Paul Rusesabagina

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Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina.jpg
Born (1954-06-15) 15 June 1954 (age 60)
Murama, Rwanda
Residence Brussels, Belgium
Nationality Rwandan (Hutu)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity
Wallenberg Medal of the University of Michigan
National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award
Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize from The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice

Paul Rusesabagina (born 15 June 1954) is the humanitarian Rwandan hotel manager who hid and protected 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan Genocide. None of those refugees were hurt or killed during the attacks. He had been the assistant manager of the Sabena-owned Hôtel des Mille Collines before he became the manager of the Hôtel des Diplomates, both in Rwanda's capital of Kigali. During the genocide he used his influence and connections as temporary manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines to shelter Tutsis from being slaughtered by the interahamwe militia.

Rusesabagina's efforts were the basis of the Academy Award-nominated film Hotel Rwanda (2004), in which he was portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle. He currently lives in Brussels, Belgium[needs update] with his wife, four children, and two adopted nieces.

Birth and career[edit]

Rusesabagina was born to his Hutu father and Tutsi mother in Murama, Rwanda. He had eight other siblings and was neither the oldest nor the youngest. It was common to have mixed families despite conflicts between Hutu and Tutsi; like other families, Paul and his family did not care about their supposed differences.

Rusesabagina's parents sent him to school in a town near Gitwe; a school that was run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By the age of eight he could read and speak French, and by thirteen he could read and speak English. Paul acquired the nature of protecting others as a child when his family gave shelter to refugees during the late 1950s and early 1960s when problems were developing between the Hutu and Tutsi. By the end of his teenage years, Rusesabagina wanted to pursue his interest in the church attending seminary to become a minister. He also became interested in the daughter of the African pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Reverend Sembeba. Her name was Esther, and on September 8, 1967 they married and he began attending the Faculty of Theology in the nation of Cameroon to become a minister. This dream was short-lived, for he always wanted to live in the large city of Kigali, and he was worried he would be stuck as a pastor in a small village without the ability to preach in the prestigious ministry positions in Kigali. So in December 1978, he, his wife, and two children moved to Kigali.

In Kigali, a childhood friend, Isaac Mulihano, invited Rusesabagina to apply for work at the Milles Collines where Mulihano worked and where there was an opening. It was then that Rusesabagina found his true calling, using his language skills and hard work becoming a general manager, and was admitted to the Hospitality program in Nairobi. There he learned the differences in fine food and wine. He later was sent to Switzerland and Brussels where he learned more about cuisine, bookkeeping, courtesy, payroll management, how to plan institutional goals, and how to hire and fire workers. However, his constant work kept him apart from his wife Esther. They legally separated in 1981 and he was allowed to have complete custody of their three children: Diane, Lys, and Roger.

In 1987, he was invited to a wedding where he met Tatiana, a nurse in Ruhengeri who was the maid of honor. She was Tutsi which Paul not only accepted but looked forward to helping her escape the prejudices at her workplace. He obtained a favor from a frequent customer of the Milles Collines, a Minister of Health, and Tatiana was enabled to transfer to a job at Central Hospital in Kigali. Tatiana and Paul married two years later and she adopted his children. Later, they had a son, Tresor.

In 1992 Paul Rusesabagina was promoted to assistant general manager of the sister hotel of Milles Collines named Diplomates Hotel; these hotels were owned by the Swiss-Belgian Sabena conglomerate. At these hotels he networked with important capital guests. Instead of staying in his office during the day, he would make a point of engaging with his guests who came to Kigali to meet with government officials and the officials themselves, so that he developed a network of influential contacts.

Rwandan Genocide[edit]

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 was not the first conflict between the two ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi. In Rwanda the Hutu were considered the traditional farmers and the Tutsi were chosen by the colonial powers as their administrative caste.

