Paul Rusesabagina

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Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina.jpg
Rusesabagina in 2005
Born (1954-06-15) 15 June 1954 (age 67)
NationalityRwandan
CitizenshipBelgian[1]
EducationUniversity
Alma materKenya Utalii College
Political partyPDR-Ihumure,[2] Movement for Democratic Change
Spouse(s)
  • Esther Bamurage (div.)
(m. 1989)
Awards

Paul Rusesabagina (Kinyarwanda[ɾusesɑβaɟinɑ];[3][4] born 15 June 1954) is a Belgian/Rwandan politician. He worked as the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, during a period in which it housed 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees from the Interahamwe militia during the Rwandan genocide.[5] None of these refugees were hurt or killed during the attacks.[6]

An account of Rusesabagina's actions during the genocide was dramatised in Terry George's film Hotel Rwanda, in which he was portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle.[7] The film has been the subject both of critical acclaim and deep controversy, particularly in Rwanda.[8][9]

On the back of newly-found international fame, Rusesabagina embarked on a successful career as a public speaker, mostly touring universities in the United States.[10] He campaigns for the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, which he founded in 2006.[3][11] He holds Belgian citizenship, and a US green card, and has homes in Brussels, Belgium and San Antonio, Texas.[1]

Since leaving Rwanda in 1996, he has become a prominent critic of Paul Kagame and the RPF government.[12][13][14] He founded the PDR-Ihumure political party in 2006, and is currently President of the MRCD, a foreign-based opposition group to the Rwandan government.[4][15][16]

On 31 August 2020, believing he was taking a flight to Burundi from Dubai, he arrived in Kigali, where he was arrested on nine charges of terrorism that related to his association with the FLN (National Liberation Front), the armed wing of PDR-Ihumure, who claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in 2018 which killed at least nine people.[17][18]

Rusesabagina has admitted to backing and "diplomatically" supporting the group, as evidenced in a widely-disseminated video in which he pledges his "unreserved support" for the FLN, but has denied any wrongdoing.[19][20] Some of his family members are suing charter airline GainJet for not disclosing the true destination of the flight to Rusesabagina.[21][1]

Birth and career[edit]

Rusesabagina was born in 1954.[22] He was one of nine children born to a Hutu father, a respected community elder named Thomas Rupfure, and a Tutsi mother in Murama, Rwanda.[23][24] Although stating that he grew up poor, in a "house ... made of mud and sticks" and "without shoes", Rusesabagina described his upbringing as "solidly middle class by the standards of Africa in the 1950s".[25] Rusesabagina's parents sent him to school in a town near Gitwe run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By the age of 13, he was fluent in English and French, as well as his native Kinyarwanda.[26]

He married his first wife, Esther Bamurage, on 8 September 1967. By the end of his adolescence, Rusesabagina had decided to become a minister. He and his wife moved to Cameroon where he studied at the Faculty of Theology in Yaoundé. In Cameroon, he soon became disillusioned with the prospect of a career as a clergyman, deciding he wanted to live an 'urban life'.[27]

In December 1978, he, his wife, and two children moved to Kigali. While there, an acquaintance, Isaac Mulihano, invited Rusesabagina to apply for an opening to work at the Hôtel des Mille Collines. He was offered a position and was sent to Nairobi and then to Switzerland and Brussels to study hotel management. Due to distance and his commitment to work, he and Esther legally separated in 1981. Rusesabagina was granted full custody of their three children: Diane, Lys, and Roger.[28]

In 1987, he was invited to a wedding where he met Tatiana, a Tutsi nurse who lived in Ruhengeri. Rusesabagina called in a favour with a frequent customer of the Mille Collines, a Minister of Health, to transfer Tatiana to a job at Central Hospital in Kigali. Tatiana and Paul married two years later and she adopted his children. She gave birth twice, but only their son, Trésor, survived infancy. Rusesabagina's father died in 1991, and his mother passed away shortly after.[29]

