; The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017). According to sources, Emmanuel Bushayija grew up in exile in Uganda and lived in Rwanda from 1994 to 2000 before moving to the UK (The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017; BBC 10 Jan. 2017), where he became a naturalized citizen (Reuters 13 Jan. 2017;The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017). The BBC adds that he also lived in Kenya for a period of time before he returned to Rwanda (BBC 10 Jan. 2017). Sources report that he has two children (The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017; BBC 10 Jan. 2017).

However, sources reports that some have rejected the legitimacy of this succession (Reuters 13 Jan. 2017; The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017; The Telegraph 12 Jan. 2017). Sources state that a group partially described as relatives of the late king denounced the appointment of the new king through a press conference in Rwanda (Reuters 13 Jan. 2017; IBTimes UK 12 Jan. 2017; KT Press 11 Jan. 2017).

3. Situation of Members of the Royal Family in Rwanda

Sources report that there was a dispute over Kigeli's burial following his death, with "relatives" successfully petitioning a US court for the King's body to be allowed to return to Rwanda (BBC 9 Jan. 2017; The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017). The BBC specifies that Kigeli's "half-sister" was among the family members present to welcome Kigeli's body at the airport (BBC 9 Jan. 2017). Sources report that a number of relatives were present at the burial (RFI 15 Jan. 2017; KT Press 20 Jan. 2017). Some sources add that the King's daughter was among them (IGIHE 21 Jan. 2017; KT Press 20 Jan. 2017).

An independent scholar who has studied the history of the Rwandan monarchy stated the following in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

The royal family is quite vast, so there are many people related to the monarchy still in Rwanda. … [King Kigeli V] Ndahindurwa, of course, did not have any children, so there are no direct descendants from him; [King Mutara III] Rudahigwa, his predecessor, was also childless, and so there are very few Rwandans who would fall in what we would think of as the direct royal line. (independent scholar 4 Sept. 2018)

Further information on members of the royal family who live in Rwanda could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources note that Paul Kagamé, the president of Rwanda, is related to the Rwandan royal family (Jeune Afrique 10 Sept. 2015; TV5Monde 11 Aug. 2010). According to the website of Agence Ecofin, dedicated to news pertaining to Africa, Kagamé's father was [translation] "close to the royal family, notably with King Mutara III" [Kigeli's older brother]" and his mother was the sister of Queen Rosalie Gicanda [the wife of Mutara III] (Agence Ecofin 2 Feb. 2018). The independent scholar likewise stated that Kagamé "is descended from a powerful line of queen-mothers from the Abega clan through both his mother and father, and [his] father was an advisor to [King Mutara III] Rudahigwa" (independent scholar 4 Sept. 2018).

4. Perception and Treatment of Members of the Royal Family in Rwanda by Society and Authorities
4.1 Perception and Treatment of Members of the Royal Family by Society

The Washington Post quotes the Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University as saying that “'[a]s a symbol [King Kigeli] was very important'," especially "for the tens of thousands of Tutsis who had fled Rwanda during the 1960s" (The Washington Post 18 Oct. 2016). However, according to sources, most Rwandans know little about the monarchy (Le Monde 13 July 2016; Daily Monitor 16 Mar. 2016), notably because the average age of the population is less than 20 years old (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013).

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a lecturer in political anthropology who has researched conflict and reconciliation in Rwanda stated that members of the royal family are "respected (given their history/ancestry) but evidently no longer through any protocol" (Lecturer 4 Sept. 2018). The independent scholar stated that

Rwandans in general don't seem to talk much about the monarchy or remaining royal family. Kagame and the [Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)] [Kagamé's party] have gone to great lengths to focus their attention on modernizing and not participating in things that could be perceived as "backward." Most Rwandans seem to think of monarchy as one of these backward things. (independent scholar 4 Sept. 2018)

Sources indicate that Kigeli kept in contact with Rwandans both in the diaspora and within Rwanda (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014). Jeune Afrique reports that this notably included at least one meeting with members of the Congrès national rwandais (Rwanda National Congress, RNC), an opposition party in exile suspected of plotting a coup, but which Kigeli reportedly saw as part of a duty to represent and meet with all Rwandans, irrespective of their positions (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014).

