Exiled King Brings Lonely Battle to L.A. : Royalty: Kigeli V, deposed 34 years ago and thought to be living more like a pauper than a monarch, visits to raise support for Rwanda.


It was hardly the entourage expected of a king, or even a former king.

To begin his tour of Southern California, King Kigeli V of Rwanda arrived at a wildlife preserve in Acton in a Honda Civic--hardly regal or even comfortable transportation for this 7-foot man who has been in exile for 34 years.

With him was only one aide, who serves as his secretary and counselor. But the exiled king, now living in a suburb of Washington, D.C., where he last made the news when he applied for food stamps, did have a chauffeur for this trip.

At the wheel of the Civic was Charles Coulombe of Arcadia, an American representative of the Monarchist League, a London-based organization that attempts to reinstate deposed royalty in various parts of the world.

“Call me old-fashioned,” said Coulombe as he introduced Kigeli to actress Tippi Hedren, who runs the preserve. “But these people want their king back.”


Kigeli’s tour of the Los Angeles area was partly to seek donations for a nonprofit fund he has set up to assist the estimated 100,000 Rwandan orphans who are products of a genocide that recently decimated that country.

But it was the Monarchist League that sponsored and planned the trip. Certainly, the visit to the Shambala Wildlife Preserve--home to 70 lions and tigers, plus two African elephants--was not Kigeli’s idea. The exiled king was not comfortable around the animals.


This week, Kigeli also met with other Rwandans, appeared in a commercial for the United Nations to drum up more support for the Rwandan orphans, and attended a reception on Thursday at the Mayflower Club in North Hollywood, a local social club frequented by monarchists and British expatriates.

The league was alerted to the financial and political plight of Kigeli, 58, by an article last year in People magazine. “It described the dire straits to which he had been reduced,” said Coulombe, who oversees league functions in the western United States.

Kigeli had been living off of the gifts of supporters and taking public transportation to get around the Washington area. His aide did not want to comment on the exiled king’s widely reported application for food stamps.

“That’s a private matter,” said Boniface Benzinge, who also serves as Kigeli’s interpreter because the exiled king, although fluent in five languages, speaks little English.

Though he has not set foot in Rwanda for more than three decades, Kigeli has attempted to remain active in his country’s affairs. After the recent civil war there, he tried to help negotiate the return of Rwandan refugees.

“Always my duty is serving Rwanda’s population outside,” said Kigeli in his native Kinyarwanda. “The king is the first protector above all political parties.”

It is believed that 500,000 Rwandans, most from the Tutsi minority, were slaughtered in the civil war that began after President Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu majority, was killed when his plane was shot down in April.

Kigeli’s family had ruled Rwanda for nine centuries before he was ousted in 1960 by the Hutus. He lived in Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya until he moved to the Washington area in 1992 to be closer to the United Nations, which has largely ignored him.

According to a spokesperson for the State Department, Kigeli was given asylum in 1992 as an exiled king--a status that carries no diplomatic privileges.

The Monarchist League added Kigeli to the long list of exiled monarchs it has taken under its wing since the organization was founded in 1943. Members are reminiscent of the loyalists in the American colonies who sided with King George III during the Revolutionary War. They have fought, for example, to stop former British colonies from removing Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.

Monarchists believe that in countries where there is a strong tradition of monarchy, the absence of royalty can leave a vacuum filled by the likes of a Hitler or Idi Amin.

“We wait for stability,” Kigeli told them Thursday, hoping that the provisional government now in place in Rwanda will hold free elections as it has promised to do in 1999. “They have said that,” he continued, extending his hands skeptically. “But I do not know if they will do it.”

Until stability comes, Kigeli waits. And except for his aide and Monarchist League supporters, he waits alone. And as it stands, the family lineage to the throne will die with him.

“A king cannot marry in exile,” Kigeli said sadly. “I cannot have happiness here.”