As he rose through the ranks at the Hôtel des Mille Collines, his promotions earned him the resentment of some fellow Rwandans in the staff. Some took to calling him 'muzungu' - a Kinyarwandan word for 'white man'.[30] In 1992, Paul Rusesabagina was promoted to assistant general manager of the Diplomates Hotel, an affiliate of the Hôtel des Mille Collines.[31]

Rwandan genocide[edit]

During Rusesabagina’s training abroad, and his rise as a distinguished hôtelier, the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvénal Habyarimana was facing military pressure from the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). After a ceasefire in Arusha brought the Civil War to an end in 1993, several reports of militia activity – including the stockpiling of weapons and the creation of lists of Tutsis – had been received by the UN and other authorities.[32] Alongside this, radio stations including the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) were broadcasting messages about Tutsi plots to murder Hutus, and encouraging violence towards Tutsis.[33]

On 6 April 1994, a plane containing President Habyarimana (and others, including Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira) was shot down as it approached the Kigali Airport for landing.[34] Everyone on board was killed. ‘Hutu Power’ extremists within the government and local militias blamed this event on the Tutsi, and consequently, the Rwandan genocide started on 6 April 1994. Interahamwe militias consulted their lists and began searching the city for Tutsis and Tutsi ‘sympathisers’ to murder.[35] Though Rusesabagina was Hutu (as his father was Hutu and his mother Tutsi), his wife Tatiana was a Tutsi and his children considered mixed – meaning that his family was under considerable threat.

When the violence broke out, soldiers came to Rusesabagina’s house, asking him to open the Hôtel Diplomates, which the interim Hutu government used as a headquarters. Rusesabagina bribed the soldiers with money from the hotel safe to ensure safe passage for his family. When the government evacuated the hotel, on account of RPF shelling, Rusesabagina arrived at the Hôtel des Mille Collines.[36][37]

Upon arrival, Rusesabagina promptly phoned the hotel's corporate owners, Sabena, imploring them to put him in charge as the acting general manager of the Mille Collines. They sent through a fax, and he assumed control of the hotel from the staff who had been running it since the killings begun.

Despite Rusesabagina’s claims that Romeo Dallaire ‘rescinded’ an order for UN protection of the hotel, there was in fact, a strong UN peacekeeping presence at the Hotel, including Mbaye Diagne, a Senegalese military observer who was ferrying threatened Tutsi into the Hotel.[38] General Dallaire – in charge of the UN deployment, and his deputy, Brent Beardsley, were also often at the hotel, ensuring its safety from killings.[39] A team of unarmed military observers had been in charge of protecting the hotel from April 8.

On May 3, 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 Belgium.[40] He remained in the hotel. Tatiana and her children were specifically targeted within the convoy by radio messages on RTLM, and they returned to the hotel after being attacked.

Tatiana's family faced extreme tragedy. Her mother, brother and sister-in-law, and four nieces and nephews died in the genocide. Her father paid Hutu militia to execute him so that 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, 1 March 2005

The Genocide ended on 15 July 1994, when the RPF reached Kigali and stopped the killings. Estimates on the overall death toll vary – ranging from 500,000 to 1.2 million. This all took place in 100 days. Interahamwe left nearly 1 million dead. By the end of the massacre, four of Rusesabagina's eight siblings remained alive. He comments in his autobiography that "for a Rwandan family, this is a comparatively lucky outcome."[41]

Rusesabagina, his wife and children, and the refugees eventually managed to escape to Tanzania, thanks to the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Post-Genocide and Politics[edit]

After staying in Rwanda for two more years after the genocide, Rusesabagina applied for asylum in Belgium and moved to Brussels with his wife, children, and two nieces in 1996, allegedly fearing for his life.[42] They later settled in San Antonio, Texas.[43]

Hotel Rwanda[edit]

In 1999, Rusesabagina received a phone call from an American screenwriter named Keir Pearson.[44] Pearson, along with his colleague Terry George, went on to write the script for Hotel Rwanda in consultation with Rusesabagina. The script was made into a Hollywood film, starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina. The film was released in 2004 to much critical acclaim. It received three Academy Award nominations, including for Best Original Screenplay.[45]

