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

King Kigeli of Rwanda

OCALA, Fla., April 10, 2014 — Since its founding, America has been a land of opportunity. For untold millions, it was, and still is, the last resort from the worst tyrannies imaginable.

Who among the Founding Fathers would have guessed that sitting monarch would seek refuge in America? So begins the labyrinthine, at times depressing, and yet resolutely inspiring story of Kigeli V.

READ ALSO: Kigeli V: A king who chose honor over popularity lives exiled in Virginia

He is not an exile from England, or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. Kigeli was born to rule the war-torn sub-Saharan African country of Rwanda, but forces beyond his control prevented him form having a long reign. It lasted for just about two years; from 1959 to ’61.

Today, His Majesty is nearing eighty. He lives under humble circumstances in the Fairfax County, Virginia bedroom town of Oakton. The King’s house does not stand alone; it is connected to many others in a nondescript subdivision off of the fabled Route 66. Not far away resides his friend, who holds the title of chancellor. The Chancellor, Boniface Benzinge, supports both of them by way of a sales job at Sears.

Some might find such a situation to be unbelievable. It is all too true, however. Once in the United States, how did His Majesty make do? The answer is less than optimal.

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

Marquis Carl Edward Lindgren served as Kigeli’s Secretary General until the mid-2000s. A career academic and human rights advocate, he has been awarded knighthoods, royal orders, and other honors by leaders the world over. In recognition of his work, Lindgren was ennobled by the late Crown Prince Bao Long of Vietnam. Today, Lindgren lives a genteel life on the Mississippi Delta’s edge.

He is president of the American College of Interdisciplinary Sciences, as well as an assessor at the London College of Teachers.    

“Originally I met King Kigeli through some connections I had in Rwanda with some members of the royal family and also some of the political leaders that were in Rwanda during that period of the 1950s,” Lindgren tells Communities Digital News. “The issue with King Kigeli was that I traveled to Washington, DC on numerous occasions and while I was there, I mentioned that I was interested in genealogy and I was especially interested in chivalric orders, and several people mentioned to me at the World Academy of Art and Sciences that King Kigeli actually lived there in the….DC area and that he had moved over here quite a few years before and that he was looking for someone….to be his general secretary.”

While serving Kigeli, Lindgren tried to help not only the King, but Rwanda’s displaced monarchial system. His efforts extended beyond what was expected of him at a base level.

“With King Kigeli, of course he was in severe shape economically,” the Marquis tells, “and what we intended to do, or I intended to do with some other people helping me, was to get” a pool of interested donors together.

“(W)e did manage to get several people that gave $5, $10, $20, as much as $50,000 to him,” Lindgren explains, later mentioning that he “had direct contact with some of the political power in Rwanda at that time and spoke to the secretary of the President of Rwanda and mentioned to him that King Kigeli was possibly interested in returning to Rwanda, and as far as I got was, ‘Well, King Kigeli can return to Rwanda, he can be able to safely live in Rwanda without the problems of being assassinated or harassed in any way, but he cannot use the term ‘King’ or he cannot seek toward becoming a monarch again.’

“I spoke to King Kigeli and he said, ‘Well, it’s up to the people of Rwanda that I return. If they wish me to come back in as a monarch, I will do so.’ So, we have that stalemate there. As far as the Rwandan people, we had a foundation that we had founded and it was ‘The King Kigeli Relief Foundation’. In that particular thing, we were a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and we collected money for various Rwandan issues in education and helping poor people and helping individuals who had their mothers or fathers — their mothers or fathers had been murdered in the wars that had gone on there.”

In summary, Lindgren states that “(w)e were working on three things: We were trying to gain money and recognition for King Kigeli, we were trying to help the children educational-wise and also in other aspects and we were also working on some type of plan or program to — that’s what King Kigeli wanted — to return once again to live in Rwanda.”

READ ALSO: Kigeli V: A king who scorned corruption now lives exiled in Virginia

Like so many other of His Majesty’s wishes, this was not to be. In spite of Lindgren working overtime to promote Kigeli’s cause, the King still found himself in dire financial straits.

“Initially King Kigeli was unaware there were opportunities in making money by associating with….people that were interested in chivalric orders, interested in….receiving titles; [there are] actually humanitarians that were interested in helping out,” Lindgren remarks. “Now, I offered the title of, the actual grand crosses, to two individuals here in Mississippi and leading black actors; Morgan Freeman and another individual….who was also an extremely well-known actor, and they turned it down simply because of all the political issues that have gone on; the bloodbath that has gone on. ‘What actual effects did King Kigeli have on moving everything in that direction?’

“So politics has — and the bloodbath that has gone on — has hurt King Kigeli significantly, as far as people helping. Once King Kigeli realized that he could draw in people that were interested in chivalric orders; there was a big demand for these orders, and people obtained them and they gave quite a bit of contributions. But, like so many things, the miniskirts and everything, it lasted a few years. People lost interest in getting chivalric orders….and they moved on to other things.”

After a few more words, Lindgren becomes philosophical about Kigeli’s misfortune: “(T)he fact that people, even though [Kigeli’s story] appeared quite a bit in the news and other things, the instantaneous gratification, self-awareness, and self-interest of people has really diminished the [appeal] of helping [His Majesty], and so it’s a combination of all things working together against King Kigeli.”

It is sadly ironic that as the 1994 Rwandan genocide took place, the man who had devoted his life’s work to preventing such savagery was powerless to stop it. Even worse is that some blamed him for not doing enough to prevent the ethnocentric massacres, despite His Majesty being in exile for decades on end. 

One of the few lights in his life was a true friendship, whose importance cannot be understated.

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