When Yuhi Musinga was made a king in Rwanda in 1896, there were claims about his legitimacy, considering he came to power through a coup that overthrew King Rutarindwa, the authentic successor to the great King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri, who passed away in 1895.
Kigeli IV, during his 35 years as king, received the first European explorers into Rwanda and vastly enlarged the kingdom. His efforts to centralize his rule led to the permanent subjugation of the Hutu majority and the creation of an ethnic or racial divide that haunts Rwanda to date, according to records.
It is against this backdrop that King Yuhi Musinga took over power in 1896, ruling during the period of German and Belgian colonialism and having suffered bitterly over it.
His throne should have been for Mibambwe IV Rutarindwa, the original successor and son of Kigeli IV of the Abahindiro clan. But within a year, one of Kigeli’s wives of the Abeega clan plotted with her Tutsi kinsmen to have Musinga, her own son, placed on the throne. Rutarindwa and his supporters would take their own lives as Musinga became king.
Due to Kigeli’s centralization of power, however, the way was open for the European colonialist to pursue indirect rule over Rwanda through Musinga. This would eventually hurt his administration.
Musinga would, in his first years, collaborate with the German government to strengthen his own kinship, but would be deposed decades later when the Belgians took over from the Germans.
Musinga had vehemently refused to work with subordinate chiefs and did not want to be baptized as a Roman Catholic, causing his downfall in 1931.
Born in 1883, Musinga assumed power as a young teenager, but grew over the years into an “impressive and eminently royal figure, his demeanour exuding a mixture of stern authority and fatherly benevolence.”
According to the Royal House of Rwanda, he reigned steadily and wisely over his kingdom and maintained a firm grip on the reins of power throughout the early years of his rule.
He had tried to restrain the many demands made by the German colonial powers at the time, but he soon discovered that they had the upper hand, particularly, in terms of mechanized warfare and military technology, the Royal House of Rwanda report said. This eventually led to a number of the concessions made to the German authorities over the course of the years.
The Germans were also used to re-assert royal authority over other autonomous chiefdoms and they (court delegates) served as colonial administrators, said The New Times.
In 1899, Musinga officially recognized the German “protectorate,” known as Deutsch-Ostafrika, and in 1900 reluctantly allowed the foundation of a Catholic monastery at Save. The Catholic monastery was operated by the order of the White Fathers, a powerful missionary. The monastery would eventually give way to the conversion of most of the country to the Roman Catholic faith.
Musinga, who refused to be baptized into the Roman Catholic faith, had been very suspicious of European missionaries whose activities he felt were largely aimed at eroding his supreme royal authority which was already under attack.
When the German’s indirect rule came to an end after being replaced by Belgians, things got worse for Musinga, as he struggled to regain power towards late 1929 and reestablish control over his kingdom. The Belgians, then led by the new governor of Ruanda-Urundi, Charles Voisin, were also doing all they could to remove him.
Being against Christianity and now at odds with the White Fathers, the Belgians believed that Musinga should be disposed and his son, Rudahigwa should be made the king. Rudahigwa had then converted to Christianity to the joy of the colonialists and missionaries.
Musinga continued to incur the wrath of the colonial powers and would go on to reject a sky-blue uniform with gold braid introduced by the Belgians for a beaded dress and leopard skin, said The New Times.
On November 12, 1931, the Belgian administration introduced a new economic programme, a move that would see the end of Musinga. According to The New Times, on the morning of the announcement of the programme, the governor told Musinga about the disposition and ordered him to be ready to leave within 48hrs to Kamembe in southwest Rwanda, which would be his future home.
Musinga did not challenge this, as he predicted it. Thus, on November 14, 1931, he left to Kamembe before later heading to Kilembwe, in southeastern Congo, then a Belgian colony. He was replaced by his son Mutara Rudahigwa.
Musinga died on January 13, 1944, in Kilembwe, amid claims that he was assassinated. Many have since asked Belgium to answer to the claims as the king’s body was never found.