By Gilbert Mwijuke
The date was November 12, 1931. All notables in the kingdom were gathered in Kigali, patiently waiting on the news from Governor Charles Voisin about the new economic programme.
For King Yuhi V Musinga, there was an air of anticipation that he would be deposed as he had been waiting for this moment for a long time. See, even though Musinga’s power had waned since the Belgians entered Rwanda soon after World War One, the colonialists were hell-bent on stamping kingship out of a country that was now in tumult.
On that Thursday morning, the governor delivered the disturbing news of Musinga’s disposition and subsequently ordered him to relocate to Kamembe within 48 hours.
Musinga’s crime was simple: he had vehemently refused to collaborate with the Belgian White Fathers or even be baptised as a Catholic, a religion he fervently detested.
“After refusing to accept missionary activities in Rwanda and to be baptised, the the Belgians decided to expel him out of his country,” says Medard Bashana, the manager of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda.
When Musinga’s tormentors finally decided to get rid of him, they chose Kamembe in southwestern Rwanda as his future place of residence because they considered it to be geographically and culturally detached from the kingdom, meaning that he would no longer be able to meddle in the affairs of the country.
On November 14, a distraught Musinga accepted his fate and left Nyanza for Kamembe and was succeeded by his eldest son, the lanky Mutara III Rudahigwa, who was 20 years old at the time.
But Kamembe still opened a door – if ever so slightly – for Musinga’s subjects to visit him.
“After sometime the colonialists realised that they had done nothing by keeping him in Kamembe because Rwandans loyal to the monarchy were still visiting and dancing for him, which meant that they were still recognising him as their bona fide king,” Bashana says.
As a result of this, in 1940 Musinga was further exiled to Moba in southeastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), an episode that gave way to a more muddled picture. Arriving penniless in a foreign country and with no one to leap to his aid, the deposed king lived in privation over the next few years until 1944 when he died of pneumonia.
About Musinga’s actual burial place, the task of distinguishing the truth tellers from speculators has confronted Rwandans ever since. According to Bashana, there is no known kingdom official or relative of Musinga who attended his burial, one of the major reasons his burial place has remained a mystery to date.
Bashana says: “Some people say he was buried in Moba, others say his body was taken to Belgium, while others say it was taken to Kinshasa. However, there is a grave in Moba where he is allegged to have been buried even though there is no known evidence that it’s his remains laying there.”
I ask Bashana if there have ever been any efforts to trace the remains of the only Rwandan king known to have resisted colonial rule.
“They say that in 1958 King Mutara III Rudahigwa tried his level best to bring back the remains of his father to ensure that he was accorded a decent burial but the Congolese refused under the influence of Belgians,” Bashana offers.
However, Bashana says that as Rwanda embarks on promoting its cultural tourism, there are renewed efforts to bring King Musinga’s remains back home – in addition to artifacts that were taken to Belgium during the colonial era.
“I have heard our director general talking about it so we can say that efforts are there,” he says on a last note.