During the Berlin Conference, Germany obtained Burundi and Rwanda between 1884 and 1885; after World War I, Belgium became the colonial power but continued the Tutsi in the role as the middle managers and clerks of colonial administration. Gradually, elements of colorism added to the discrimination, with Tutsi so-called lighter skin treated as preferred like Europeans, Euro-Americans, and Americans. The Belgians exacerbated the conflict when they took measurements of the noses of Rwandan citizens in 1933 in an attempt to quantify a racial distinction between Hutu and Tutsi.

The end of colonialism resulted in an independent self-government by 1959 dominated by Tutsi. Its lack of Hutu representation left many Hutu afraid for their post-Belgian status. Rumors arose that a Belgian-Tutsi conspiracy may have been implicit in the assassination of key Hutu leadership in 1959. Disgruntled opinion of the separation of power came to be called the Hutu revolution. Various expressions of extreme dislike for the Tutsi occurred after the Hutu Revolution of 1959.[1] In 1959 thousands of Tutsi were pushed out of Rwanda to Uganda and other countries in the Hutu Revolution.

Paul Kagame used the Tutsi population based in Uganda to develop the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) by 1985. This challenge to the Hutu government led to actual civil war. On October 1, 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front, consisting of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. This resulted in hundreds of arrests of Tutsis by the Rwandan government. In April 1991, the National Republican Movement of Democracy and Development approved a multiparty system and in November that same year it generated a youth wing known as the Interahamwe, which developed into a militia group. In March 1992, three hundred Tutsi were massacred outside Kigali. In 1993, the Arusha Accords were signed between the Rwandan government and the RPF. This agreement reduced Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana's powers and promised to install a transitional government to continue to move Rwanda toward democracy.[2] Hutu nationalism increased due to these conflicts and in October 1993, UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) was generated. However conflict arose again on October 21, 1993 when Tutsi soldiers in Burundi assassinated Melchior Ndadaye, the first Hutu ever elected President in Burundi. Rwandan Hutus reacted with more violence toward Tutsis, believing the that the assassination affirmed a perceived Tutsi desire to control the whole region.[2][3]

In Rwanda, while Paul was receiving his extra education in Nairobi, Switzerland, and Brussels, the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvénal Habyarimana faced prejudices and pressure from a Tutsi-led rebel force as they tried to maintain their power. Machetes were ordered and brought to the capital and given to the Interahamwe; while Tutsi were being discriminated against, a rumor brought on by a radio station RTLM explained that the Tutsi wanted to kill all the Hutus.

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana's plane was shot down by surface-to-air missiles as it approached the Kigali airport for landing. On board the plane with Habyarimana were the President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Rwandan army chief of staff Déogratias Nsabimana, and Colonel Elie Sagatwa, the head of presidential security. The wreckage landed in the garden of the presidential palace and all on board were killed.[2][4] The Rwandan Genocide started on April 6, 1994. On April 7, 1994 the Presidential Guard assassinated Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana along with many other ministers, namely those from political parties different from that of the assassinated Habyarimana and those slated to play important roles in the transitional government that had been planned for instatement on April 8. Ten Belgian UN peacekeepers were also killed.[2] Interhamwe hunted down Tutsi and began killing them at the start of the genocide. Rusesabagina was Hutu – his mother was a Tutsi and father was a Hutu. His wife Tatiana was a Tutsi, from this their children were considered mixed. Due to this, he was unable to escape the war zone with his family without outside help. On April 11 Belgium withdrew peacekeepers and by April 15 the UN security withdrew international forces and it went from 2500 troops to 270 troops. No foreign aid came from the United Nations or its more powerful Western member states, including the United States of America, until after over 800,000 Rwandans had been murdered. By July 4 Rwandan Patriotic Front seized control of the capital and by July 17 Rwandan armed forces were defeated.[5]

When the violence broke out, Rusesabagina brought his family to the Hôtel des Mille Collines for safety. As other managers departed, Rusesabagina phoned the hotel's corporate owners, Sabena, and secured a letter appointing him the acting general manager of the Mille Collines. Despite some difficulty in getting the staff to accept his authority, he was able to use his position to shelter orphans and other refugees who came to the hotel. His neighbours had moved into his house for safety, though Rusesabagina did not even own a gun. For protection against bullets and grenades they put mattresses against the windows. He described the hardships they faced, which included having to drink the water from the hotel's swimming pool.

