The first German colonial governor in Rwanda came from humble beginnings. Before setting foot on the African continent, seldom known Richard Kandt was a medical practitioner in Bayreuth and Munich.
Driven by his strong desire to explore Africa, Kandt studied the map of the continent European powers were scrambling for. He also made efforts to get acquainted with basic cultural aspects of sub-Saharan African societies. In addition, he learned Swahili in preparation for his East Africa expedition.
Although his application for sponsorship was turned down by the German government, he embarked on the journey of exploration using his own limited resources. He sailed to Zanzibar and Bagamoyo before proceeding to Rwanda in the periphery of German East Africa.
Kandt’s biggest achievement as an explorer was the discovery of the farthest source of the Nile in Nyungwe forest. This discovery impressed German authorities. Obviously, it had something to do with his ensuing political appointment. Before assuming his new role as the Resident Governor, he lived in a makeshift camp set up at Ishangi peninsula, Western Province.
In his book titled Caput Nili, Richard Kandt gives a detailed account of his search for arguably the most important source of one of the longest rivers in the world. He was a courageous explorer who endured a strenuous journey to the interior of what his people referred to as the dark continent. He faced formidable challenges along the way but his resilient spirit and unshakeable determination kept him going until he found the treasure that changed his life for good.
Kandt’s choice of the land on which his Nyarugenge house is constructed is responsible for the location of the city of Kigali as we know it today. His name comes up whenever the history of the city is taught.
He is portrayed as a colonial administrator who was surprisingly in good terms with the Rwandan king and the local population. Some give him credit for laying the foundation of the post-independence bilateral relations between Rwanda and Germany. He is also remembered as the pioneer of coffee production in Rwanda. Although his plan to build a railway line connecting the land-locked colony to the Indian ocean was disrupted by the outbreak of the first world war, his efforts were noted.
The establishment of German colonial rule was done through the manipulation of the local power structure as opposed to military conquest. Kandt, a colonial agent who approached Rwandans disguised as a friend, executed this game plan very well.
The Kandt House Museum is an oasis of information. The facility exhibits the landscape, habitat and economic activities carried out before colonialism. Traditional art, social life and the system of monarchy are also documented. Other documented topics include the introduction of Christianity, colonization and World War I.
The museum is the oldest splendor of modern architecture in Rwanda. It was built in 1908 but still looks posh. I can’t imagine how imposing that castle was more than a century ago.
I left this museum with mixed feelings. I thought we are honoring the manipulative colonial agent by setting up his museum. However, I also saw the need to incorporate his story into our history. Either way, a tour of this museum is highly recommended.
The author is visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Nyarugenge District is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours and Travel, Elimo Real Estate Ltd and Exposure.