Opinions

The legacy of Dr. Richard Kandt (Part IV)

This is the last part of the story of DR. Richard Kandt’s exploration and stay in Rwanda. After four years in Rwanda, Richard Kandt is said to have returned to Germany in 1902, where he is reported to have received a hero’s welcome for solving the mystery of the source of the River Nile, when many other European explorers were not successful.

In 1904, he published his book, “Caput Nili” and later received audience with the German officials at the State Department, where he organised presentations on his exploration and scientific work in Rwanda. He seemed to have greatly impressed the officials who this time agreed to sponsor his second expedition to Africa and Rwanda, in particular, where he was to be the official representative of the German Reich and awarded the title of “Resident of Rwanda”.

On return to Rwanda in 1905, he combined German Reich duties and his scientific research work, but this time round he did not go back to his Shangi-Cyangugu residence but stayed in Kigali establishing his residence in Gakinjiro. Apart from engaging in scientific work, especially on Rwanda’s plants and the medicinal value they possess, Kandt also got interested in environmental conservation issues. On a special note, he is remembered as the first European to spread and promote coffee growing in Rwanda and this love for the cash plant went deep into his heart and most likely formed part of his will.

On his grave, at Johannisfriedhof in Neremberg, there is an inscription of a picture of a plant with three leaves and two cherry-like fruits, which symbolise the coffee plant superimposed on another inscription of the map of Africa.

Today, more than 500,000 Rwandan farmers depend on coffee, while, according to official figures, the government is targeting to generate US$100 million from coffee exports. This is part of Dr Richard Kandt’s legacy.

In 1913, Dr Kandt decided to go back to Germany due to sickness and never returned to Rwanda – as the following year marked the beginning of the First World War during which Germany lost Rwanda. During the WW1, Kandt served as a doctor in the German military, and while on the eastern front, he is said to have suffered a gas poisoning on July 2, 1917, and got admitted in a military hospital in Nuremberg. But, unfortunately, his health did not get any better, and on April 29, 1918, he died. (May his soul RIP).

The body of Dr Kandt was buried in Nuremberg and the obituary of the colonial office read: “The deceased was one of the most important representatives of German Colonial explorations”. The epitaph also described him as: “Surgeon Major Dr Richard Kandt, Discoverer of the Source of the Nile, Imperial Resident of Rwanda, and German East Africa. Born on December 17, 1867 in Posen, Dr Kandt was buried next to the gravesite of Albrecht Durer, who was a world famous painter.

This was the long journey of a man who left Germany to explore Africa, particularly Rwanda, and returned to his country with great honours. His achievements speak for themselves. Dr Kandt was a man of many hats; the man who discovered the furthest source of the Nile, a task that preoccupied a great number of European explorers of his time and the founder of the City of Kigali as the first colonial Resident Governor. Kandt was also the first person to advocate for the construction of a railway line connecting Rwanda to the East African Coast.

Though some may argue that the railway line proposal was to benefit colonial interests, Rwandans would have also benefited if this proposal had been realised. Kandt is remembered as an explorer, a medical doctor, a researcher, a soldier, a scholar, cartographer, a poet and a naturalist. It is not easy to come across a single individual with all the above attributes.

Dr. Kandt is remembered today as the man who opened the doors for the good bilateral relationship between Rwanda and Germany. A story is told of Rwandans who accompanied Germans to Tanzania at the end of their tenure, and this was a sign of the good relationship they had. I had wished to include in these series the scale and impact of Germany’s support to Rwanda, since independence, but I was not able to collect the required data on time, and I will reserve this for another day.

A group of friends and supporters from Rwanda and Germany will this December hold a commemorative event to remember Dr. Richard Kandt, 147 years since his birth. Also, in April 2015 – which will be 96 years after his death – a commemorative event organised by Dr Richard Kandt Foundation will be held in Nuremberg, Germany.

Gerald Mbanda is a member of Pan African movement.
Twitter: @GeraldMbanda
Email: mbandagerald@hotmail.com

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