According to sources, some saw the King as a potential unifying figure in Rwanda (BFMTV 13 Jan. 2017), or a peacemaker among rivals (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Washingtonian states that, according to "several Rwanda experts," "the symbolism of the monarchy-- with its open embrace of Hutu, Tutsi, and a third group, the Twa, as equals—-- could prove powerfully alluring to segments of the population left out of the Rwandan comeback" (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013).

4.2 Perception and Treatment of Members of the Royal Family by Authorities

The Lecturer stated that members of the royal family are seen

as a potential counterweight to the established political powers. This does not mean that they are necessarily harassed on a daily basis but probably closely monitored in order to make sure no contestation can arise from them (or from the population on their incitation, potentially in collaboration with outspoken political opponents mainly based abroad). (Lecturer 4 Sept. 2018)

According to sources, King Kigeli expressed the desire to return to Rwanda during his exile (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; BBC 17 Aug. 2007). Sources add that the possibility of Kigeli's return was particularly raised following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the coming to power of Paul Kagamé (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Sources indicate that Kagamé has previously expressed a willingness to allow King Kigeli to return to Rwanda, but only as an ordinary citizen (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; BBC 17 Aug. 2007). A 2007 BBC article on the King indicated that, according to Kigeli, the royal family was also welcomed back by Kagamé (BBC 17 Aug. 2007). However, according to sources, Kigeli was only willing to return if Rwandans were consulted on the possible return of the monarchy (BBC 17 Aug. 2007; Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014; Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). Sources report that, according to Kigeli, Kagamé had stated that he would consult his government, but nothing came of it (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013; BBC 17 Aug. 2007).

The International Business Times UK (IBTimes UK) quotes a reader in international politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London who is "an analyst on the Great Lakes region" as saying that

"[t]he [RPF] links the monarchy to the dark days of Belgian rule and the period when ethnic identities - with a Tutsi king central to the whole political structure - were entrenched. The RPF has made creating a post-ethnic society a key plank of its rule and therefore it sees the monarchy as a threat to that project" ….

"Most of the RPF leadership grew up in exile and had no direct links to the monarchy back in Rwanda. They tended to view the monarchy, even though it was Tutsi as they were, as not doing enough to enable exiled Tutsi to return to Rwanda. They developed deep suspicion of the monarchy as an institution and King Kigeli as an individual. That suspicion persists strongly with the RPF today." (IBTimes UK 12 Jan. 2017)

In contrast, the independent scholar stated that

[a]s far as I can tell, most members of the royal family lived in exile between 1959/62 and around 1996. … Once the RPF took over in the aftermath of the genocide, many of these former royals became enthusiastic supporters of Kagame's and the RPF's programmes. Many had played an integral role in their exile communities in Uganda, [the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)], Burundi, Kenya, and Tanzania in keeping alive memories of the monarchy.

All of this to say, monarchist ties within the current leadership of Rwanda run deep, and while I haven't seen any evidence that most royal descendants are using their familial ties to legitimate themselves as leaders (Kagame certainly does not), they are almost uniformly supporters of the current regime, and Rwandans themselves are quite aware of who belongs to these lineages. (independent scholar 4 Sept. 2018)

