Nyanza residents pay tribute to country’s last queen
NYANZA–The family of the late Queen Rosalie Gicanda, who was killed on April 20, 1994 during the Genocide against the Tutsi, has described her as a kind person who had deep affection for the people.
A requiem mass was celebrated at Christ the King Church in honour of the deceased, followed by laying of wreaths on the graves of the Queen and her late husband King Mutara III Rudahigwa.
The mood remained serene throughout the ceremony.
Speaking to The New Times shortly after the ceremony, the Queen’s brother, Charles Rubamburamanzi, observed that he had learnt a lot from his sister.
“She was very humble, even when she resided at the King’s Palace,” he observed.
“She was more than a sister,” he added. “After the death of our father, she took me to live at the Palace,” the 67 year-old recalled.
“She used to give milk to people in the surroundings of the Palace; even vulnerable people came in without any fear.”
Paul Kamuzinzi, another brother to the Queen, observed: “Gicanda always regarded people as the same. She loved Rwandans, without any distinction or discrimination”.
“She had so many friends because of her good character. Her life taught me that we have to build strong harmonious relationships with every individual in our society.”
Speaking during the event, the Director General of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, Alphonse B. Umuliisa, regretted how the Queen was mistreated for long periods even before her murder.
“She had never been treated with the honour and respect a Queen deserved,” Umuliisa noted, referring to the period that followed the death of her husband in 1959.
“This was because of bad leaders at the time,” he lamented.
“But thanks to good leadership, her former residence during her reign as queen has become one of the most preferred tourist destinations,” Umuliisa said, in reference to the Ancient History Museum in Urukari, Nyanza District.
At the site, traditional royal huts have been restored to their 19th century condition. Recently, the Institute of Rwanda Museums re-introduced the long-horned traditional cows, Inyambo, that used to parade for the King. This is in a bid to attract more local and international tourists.
When machete-wielding militiamen ravaged various parts of the country hunting and killing Tutsi in April 1994, Butare prefecture was calm for a short while and many Tutsi who fled the Genocide in other parts of the country found refuge there.
However, the calm lasted for two weeks before soldiers loyal to the murderous regime descended on the area to execute their evil mission.
One of the early victims of the Genocide in Butare was Queen Rosalie Gicanda. Reports indicate that a detachment of soldiers commanded by 2nd Lt Pierre Bizimana abducted the Queen from her home in Butare town and shot her from behind the national museum alongside six others. At the time, she was 80 years old.
It is alleged that Queen Gicanda was executed under the orders of Capt Ildephonse Nizeyimana, the head of intelligence and military operations at an elite military training school, Ecole des Sous-Officiers (ESO), during the Genocide.
Nizeyimana is currently on trial at the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), where he stands accused of genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity, charges he denies.
According to the indictment issued against him, Nizeyimana set up special military units to help carry out the slaughter, among other charges. One of these units is believed to have killed Queen Gicanda.
Lt Bizimana was in 1998 sentenced to death by a military court in Kigali for his role in the Genocide and the murder of Queen Gicanda.
Gicanda was born in 1928 in a family of six children. At the age of 14, she married King Mutara III Rudahigwa, who passed away in 1959 shortly before the country acquired its independence from Belgium.
After the death of the King, reports indicate that Queen Gicanda avoided politics but was “revered” by people who knew her. She lived with her mother in a house built in Butare (currently Huye town) until her death.
Every year on April 20, her relatives, friends and family gather at her tomb to pay their respects to the last Queen of Rwanda. The event is co-organised by the Queen’s family in partnership with the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (INMR)