It’s hard to find honor in American politics

H.M. King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, with H.E. Chancellor Boniface Benzinge

OCALA, Fla., May 23, 2014 — It’s hard to find much worth admiring in politics these days.

This year’s midterm elections are shaping up to be a continuation of what we’ve had for the last few years: Big talk about abstract issues like ‘economic equality’ or ‘family values’ while next-to-nothing is mentioned of our trade deficit and currency devaluation.

As for the politicians themselves, little seems to change, despite the country’s sociological framework being uprooted. Hillary Clinton appears ready to run for president, the Republican Party can’t seem to muster a solid candidate, and special interest groups use their SuperPACs to exert truly unique superpowers.

None of this speaks to the public’s dissatisfaction with Congress, or the lack of connection had with state government officials. Despite information technology connecting even the most far-flung of people, voters feel highly apathetic. At the same time, their elected representatives kowtow to whoever shows up for a closed-door fundraiser.

READ ALSO: Kigeli V: An exiled king in America who can’t go home

Such a pathetic situation should make us yearn for something greater.

Unfortunately, political dysfunction is not limited to the United States. Interestingly enough, our situation is far superior to that of a great many countries. Nonetheless, men and women of courage have stood to be counted when the times were tougher than most of us could possibly imagine.

One such man is King Kigeli V, Rwanda’s long-displaced monarch. Right now, he lives in the Northern Virginia suburb of Oakton, just south of Washington, DC. His Majesty’s house does not stand alone; it is connected to many others in a humble subdivision off of the fabled Route 66. Not far away resides his last remaining assistant, Boniface Benzinge, who holds the title of chancellor. Chancellor Benzinge supports both of them by way of a sales job at Sears.

Just how on Earth did a situation like this come to pass?

The story begins almost eighty years ago, in what has come to be known as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most challenging locales. Jean Baptiste Ndahindurwa was born on June 29, 1936; a time when drastic changes were coming down the pike. The then-Belgian-controlled country is a small place — roughly the size of Maryland — but densely populated, with longstanding tribal tensions.

As one might imagine, the Belgians ruthlessly exploited these for monetary and geopolitical purposes. Ndahindurwa’s older brother, King Rudahigwa, died suddenly in mid-1959. To this day, many are convinced that Rudahigwa was murdered by Belgian authorities so that an even more receptive leader could be installed.

Seeing as colonialism was on its last legs, but new business prospects continually revealed themselves, it is no stretch to imagine that the Belgians would resort to such a level.

In any case, what happened next would be far from the norm for any monarch. Ndahindurwa was chosen as his brother’s successor, much to his surprise. Upon assuming office, which came with the name ‘Kigeli’, the 23-year-old found himself standing between two worlds. The first was an autonomous Rwanda, and the second a legacy of foreign control.

READ ALSO: Rwanda’s King Kigeli V: Finding refuge in America, with a little help from his friend

Ultimately, his representing a potentially independent state angered the Belgians, while his imperial status reminded several ordinary Rwandans of their non-democratic past.

A public vote indicated that an overwhelming majority of Rwandans wanted to abolish their country’s royal house. However, one cannot forget that the Belgian government facilitated this referendum and counted all ballots. If its leaders wanted Kigeli gone, rigging the election would have been almost expected.

There can be no doubt that they wanted him not only removed from power, but his nation. Kigeli would be forcibly evicted from his own house and made to live in exile. This would not last for long, however. Kigeli garnered support from the United Nations, which made a proclamation in his favor.

Despite being allowed to return by international law, Belgian authorities resolved to arrest him on sight. So, Kigeli approached the Rwandan border incognito, and made it pass the guards. He was detected within hours, though, and met by heavily armed police forces. Lucky to have been spared his life, or at least a long term of imprisonment, Kigeli was evicted again.

His rule lasted only until 1961, and he has not been in Rwanda since.

Without a financially stable Rwandan expat community, Kigeli lived without extensive support for years on end. He drifted from one African country to another until 1992, when an acquaintance led to asylum in the United States. Benzinge, who began helping Kigeli long before, immigrated as well.

Though Kigeli has found peace in America, respect is often in short supply.

“His causes are only noble causes,” Kigeli’s current secretary general, Fort Lauderdale financial advisor Marquis Albert Alexander Montague, explained to me earlier this year, “he only wants to return to his country because he believes that he can help the situation there and he believes that his experiences there will also allow him to help in other countries around the world….I look at this man and he’s not like other leaders around that have left their country with massive amounts of wealth that they stole from their people.

“He left with just the clothes on his back….My impression of the man is, he’s….very intelligent, very religious — he’s a strong Catholic — he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he’s in church all the time, he cares about people; all people, not just his own people….he’s very mild-mannered; he speaks very carefully — he listens so when people talk with His Majesty a lot of times, it may come across as a language barrier, but his English is very good….his French is immaculate, obviously, but he’s always very careful and listens very carefully and speaks only when it’s important to speak.”

Montague, a first vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, has served Kigeli since 2006. He has introduced the King to South Florida’s social scene, where both can occasionally be found dining with Polish nobles, as well as Ethiopia’s royal Selassie family. Relations between Kigeli and the Selassies are said to be very warm.

Beyond the glamour, however, Montague stands highly protective of both the King’s public image and legacy. There is good reason for this. All too often, Kigeli is the subject of articles which do not relate his life story in earnest. His Majesty frequently finds himself the center of profiles that either sensationalize his trials and tribulations or, almost unbelievably, mock his misfortune.

When certain members of the media aren’t causing difficulties for Kigeli, there is no shortage of scammers and schemers who pick up the slack — and then some.

The most notable example of this is a distant relative of the King who claimed that Benzinge surrendered his chancellorship. Of course, it was this relative, who calls himself a prince, that purportedly assumed Benzinge’s role. The ruse was so well executed that said relative even created a website and sent out a media release.

Fortunately, Montague caught wind of the episode and took legal action.

A recurring theme in Kigeli’s life is thanklessness. For a man who shunned the high life when it was available to him, chose a path of true nobility when despotism was commonplace, and lives in perplexing obscurity as less enlightened voices garner attention, he has received so little recognition. If ever there was a model of citizen-oriented political leadership, he fits the bill bar none.

Montague told me that what Kigeli “tries to say is, and we’ve seen this in our own country, we’ve seen this in so many other places when we start to label, you create jealousies and prejudices which then creates strife and inequality….so I think his message is equality, peace, prosperity, education, and offering — I believe his message is what the United States stands for in offering the exact same things we’ve tried to offer to the people of the United States and what our Founding Fathers wanted with the Constitution; is to be able to offer that equality, again, race, creed, color, religion having no major impact, and being able to provide that not just in his country, but in many other countries.”

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