The 2013 Washingtonian article quotes a former head of the Human Rights Watch field office in Rwanda [who is now the Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University (The Washington Post 18 Oct. 2016)] as saying that "'[t]he monarchy has come to be seen potentially as a source of moderation and ethnic reconciliation, and the regime views that very much as a threat'” and that "'[i]n Rwanda, you cannot openly embrace the King, you cannot call for the King’s return. You’ll be thrown in jail'." (Washingtonian 27 Mar. 2013). The 2014 Jeune Afrique article states that the place of monarchists in Rwanda was difficult to ascertain, as they did not have a legal political party and that [translation] "the activism of some has lead them to prison or exile" (Jeune Afrique 9 Sept. 2014). However, sources report that opposition party the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) called for the return of King Kigeli (Le Monde 13 July 2016), in May 2016 (DGPR 30 May 2016; Newsweek 17 Oct. 2016). Sources explain that the DGPR argued that the King could serve as a force for unity (IBTimes UK 12 Jan. 2017) and reconciliation for Rwandans (Newsweek 17 Oct. 2016). Information on whether the DGPR suffered any repercussions for asking for the King's return could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the BBC, Kigeli had reportedly expressed that he did not want to be buried in Rwanda as long as the Kagamé government remained in power (BBC 9 Jan. 2017). The Guardian reports that the King's long serving courtier had said that Kigeli had not wanted to be buried in Rwanda "'as long as the current government administration that was hostile to his majesty in life was still in power'" (The Guardian 12 Jan. 2017). However, the government of Rwanda issued a statement expressing its sadness at the death of the King and offered its support to the King's family in making funeral and burial arrangements (Rwanda 18 Oct. 2016). The Rwandan government was represented by its Minister of Culture at the King's burial (Reuters 15 Jan. 2017; RFI 15 Jan. 2017). According to Reuters, the minister reiterated that the government was "saddened" by the King's death and that it would "'continue to support the remaining members of the royal family'" (Reuters 15 Jan. 2017).

IBTimes UK reports that, according to a Rwandan journalist, relatives who denounced the proclamation of Emmanuel Bushayija as the new king stated that a successor to Kigeli would be named following discussions involving the Rwandan government, Rwandans and family members of the King (IBTimes UK 12 Jan. 2017). In an article about the succession dispute, KT Press, a Rwandan news site, quotes the executive secretary of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture as saying that "Rwanda is a Republic. 'We don’t think there is a successor to the King. Indeed he (Kigeli V Ndahindurwa) is the last king of Rwanda'" (KT Press 11 Jan. 2017).

IBTimes UK also quotes the reader in international politics as saying that "even if appointed, Bushayija would have no political power. 'He is likely to have difficult relations with Kagame's government'" (IBTime UK 12 Jan. 2017). For her part, the independent scholar stated that

from a state perspective, Kagame and the RPF have been very careful not to bring up royal ties. When Ndahindurwa was alive, Kagame said a few times that he would be welcome in the country as a private citizen, but that Rwanda had no monarchy and needed none, and that seems to have carried over into the new "king" as well. Kagame himself, though, uses a variety of symbols from the monarchy as what I interpret as signals to monarchists to reassure them …. In some ways, Kagame has taken on the mantle of Mwami without calling himself that; I doubt he perceives any remaining monarchical figures as any sort of threat to his regime. (independent scholar 4 Sept. 2018)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence Ecofin. 2 February 2018. Servan Ahougnon. "Paul Kagame : de la misère des camps de réfugiés en Ouganda jusqu’à la présidence de l’Union Africaine." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018]

BFMTV. 13 January 2017. "Angleterre : Un habitant de Manchester devient le roi du Rwanda". [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 10 January 2017. "Ex-Pepsi Cola Employee Becomes Rwandan King." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 9 January 2017. "Rwanda: Body of King Kigeli V Repatriated After Court Battle." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 17 August 2007. David Bamford. "Rwanda's Former King Eyes Return." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

Daily Monitor. 16 March 2016. Clement Uwiringiyimana. "Kigeli V: Rwandan King with no Throne." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR). 30 May 2016. "King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V". [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

Freedom House. 2013."Rwanda." Freedom in the World 2013. [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

