Born in 1928 in Kiziguro, Rosalie Gicanda is the daughter of Martin Gatsinzi and Christiana Makwindigiri. She was born into the Banyiginya clan and the Bahebera lineage.

Rosalie Gicanda spent her childhood in Ndorwa where her father settled with his family.

At the age of 13, she was selected among the other beautiful girls of Rwanda to become a royal bride.
In fact, King Mutara III Rudahigwa divorced his first wife, Nyiramakomari, in 1940 and vowed to remarry and have offspring, especially an heir, which he had not had at the time.

At the end of 1941, Gicanda went to Shyogwe, to the palace of the Queen Mother of Rwanda, Nyiramavugo III Kankazi. Alongside Rosalie Mukamutara, the favourite candidate, Euphrasie Kayirangwa and Valerie Mukansoroza, Gicanda was put to the test by the Queen-mother and her younger sister, Immaculée Kabanyana. She was observed. Her actions, qualities and faults were noted and annotated. During the final test, Gicanda was chosen by King Mutara III Rudahigwa who was charmed by her natural modesty.

Rosalie Gicanda and Mutara Rudahigwa got married religiously on 18 January 1942, during a ceremony celebrated in the Kabgayi basilica. She later joined her husband at the royal palace in Rukari. The two formed a close couple. Gicanda discreetly advises her husband and makes it a point of honour to distance herself from the exercise of power. She was always by her husband’s side at all major events in the country and accompanied him on trips abroad in 1955 and 1958. At the same time, she completed her intellectual and religious training with the Benebikira Sisters of Nyanza.

On 25 July 1959, Mutara III Rudahigwa died unexpectedly without him and Gicanda having had children. As a result, three days later, Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa succeeded his elder brother to the throne. The new king of Rwanda, son of Yuhi V Musinga and Bernadette Mukashema, was invested under the dynastic name of Kigeli V. Saddened by the death of her husband, Rosalie Gicanda was inconsolable. She continued to live in the royal palace of Rukari while her brother-in-law, King Kigeli V, lived in another palace in Nyanza (Nyanza ku bigega).

During the unrest of November 1959, Gicanda provided assistance to Tutsi families threatened with execution. She sheltered them and took care of their exodus to the countries bordering Rwanda. She herself, a victim of threats, humiliations and persecutions of all kinds, considered going into exile. One year after Rwanda’s independence in 1962, Gicanda fled Nyanza. She took the road to exile, but stopped before crossing the border. Thinking of her mother and other relatives, she turned back and returned to Nyanza. Resolving to stay in Rwanda no matter what, Gicanda lived with her mother, sisters and sisters-in-law in Nyanza. Later, these ladies were joined by Prince Joseph Ruzindana, the brother of Mutara Rudahigwa and Kigeli Ndahindurwa. Just released from prison and house arrest, Joseph Ruzindana resolved to stay in Rwanda and assist Mutara’s family.

On 1st April 1964, Rosalie Gicanda was expelled from the royal palace of Rukari. She was even forbidden to stay in the area of Nyanza by order of the Kayibanda government. With her mother, her brother-in-law Ruzindana, her two sisters, her nieces and her servants, she settled in Butare (ex-Astrida) in a modest house put at her disposal by the prefectural administration. In order to provide for the household’s food needs, Joseph Ruzindana worked hard and courageously outdid himself. From time to time, the house of Gicanda received messages and parcels from exiled relatives and thus endured the deprivations and humiliations inflicted by the extremists of Kayibanda’s First Republic.

As misfortune happens not only once in a lifetime, Joseph Ruzindana died tragically in a traffic accident on 15 April 1972. Deeply affected by this new loss, Rosalie Gicanda remained dignified and found comfort in prayer as well as in the friendly gestures of some people.

In order to survive, she decided to sell milk and very quickly her product became a success with the Butareans, who were attracted by its delicious taste. Always open, Gicanda’s house also became a haven for the destitute, the persecuted, travellers and other needy. The population of Butare and soon the whole country appreciated her for her dignity, her piety, her generosity, her hospitality, her affability, her humour, her friendliness, her open-mindedness, her beauty, her uprightness, her infinite love for her late husband and above all her humility. Indeed, many Rwandan families were always surprised to see her honouring their invitations to sometimes trivial celebrations. 

On 1 October 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a politico-military movement composed mainly of Tutsi exiles, launched an attack intending a return to Rwanda. In the aftermath of this attack and the subsequent rise of anti-Tutsi extremism, Rosalie Gicanda was increasingly threatened for her membership in the Tutsi group as well as for her family ties. Indeed, the leader of the armed wing of the RPF, General Paul Kagame, is none other than her nephew (Kagame’s maternal grandfather, Kanamugire, is the old brother of Gatsinzi, Gicanda’s father; Kagame’s mother, Asteria Bisinda, is Kanamugire’s daughter and therefore Gicanda’s cousin)!

Gicanda subsequently received terrifying anonymous phone calls and these raised her blood pressure. In November 1993, Gicanda went to Belgium for medical treatment. When she recovered, several relatives begged her not to return immediately to Rwanda because of the growing ethnic hatred and the ideology of systematic extermination of the Tutsis. Thinking of her mother and nieces who were left alone, Gicanda returned to Rwanda in March 1994.

A few weeks later, after the death of President Juvénal Habyarimana, the genocide against the Tutsis was unleashed in Kigali and in several prefectures of the country. The town of Butare, where Gicanda lives, was spared for a fortnight. No massacre or persecution of Tutsis were undertaken there thanks to the tenacity and humanity of the prefect of Butare, Dr Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana.

Determined to extend the genocide against the Tutsis to the entire country, the interim president of Rwanda, Dr Théodore Sindikubwabo, personally visited the prefecture of Butare on the 19th April 1994 and called, in a coded speech, on the Hutu population to exterminate their Tutsi compatriots. The day after this inflammatory speech, Lieutenant Jean-Pierre Bizimana, at the head of a platoon of Hutu extremist soldiers, went to Rosalie Gicanda’s house. On the orders of Captain Ildephonse Nizeyimana, in charge of intelligence and military operations in the town of Butare, Lieutenant Bizimana and his subordinates seized Gicanda and her nieces, then transported them to the gardens of the National Museum of Rwanda, located a few kilometres away, and murdered them in conditions that combined cruelty and humiliation. Two days later, the same soldiers returned to Gicanda’s house and murdered her mother, who was left alone.

The assassination of Rosalie Gicanda gave the signal for the beginning of the genocide against the Tutsis in the town of the Butare prefecture. Indeed, she was the first person to fall victim to the genocidaires in this prefecture, which had previously been immune to the crime of crimes. As soon as the news of her murder spread, the extremist Hutu bands of Butare systematically massacred their compatriots, their Tutsi neighbours.

After the genocide against the Tutsis, Gicanda’s body was recovered and buried, in dignity, next to the remains of her husband, King Mutara III Rudahigwa. Both are buried at the royal memorial of Mwima, in Nyanza.

Due to her kindness and aura, Rosalie Gicanda was the subject of several artistic compositions, such as the song ‘Inyange’ composed in her honour by the Rwandan diva Cécile Kayirebwa.

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