Debate on whether the exiled last King of Rwanda should return home has divided opinion, with opposition groups urging the government to bring back the elderly King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V.
The government however says that King Kigeli is free to return like any other Rwandan living in exile, dismissing the argument that he can play a reconciliatory role.
The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda last week rekindled the debate by urging the government to “do whatever is possible” and help bring back King Kigeli, who is turning 80 this month, and accord him the perks of a former head of state.
King Kigeli, a Tutsi and the last monarch of Rwanda, was overthrown in 1961 by a Hutu rebellion spurred on by the Belgian colonialists and currently lives in Virginia in the US.
The Rwandan Greens insist that the exiled king be assisted to return to his country and be allowed to play a role in unity and reconciliation of the Rwandan people.
“The Green Party believes that the king would also serve as the head of Rwandan culture in the republic and be a chief advisor of the state,” party president Frank Habineza said.
The Greens argue that it “should no longer be a taboo to discuss matters concerning the king and no one should be punished or mistreated for expressing the desire of that he return from exile.
The government however says that King Kigeli, who in 2014 set conditions for his return, should be able to return and if the need arises, he can be assisted by the Ministry of Refugee Affairs.
The executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), Fidele Ndayisaba, said that the government does not believe that Rwandans need the king to facilitate unity and reconciliation, adding that the country has been able to make gains in the area without the king’s input.
“If he is needy, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs can support him to reintegrate like any other Rwandan returning home,” Mr Ndayisaba told 98.7 KFM.
He added that Rwanda is no longer a monarchy but a republic.
The issue of the king returning has proved contentious even drawing in President Paul Kagame. The Rwandan leader has in the past said that Rwanda was open to welcoming back King Kigeli and according him some benefits, including security, but not as a king.
President Kagame also met King Kigeli in 1996, two years after Rwanda Patriotic Front had liberated the country, but the two did not agree on terms of his return.
In 2014, a delegation of eminent elders led by Pastor Ezra Mpyisi went to the US to meet the elderly king to discuss his possible repatriation, promising him that the state would provide basics like a house, vehicle, pension and subsistence allowance but more than two years down the road, the talks have not yielded anything.
King Kigeli requested that his return be formal and communicated to all Rwandans. He also demanded that the government come up with a clear roadmap for the repatriation of all Rwandan refugees, among other demands.