Every noble activity makes room for itself

The Kings of Rwanda - Fathers of a Nation Part II: Beneath the Banner of Christ the King

 Beneath the Banner of Christ the King


Rwandan Abami of the Colonial Era


(ca. 1895-1959)


Within a year after the arrival of the German explorers at Kageyo, the great Mwami Kigeli IV Rwabugiri had died, and had been succeeded by one of his sons, who had been chosen by the abiru according to time-honored custom, and who reigned under the name Mibambwe IV Rutarindwa. There was intense dissatisfaction at court, however, as the new monarch was not considered to be an entirely suitable choice, particularly at a time when foreign encroachment on Rwandan soil loomed large on the socio-political landscape.


Consequently, the reign of Mibambwe IV was not a long one, and he was duly replaced on the throne in 1896 by Yuhi V Musinga (r. 1896-1931), another of Mwami Kigeli's sons by his wife Kanyogera (Nyirajuhi V), in what has come to be known as the Coup d'Etat of Rucunshu. In accordance with Rwandan royal tradition, the ousted king was put to death for the benefit of the nation, the kalinga was presented to the new monarch and the supreme authority passed naturally into the hands of the successor designated by the abiru.


The new mwami, Yuhi Musinga, born in 1883, was a far more congenial choice for the majority of the Rwandan Royal Court, and as a result, under the regency of his mother and her brother, Kabare, the young king quickly consolidated his power base within the kingdom. At this critical juncture in the history of the nation, the leaders moved quickly to strengthen the structures of the state, primarily in an effort to neutralize the increasing incursions made on national sovereignty by the German colonial machine. Despite minor disturbances in a few isolated regions of the country, including the illegal installation of a "mwami in rebellion," Ndungtse, from 1911 to 1912, Mwami Yuhi reigned steadily and wisely over his kingdom, maintaining a firm hand on the reins of power throughout the early decades of his sovereignty.



H.M. Mwami Yuhi V Musinga


Over the years, the promising young king grew into an impressive and eminently royal figure, his demeanor exuding a mixture of stern authority and fatherly benevolence. Photos of the monarch from this period show him to have been a commanding presence, one who is clearly at the center of attention in all his doings, and yet one who is strangely sympathetic in his majesty. Backed by his regents and abiru, the monarch did his best to stem the increasingly strong tide of demands made by the German colonial powers, but also came to realize that in matters of military technology and mechanized warfare, as well as in sheer deceitfulness, the foreign interlopers clearly held the upper hand.



Mwami Yuhi V Musinga with Members of the Royal Court of Rwanda


Thus were born a number of the concessions made to the German authorities over the course of the years, some of which were to bear bitter fruit in the decades to come. In 1899, the Mwami officially recognized the German "protectorate," known as Deutsch-Ostafrika, and in 1900 reluctantly consented to the foundation of a Catholic monastery at Save, which was run by the Order of the White Fathers, and which effectively opened the door to the eventual conversion of most of the country to the Roman Catholic faith. The truly positive aspects of this development notwithstanding, and despite the myriad benefits brought about by the introduction of the faith of Christ into his domains, Mwami Yuhi Musinga remained deeply suspicious of European missionaries throughout the entirety of his reign, and viewed their activities as largely aimed at eroding his supreme royal authority at a time when that authority was already under considerable attack by growing waves of colonial opportunists.



Yuhi V Musinga with the White Fathers Missionaries


In 1908, the German Resident, Richard Kandt, a sort of "overseer" of the colonial protectorate, established his headquarters at Kigali (present-day capital of the Republic of Rwanda), and this move ultimately inspired the quasi-permanent establishment of the Royal Court of Rwanda at Nyanza, which quickly became the epicenter of the Rwandan administrative system. The mwami inhabited a noble and spacious enclosure, the confines of which were considered to be "sacred ground" by his many faithful subjects.



H.M. Queen Kankazi, Mother of Mutara III Rudahigwa

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