Over the years, I have paid little attention to understand the history of Kigali City, and in part that of colonial Rwanda. We tend to leave this kind of knowledge to researchers and historians.
Recently, my brother, who has not lived in Rwanda for long, and eager to know many places, asked me if I know a historical place we could visit in Kigali, to break the weekend boredom.
It clicked in my mind that there is a place near the old Gacinjiro where I have seen a sign post reading Museum, but I had never had interest to visit. We agreed this was the place to go since we were eager to know what was in there. Ian, the only boy at home, came along with us wondering about the museum in Kigali he has never heard his friends at school talk about.
On the right side of the road to Nyamirambo after the prison (1930), we found the Museum of Natural History, also known as Kandt House.
The Kandt house was turned into a Museum and is believed to be one of the oldest ‘modern architectural’ buildings in Kigali which served from around 1907 to 1914, as the administrative residence of the first German colonial Resident Governor Dr. Richard Kandt, after arriving in Rwanda in 1898.
He was not only an appointed Governor under the “Deutsch Ostafrika”, but believed is also to have been a charismatic man with many hats. Kandt was a medical doctor, an explorer, a naturalist, a scholar and, above, all a military man.
The location of his house was not by chance or accident that he settled on the Nyarugenge hill in Gakingiro, where many people wonder what attracted him to the place.
When you visit the back side of the house and look across Nyakabanda valley, there you see a spectacular view of three mountain ranges; Kigali, Shyorongi and Jali. Dr. Richard Kandt is said to have been “very much fascinated by the country’s landscape and its people”.
Though his house faced these beautiful mountains, which he could always admire from his backyard, Dr. Kandt admired them with a sense of security in his mind. As a trained military man, his security was paramount.
The house was an observation point for possible ‘enemy’ attacks, the guide at the museum informed us.
The location of Dr. Kandt’s house and later the establishment of ‘1930’prison by the Belgians in the neighborhood and St. Famille Church near the city round about, could probably serve as an indication that the road from the city round about, leading to chez Venant-prison-Gakinjiro and down to Nyamirambo, could have served as the principal road in Kigali at the time.
Kigali has been the capital of city of Rwanda since 1908, when Dr. Richard Kandt set up his administrative residence there. Though some historians say he is the one who named the capital Kigali, others like Alex Kagame, wrote that the capital of Rwanda derived its name from King Cyirima Rugwe in the 14th century, who after conquering Bugesera and Nyarugenge, stood on one of the hills and said, ‘‘Burya iki gihugu ni Kigali,” meaning al along this country is vast.
Dr. Richard Kandt visited the king’s court and kept regular contact. His relationship with the king is said to have been friendly and harmonious. He is said to have had no ambitions of ruling Rwanda, but “saw his job more as providing support to the ruler (King) and keeping the country in stable condition”.
He is also said to have been friendly with the natives of Rwanda.
Richard Kandt came to Rwanda the first time not as an envoy of the colonial office at the state department in Berlin.
His application for government sponsorship of his expedition had been turned down, and he decided to use personal resource, after being motivated by stories and reports filed by other explorers of the African continent, then referred to as the black continent.
Apart from serving as the first colonial resident governor, and building the first modern house in Kigali, is there any other achievement that Dr. Richard Kandt is remembered for in Rwanda? Watch this space.
Gerald Mbanda is a member of Pan African movement.