By Manu Gome
It was the very first hotel in Rwanda. It was also the scene of one of the most transformative events in Rwanda and Burundi’s history and a major spur for the then fledgling independence movement.
Located right in the centre of Rwanda’s Huye district, Hotel Faucon is one place that has such an interesting history that no one who is truly interested in the story of Rwanda should leave without visiting it.
History of a Whites-only Hotel
At the very spot where the hotel stands was a building in which the Belgian Royal couple stayed during the colonial era. After it was destroyed by fire, a hotel was rebuilt in its place by the building’s owner, Mr. Faucon, in 1943.
In its day, Hotel Faucon was the very definition of luxury. It was also a whites-only establishment and was a favourite entertainment destination for the (then white) administrators of colonial Ruanda-Urundi. Here they could come and relax after the rigours of the week’s work.
As was common in apartheid South Africa, just outside the hotel was a signpost that read, “ENTRY FORBIDDEN TO BLACKS AND TO DOGS”.
Thus the officialdom of colonialism could kick back and chill without being disturbed by any of the people they were trying to ‘civilise’.
A King’s Fury
This little racist club was to receive a rude kick in the rear when it encountered a wrath of a King. The story goes that once, in 1955(?) King Rudahigwa of Rwanda was returning from a visit to neighbouring Burundi, when he came to the classy Hotel Faucon. Pleased to find a hotel that he had not been to, the tired King ordered his retinue to stop so that they could rest at the hotel awhile.
On approaching the off-white hotel building, the king and his men were stopped in their tracks by the bold words, printed in French, on the signpost right at the hotel’s entrance:
“ENTRY FORBIDDEN TO BLACKS AND TO DOGS”.
The King was furious! In a rage, he stormed into the hotel, leaving the startled gateman paralysed with fear. In the shade at the hotel’s entrance, the few patrons who sat sipping their refreshments for the day looked up from their drinks and cigars to find themselves face to face with the royal rage.
For, it is said, King Rudahigwa ordered his men to beat up all the white people at the hotel who had dared to compare his people to dogs in their own country.
He then demanded that the hotel open its doors to any black people who wanted and could afford to use its services, thus effectively removing the race barrier that management had erected at the hotel.
From 1962, when Rwanda got its independence, to this day, Hotel Faucon has been owned and run by Rwandan nationals.
The King’s Chamber
To put a symbolic, royal stamp on the historic upheaval that he had caused in this colonial outpost of privilege, King Rudahigwa moved to ensure a permanent black presence at the hotel.
The King commandeered what we would now call “the Presidential Suite” of the hotel for his own use whenever he was in the area.
The King’s chambers stand separate from the rest of the hotel. On entering, one is welcomed by a preserved setting of the living room as it used to be when it was in use by the king. In the centre of the room is a set of two chairs with a small table (said to be the original used by the King) in the middle. The Suite also contains a sizeable bathroom, and two bedrooms, a smaller one for one of the King’s guests, and a larger room where the monarch slept. The royal bed is still intact.
Sleep like Royalty
Today, it is possible not only to visit The King’s Chambers at Hotel Faucon, but also to rent the actual King’s suite for the night and live, if only briefly, in the same space that was transformed by this revolutionary King.
Sadly, this historic hotel, although quite well preserved, is not in the best shape and may not meet basic international hotel standards. However, it remains a place worth visiting if only for its historic significance.