When a murderous Hutu militia threatened to enter the Mille Collines, Rusesabagina ensured that his wife and children fled safely in a truck past the militia's roadblocks. The truck set out for Kigali airport so they could flee to another country. He himself remained in the hotel because the refugees needed him. Rusesabagina and his wife discussed this decision for hours, because he had promised her he would never leave her in this situation. Rusesabagina wanted to stay, fearing the remaining refugees would be killed and feeling that he would never be able to forgive himself.

Tatiana was a specific target for the brutal attack because she was the wife of the manager of the Mille Collines, who was hiding and trying to protect over 1,200 people; the Hutu militia knew she and her children were in the truck owing to radio messages sent out by presenter Georges Ruggiu. Ruggiu was an Italian-Belgian who was part of the radio station conspiracy to incite ethnic tension and encourage the Hutu population to kill all the Tutsis. Ruggiu called Rusesabagina's family "cockroaches who were fleeing, but would return later to kill all the Hutus".

Tatiana's family faced extreme tragedy. Her mother, and 4 nieces and nephews, died in the genocide and her brother and sister-in-law are missing. Her father paid Hutu militia to be executed so he would not die a more painful death:

 We all knew we would die, no question. The only question was how. Would they chop us in pieces? With their machetes they would cut your left hand off. Then they would disappear and reappear a few hours later to cut off your right hand. A little later they would return for your left leg etc. They went on till you died. They wanted to make you suffer as long as possible. There was one alternative: you could pay soldiers so they would just shoot you. That's what her [Tatiana's] father did.

— Paul Rusesabagina in Humo, nr. 3365, March 1, 2005

The Interhamwe left nearly 1 million corpses behind. Tutsi rebels pushed the Hutu militia into the Congo in July 1994, after over half of the Tutsis in Rwanda had been murdered. Rusesabagina took orphans from the camp behind Tutsi rebel lines with him to Tanzania, to keep them safe and away from Rwanda. By the end of the massacre, four of his eight siblings remained alive. He comments in his autobiography that "For a Rwandan family, this is a comparatively lucky outcome"

Rusesabagina, his wife and children, and the refugees eventually managed to escape to Tanzania, thanks to the Rwandan Patriotic Front. After staying in Rwanda for two more years, Rusesabagina applied for asylum in Belgium and moved to Brussels in 1996 after receiving credible threats on his life. He moved to Brussels, Belgium with his wife, children, and his two nieces.

Rusesabagina's acts[edit]

During the Genocide, Paul made countless acts for trying to protect his refugees and family. When militia captains would come to decree a want for the Tutsi refugees, Paul would slip away and come back to them with money, the finest alcohols, and cigars to persuade them to leave. Most of those persuasions were also aided by copious phone calls to city heads that Rusesabagina had developed tight contacts with, during their stays at the hotels that he managed; those city heads he would call would aid in his hotel's protection from massacre, but only for a short time, for the militia was persistent.

He smuggled his family and 32 neighbors in the beginning of the attacks to save them from brutal massacre; Paul recounts when he woke up one morning to see neighbors dead and some neighbors holding machetes covered in blood. For those 1,268 refugees he made calls to smuggle in food and when the water supply was taken away, Paul gave his guests water from the pool so that they wouldn't dehydrate and die.

Paul's number one priority was to help his guests where he constantly said that he was simply doing his job as a hotel manager.

Rusesabagina and his immediate family remained in Rwanda for just over two years following the genocide. In 1996, they moved to Belgium, where he applied for political asylum. While in Brussels he bought a cab and was later able to buy several more and develop his own cab company. Soon he bought a trucking company in Zambia. He uses his trucking company to deliver necessities and goods to rural villages in Zambia.

