Rosalie Gicanda was born in 1928 as the daughter of Martin Gatsinzi and Mukwindigir in the eastern region of Buganza. She was one of five siblings.
Rosalie was about 14 years old when she married King Mutara III Rudahigwa of Rwanda. She was his second wife and he had divorced his first wife Nyiramakomali in 1941. He was 17 years older than her and became King in 1931. He was the first Rwandan King to convert to Catholicism and Rosalie was a Catholic too. His reign coincided with a period of famine during which about 10% of the population died. Rudahigwa died on 25 July 1959 shortly after visiting a Belgian doctor at a hospital. His cause of death could not be determined as an autopsy was carried out due to the objections of his mother. Rumours soon arose that he had been killed by the Belgian authorities. As he had no issue by either of his wives, he was succeeded by King Kigeli V – his half-brother.
Rosalie had been a beloved and revered Queen during her husband’s reign and she remained so after his death and even after the abolishment of the monarchy – just two years later. Her brother later told Rwandan newspaper The New Times, “She would serve milk to any visitor without discrimination. Some people even used to come to the palace only because of her welcoming character. She was accessible to all. She was a queen for the masses.”
In 1962, Rosalie was expelled from the palace and forced to relocate to Butare where she lived in a modest house with her mother. Even there, people continued to visit her. She lived there quietly until the Rwandan Genocide began in its earnest. Rosalie had been worried for her safety after receiving threatening phone calls. She called on Burgomaster Kanyabashi for protection but he said he could not help her.
On 20 April 1994, soldiers invaded her home and abducted Rosalie and six others – who had been taking care of her and her mother – leaving behind her bed-ridden mother and one girl to care for her. They were taken to the back of the Ethnographic Museum where they were shot and killed. One girl was left for dead and survived. The soldiers returned two days later to loot her home and they killed her mother. Another source states that both Rosalie and her mother were crucified naked in the flea market in front of horrified onlookers.1
Rosalie was initially buried in a yard near her house before she was moved to the Mwima hill in Nyanza where she was placed next to the tomb of her husband. Her youngest brother learned of her death two days after the murder and later told The New Times, “I was shocked. Only God will reward her for what she did for the people of Rwanda. She taught me to always be humble, love everyone without any distinction or discrimination, respect everyone and fight injustice.”
In 2012, Captain Idelphonse Nizeyimana, the head of intelligence and military operations, who had ordered the Queen’s death, was given a life sentence after he was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the murder of Queen Rosalie. He was nicknamed the “Butcher of Butare.”2