The Guardian. 12 January 2017 (amended 13 January 2017). Frances Perraudin. "Rwanda's New King Named - a Father of Two Living on an Estate Near Manchester." [Accessed 31 Aug. 2018]

Independent scholar. 4 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

International Business Times UK (IBTimes UK). 12 January 2017. Ludovica Iaccino. "All You Need to Know About Monarchy in Rwanda: Kigeli V Burial, 'Fake King' Appointment and RPF's Position." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

IGIHE. 21 January 2017. "Jackie: Kigeli’s Daughter Shadowed In Obscurity." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

Jeune Afrique. 10 September 2015. Mehdi Ba. "Paul Kagamé : le Rwanda à sa manière." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018]

Jeune Afrique. 9 September 2014. Pierre Boisselet. "Rwanda : Sa Majesté Kigeli V, roi sans royaume." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018]

KT Press. 20 January 2017. Daniel Sabiiti. "Heir to Late King of Rwanda Revealed, Holds Ring From Father." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

KT Press. 11 January 2017. Kalinda Brenda. "Kigeli Family Rejects New ‘Fake King’ in Exile." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

Lecturer in Political Anthropology, Universiteit Antwerpen. 4 September 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Le Monde. 13 July 2016. Bruno Meyerfeld. "Ce vieux roi du Rwanda qui fait peur à Paul Kagamé." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

Newsweek. 17 October 2016. Conor Gaffey. "Who Was Kigeli V, the Last King of Rwanda?" [Accessed 31 Aug. 2018]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 15 January 2017. "[Reportage] Rwanda : des centaines de personnes aux funérailles du roi Kigeli V." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

Reuters. 15 January 2017. Clement Uwiringiyimana. "Last King of Rwanda Buried at Home After Years in Exile." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

Reuters. 13 January 2017. Clement Uwiringiyimana. "'He's Not the Real King': Rwandan Royals Argue over Succession." [Accessed 3 Sept. 2018]

Rwanda. 18 October 2016. "Government of Rwanda Statement on the Passing of Kigeli V Ndahindurwa." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2018]

The Telegraph. 12 January 2017. Adrian Blomfield. "Rwanda's New King Is Former Pepsi Salesman Residing in Cheshire." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

Time. N.d. Kate Pickert. "Life After the Throne - Kigeli Ndahindurwa V." [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018]

TV5Monde. 11 August 2010. "Paul Kagamé : l'ancien guerillero devenu président." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 31 January 2013. Human Righs Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, and on the Right to Non-Discrimination in This Context, Raquel Rolnik: Addendum - Mission to Rwanda. (A/HRC/22/46/Add.2) [Accessed 31 Aug. 2018]

Washingtonian. 27 March 2013. Ariel Sabar. "A King with No Country." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2018]

The Washington Post. 18 October 2016. Emily Langer. "Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, Rwandan King Without a Crown, Dies at 80." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Publications : Good Kings, Bloody Tyrants, and Everything In Between: Representations of the Monarchy in Post-Genocide Rwanda; King Kagame? Echoes of Monarchy in Post-Genocide Rwanda.

Oral sources: Associate professor of political science and international relations who researches comparative politics of Africa and who has notably worked on the politics of race and ethnicity in Rwanda; historian of the African Great Lakes Region; independent consultant on human rights and politics in the Great Lakes Region; professor emiritus who has researched conflict, politics and identity in the Great Lakes Region; professor emiritus whose research has included conflict and ethnicity in the Great Lakes region; professor of global studies and anthropology whose research topics include the impact of conflict in the Great Lakes Region.

Internet sites, including: AllAfrica; Bertelsmann Stiftung;; The Drum; The East African;; Great Lakes Voice;; iRwanda24; Kanyarwanda; Les Nouvelles de Kigali à Bruxelles via Dakar; Netherlands – Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Refugees Studies Centre; Royal House of Rwanda; The Rwandan; UN – Refworld.

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