In his autobiography, Rusesabagina explains that "We may have left Rwanda, but Rwanda will never leave us."

Timeline of Rwandan Genocide events[edit]

  • April 6, 1994 – Rwandan President Habyarimana's plane is shot down by missiles as it approaches the Kigali airport for landing. The President of Burundi, the Rwandan army chief of staff, and the head of presidential security are also killed in the crash.
  • April 7 – Presidential guards assassinate Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Interahamwe hunt down Tutsi and begin killing them: start of genocide [6]
  • April 9 - The Rwandan Army arrives at Rusesabagina's house, and demands that Paul come and open the Diplomates, since he is the manager. Paul brings 32 'family members' with him, but eventually the Army general catches on to his ploy. Rusesabagina ultimately negotiates a price to pay for them all (one million French francs) so that they aren't killed. They end up safe inside the Diplomates.
  • April 11 – Belgium withdraws peacekeepers.
  • April 12 - Rusesabagina is then named official interim manager of the Mille Collines so that he can retrieve the master keys to the hotel.
  • April 15 – UN security withdraw international forces; they went from 2500 troops to 270 troops. Rusesabagina asks for hotel protection in an interview with a Belgian newspaper at the Mille Collines. Rwandan authorities provide National Police at the hotel.[6]
  • April 16 - Rusesabagina requests security from the UN, General Romeo Dallaire; but it failed.
  • April 23 - Department of Military Intelligence, named Iyakamuremye, orders Rusesabagina to turn out everyone in a half hour. The hotel is surrounded by military and militia so he calls influential persons abroad. The calls are relayed to representatives of Sabena. One of the foreign authorities called from the hotel is the Director General of the French Foreign Ministry; a colonel from the National Police arrives and makes the lieutenant leave.
  • May 3 - The UN attempts to evacuate the Mille Collines as a part of the deal with the Hutu government and only those with invitations from people abroad may leave the hotel in the UN trucks. Rusesabagina compiles a list of those specific people, which includes his own family but he decides to stay at the hotel to protect the refugees. The UN envoy is attacked shortly after leaving the hotel but they succeed in getting back to the hotel.
  • May 13 - Rwandan Army Intelligence Agent meets with Rusesabagina and he is told that later that afternoon there will be an attack on the hotel. Rusesabagina frantically makes calls and later that night there is a rocket shot through the hotel just above the second floor; no one is injured.
  • May 26 - A second attempt at an evacuation of select refugees is made, but this time, instead of going to the airport, the destination is a hill behind RPF lines. It is a more organized effort than the first, and ultimately is successful. Paul's family, this time, does not leave with the convoy, because Paul does not trust the UN or the rebels to protect them after the first botched evacuation attempt.
  • June 17 - Rusesabagina leaves the hotel to meet with General Bizimungu; he is a commander of the National Police at the Diplomates hotel. They receive news the Rwandan militia and Interahamwe have entered the Mille Collines. Bizimungu and Rusesabagina go back and Bizimungu orders to halt the mass execution. The militia reluctantly follows Bizimungu's orders and files out of the hotel for the last time. This results in a joint order by the UN, RPF, and Rwandan Army for the evacuation of the hotel.
  • June 18 - The Hotel Mille Collines is evacuated and not one person that was a refugee was killed or harmed in any way by militia.
  • 1996 – Paul and his family leave for Brussels, Belgium to have a new life.

Awards received[edit]

  • 2000 – Receives Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity.
  • 2005 – Receives Wallenberg Medal of the University of Michigan
  • 2005 – Receives National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award
  • 2005 – Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • 2007 – Receives Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Guelph
  • 2008 – Receives Honorary Degree from Gustavus Adolphus College
  • 2009 – Receives Honorary Degree from Loyola University Chicago, at the Bachelor of Arts Commencement
  • 2011 – Receives the 2011 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize from The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice



His story was first told in Philip Gourevitch's book "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families," which was published in 1998.


