Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tutsi King Is Down and out in Washington Deposed 33 Years Ago, Kigeli V Wants to Return to Rwanda

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tutsi King Is Down and out in Washington Deposed 33 Years Ago, Kigeli V Wants to Return to Rwanda

Article excerpt

To the neighborhood's pimps and street-wise kids, he's a mystery man: a 7-foot-2 giant who strides across cracked sidewalks with an air of regal dignity.

Kigeli Ndahindurwa has no job, yet wears an ivory bracelet and a strange gold ring. He speaks only Swahili and French but understands American slang. And his face shows the strain of someone who has endured more than the usual pain of poverty and crime in the nation's capital.

There's good reason for his somber demeanor. Three decades ago, Ndahindurwa - then King Kigeli V - lost his lush kingdom of Rwanda. He is the last of a line of Tutsi monarchs who had ruled since the 1400s. Rwanda is now torn by civil war and genocide.

"I was once father of my nation, and now I see my children die by the thousands," said Kigeli, who has lived in exile since 1961. "I want to return. But no one is listening."

Rubbing his swollen ankles, Ndahindurwa, now 57, leaned back on a sofa at a friend's house in a Virginia suburb. He had moved there the day before after losing his cramped apartment in nearby Takoma Park, Md. Earlier, a state bureaucrat had turned down the king's application for food stamps.

"I am not a beggar. But some people have been kind enough to help me," Kigeli said Wednesday in a low, booming voice. "We did not come to this country to get rich."

Two days earlier, the king's loyal retainer - Boniface Benzinge - had called a reporter and, in a hushed voice, set up an interview with the deposed monarch in Maryland.

"You will meet the king at the stroke of noon outside the grocery store on Flower Avenue," said Benzinge, a Tutsi nobleman who was once jailed by Rwanda's Belgian colonial governor. "You will recognize the king: He is 7 feet tall."

But on the morning of the interview, Benzinge called again. "The king has moved to Virginia," he announced. "He will meet you in the house across from Woodlawn School."

Benzinge, who translates the king's Swahili and French utterances, has served Kigeli during an exile that has taken the pair from Uganda to Burundi to Tanzania to Kenya and - two years ago - to this country. Here, Kigeli has tried to help Rwandan refugees, and also sought to interest U.S. and United Nations officials in helping him return to his native land.

Last week, Kigeli tried to send a message - through the Rwandan Embassy in Washington - to the Rwandan people and its new government, which was formed recently by leaders of his own Tutsi tribe. But the embassy is closed, pending reorganization by the new government's diplomats, and Kigeli says that his message hasn't yet gone through.

The former king called on the new Rwandan government to form a ruling coalition "without discrimination against tribe, religion or region." But that message seems overly optimistic in light of the strife between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes that began in April after Rwanda's president was killed when his plane was shot down.

Suspicious that Tutsis had assassinated their president, some leaders of the majority Hutu tribe massacred whole villages of Tutsis, some of whom retaliated. An estimated 500,000 Rwandans have perished in the bloodshed, and another million have fled to refugee camps.

"What I have seen makes me sick," Kigeli says.

When newscasts showing the Rwandan slaughter flash on his TV screen, Kigeli sometimes stares down at the gold ring that fits tightly on the little finger of his left hand. …

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