Remembering King Rudahigwa Mutara III, 49 years on

Last Sunday the people of Nyanza district marked the 49th anniversary of the death of King Rudahigwa Mutara III of Rwanda.
King Rudahigwa Mutara III
King Rudahigwa Mutara III

Last Sunday the people of Nyanza district marked the 49th anniversary of the death of King Rudahigwa Mutara III of Rwanda.

Nyanza district attracts tourists who come to see a reserved traditional Palace of Kings.

“In 1908, the German Resident, Richard Kandt, inspired the quasi-permanent establishment of the Royal Court of Rwanda at Nyanza. The King inhabited a noble and spacious enclosure, the confines of which were considered to be “sacred ground” by his many faithful subjects”. says reports

In 1890, Rwanda and Burundi were given to the German Empire as colonial spheres of interest. Rudahigwa Mutara III became a Rwandan King in 1931 and effectively worked under the Belgians influence. Rudahigwa, who died 49 years ago in Bujumbura, Burundi, is said to have been the first victim of the ID’s introduced by Belgians.

This was after he ‘silently’ opposed the idea.
In the mid 1930’s, the Belgian Colonial Administration issued, identification cards that clearly categorized Rwandans as “Hutu”, “Tutsi” and “Twa” on the basis of the number of heads of cattle they owned or physical character. These divisions angered King Rudahigwa who demanded total independence and an end to Belgian colonial occupation.

“The King in fact wanted a number of changes that included among others; end of serfdom, so that people are paid for whatever they did, abolished Ibikingi ( big land owned by chiefs and sub-chiefs), ” observes a Rwandan historian, Rwasamirira Jean Damascene.

The position of the King did not match with Belgians’ hidden political agenda in Rwanda and Rudahigwa was allegedly later assassinated.

This severed relationships between the monarch and the Belgian authorities. The ultimate mysterious death of King Rudahigwa in Burundi, followed massive killings and refugees.

Rwandans knew that the Belgians were responsible for his death but could not talk beyond a whisper.

“Thoug the assassination was disguised as a clinical accident by his doctor, Julien Vinck, the reality is that the king was eliminated under orders from the Belgians.

While in Bujumbura, the Belgian governor in Burundi, General Jean Paul Harroyl and his deputy Tordeyl, avoided meeting the King under the pretext that they were busy in the interior of the country. They knew the plan to kill the King and their presence would directly implicate them”, explained Damascene.

The Belgians’ IDs
The Belgian colonial administration based on the infamous divide and rule system, dominated the local population. A practice of racial identification was imposed.

This followed the issue of ID cards, artificially designating citizens as Tutsi, Hutu or Twa.

The introduction of the ID as an instrument to divide Rwandans, created hateful and disastrous consequences that climaxed into the 1994 Tutsi genocide.

King Rudahigwa, who had agreed to dance according to the tune of the Belgians by accepting to be baptized among others, was the first victim.

“On October 17 of the following year, Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa, under the sponsorship of Belgian Governor General Pierre Rycksmans, became the first king of Rwanda ever to be baptized a Roman Catholic Christian.

He took the baptismal names of Charles-Léon-Pierre, and was followed in his full conversion by the vast majority of his chiefs and sub-chiefs”, says Alex Montague.

It is on record that religion was one of the most useful weapons, colonisers used to rule Africa and Rwanda was therefore not immune.

The Belgians were determined to divide the Rwandan people using all means and went to the extent of trying to forge a scientific proof that the ‘Hutus’ were different from ‘Tutsis’.

They thus started measuring the Tutsi noses and jaws against the Hutu’s, using a Vanier calliper. The vanier calliper is an instrument used in length measurements to gain an additional digit of accuracy compared to a simple ruler.

This was derogatory enough!  The Belgians by introducing the ID’s based on the so-called ethnic groups did Rwanda a great disservice that is still haunting the country today.

“In 1994 genocide in Rwanda began, an identity card with the designation “Tutsi” spelled a death sentence at any roadblock. Along with the prior training of militias, stockpiling of weapons, direction of the massacres by hate radio, the prior existence of ethnic ID cards was one of the most important factors facilitating the speed and magnitude of the mass killing in Rwanda”, Jim Fussell recalled.

Had it not been for the sagregative ID’s, the speed with which the genocide was done, would not have been possible.

In fact, what makes the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda unique is that it was done in the shortest time possible and by the Rwandans themselves. The IDs thus played a very ‘significant’ role in the genocide.

It is against this unfortunate background that the government of Rwanda introduced a new national ID that never identifies a bearer with any of the so-called ethnic groups.

Rwandans are one people with a similar culture and the Belgians who were finding it difficult to rule a united people started grouping them into various ethnic groups.


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