His autobiography entitled An Ordinary Man (written with Tom Zoellner ISBN 0-670-03752-4) was published by Zach Bell in April 2006.


Paul's work is dramatized in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda in which he is played by Don Cheadle. There are few differences with the actual story.

  • Tatiana Rusesabagina was not in fact angry about Paul putting her and her children on a truck to escape the Hôtel des Mille Collines but was instead sad about the decision—which she nevertheless accepted due to the circumstances. Paul did not make his decision at the last moment, but rather he discussed the matter with Tatiana and the children the night before they attempted the evacuation.[7]
  • Paul and his family did eventually leave Rwanda, but two years after they escaped the Hôtel des Mille Collines.[8]
  • Paul Rusesabagina said in a lecture that the film was "less violent" than the actual genocide, claiming that "you couldn't invite someone to watch the real thing."

Feud with Paul Kagame[edit]

Rusesabagina and Rwandan president and former head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Paul Kagame have become public enemies of each other. In his autobiography, Rusesabagina alleges, "Rwanda is today a nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis...Those few Hutus who have been elevated to high-ranking posts are usually empty suits without any real authority of their own. They are known locally as Hutus de service or Hutus for hire." He has also criticized Kagame's election to president.

On April 6, 2006, Kagame suggested, "[Rusesabagina] should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it's totally false." Despite this, Rusesabagina stated in a public lecture at the University of Michigan on March 27, 2014 that he has chosen to forgive Kagame, as this is the only way that Rwanda can move past the genocide.[9] Francois Xavier Ngarambe, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella body of survivors' associations for the genocide, said of Rusesabagina, "he has hijacked heroism. He is trading with the genocide. He should be charged." Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, characterized the comment as part of a smear campaign.[10]

In 2008, the book Hotel Rwanda or the Tutsi Genocide as seen by Hollywood, by Alfred Ndahiro, a public relations advisor to Kagame and journalist Privat Rutazibwa, was published.[11] It provides an alternative take to the portrayal of Rusesabagina's actions as seen in Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina issued a response to the charges of the book,[12] which in turn was responded to.[13]

Rusesabagina has consistently denied allegations put forward by the Rwandan government accusing Rusesabagina of helping the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Rwandan rebel group. In a 2010 interview with CNN Rusesabagina said :"I have sent no money to terrorists ... He [the prosecutor] is not only lying, but lying with bad logic.....This is pure and simple fabrication from Kigali."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fujii, Lee Ann (2009). Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 
  2. ^ a b c d Melvern, Linda (2006). Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide. Verso. 
  3. ^ Esses, Victoria (2008). Explaining the Breakdown of Ethnic Relations: Why Neighbors Kill. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 
  4. ^ Rusesabagina, Paul (2006). An Ordinary Man. The Penguin Group. 
  5. ^ Cruvellier, Thierry (2010). Court of Remorse: Inside the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. 
  6. ^ a b Gourevitch, Philip (1999). We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families. Picador. 
  7. ^ Rusesabagina, Paul. An Ordinary Man. Viking. p. 148. ISBN 0-670-03752-4. 
  8. ^ Rusesabagina, Paul. An Ordinary Man. Viking. p. 170ff. ISBN 0-670-03752-4. 
  9. ^ [public lecture at University of Michigan, March 27, 2014 4:30-6 url=]
  10. ^ George, Terry (May 10, 2006). "Smearing a Hero". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  11. ^ Movie sparks public feud
  12. ^ EUX.TV – Rusesabagina responds to Rwanda government book on Hotel Rwanda
  13. ^ The New Times – Rwandas First Daily :: Issue 13545 :: Genocide negationist Paul Rusesabagina tries to drown the fish whenever his lies are exposed
  14. ^ Karimi, Faith. "'Hotel Rwanda' hero denies sending money to rebels." CNN. October 28, 2010. Retrieved on October 28, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

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