Speaking career[edit]

After the success of Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina acquired global fame. He used this to embark on a career as a public speaker – listed for bookings by both the American Programme Bureau in the U.S. and the London Speaker Bureau.[46][47] His profile was raised most notably when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States, by President George W. Bush on 9 November 2005 for "remarkable courage and compassion in the face of genocidal terror".[48] Rusesabagina's speaking engagements ranged from schools and universities to churches and businesses, in his own words: "whoever wants to invite me, invites me and I talk about my experiences of 1994".[49]

Politics[edit]

As his fame grew, Rusesabagina increasingly began to involve himself politically, taking a strongly anti-government stance, and positioning himself as a vocal opponent of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

In June 2006, in Washington D.C., he founded a political party in exile: The Party for Democracy in Rwanda: PDR-Ihumure.[15][50] The party’s general ideology is somewhat unclear, but as Rusesabagina described in a 2012 speech, its policy is broadly oriented towards the "political struggle to liberate Rwanda from the current RPF dictatorship".[50] In the same speech he expressed a disillusionment with the RPF, casting doubt on their ability to institute a democratic process: We say loud and clear that the military solution is not our first choice. But we must also understand that our arsenal of peaceful solutions is not inexhaustible. Enough is enough. (…) We therefore call for a general mobilization to get rid of this criminal power.”[50][51] The party's membership is mostly Hutu, and is almost entirely based abroad – particularly in Belgium and the United States.[52]

In January 2016, Rusesabagina announced his intent to run for President of Rwanda.[53]

Controversy[edit]

Backlash against Hotel Rwanda[edit]

While it has received widespread acclaim in both the United States and the Western world, Hotel Rwanda and Rusesabagina’s role during the Genocide have both been subjects of significant controversy elsewhere, particularly in Rwanda.

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.[54] The authors conducted interviews with 74 people who had stayed in the Hotel during the Genocide. Their accounts provide an alternative take to the portrayal of Rusesabagina's actions as seen in the film Hotel Rwanda: many of the survivors criticise Rusesabagina in their interviews.

This was followed by the 2011 publication of Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story … And Why it Matters Today, co-written by Hotel des Mille Collines Survivor Edouard Kayihura and American writer Kerry Zukus.[55]

Both books are immensely critical of Rusesabagina, alleging that he forced refugees to pay for their rooms and all of the food which was given to them, he cut off communication lines to the hotel which were located outside his own office, he was a prominent member of Hutu Power politics, and he handed a list of refugees over to Interahamwe forces and broadcasters at the RTLM, among other things.[56][57][58] Odette Nyiramilimo, a prominent survivor who became a senator in the new government, has openly testified that Rusesabagina was a friend, who helped save her and her family – “because of him, I am here”, she said. She has also denied claims that he threatened to evict refugees who were unable to pay their bills.[59]

UN Peacekeepers who were present at the Hotel des Mille Collines during the genocide have also been critical. At a conference in 2014, General Romeo Dallaire, who led the UNAMIR mission, said that the film was “not worth looking at”, adding: “I would like you to acknowledge the role played by those UNAMIR troops who stayed in Rwanda, including the troops from Congo-Brazzaville who were the ones who saved the people at the Hotel Mille Collines – not the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina”.[60] Captain Amadou Deme, who was also a part of the UNAMIR mission and heavily involved with events at the Hotel, said “I can testify that I personally was not able to watch that movie beyond a point as I found it so repulsive for its untruthfulness”.[61][62]

Inflammatory remarks[edit]

In his efforts to criticise the current government and Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina has publicly made many highly controversial and inflammatory remarks, and has been accused of propagating “genocide denial”, the “double Genocide” theory, and “revisionism” by Rwandan critics, and of supporting armed rebel groups.[63][64]

In his 2006 autobiography, Rusesabagina alleged: "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””.[24]

In 2007, in an interview with American journalist Keith Harmon Snow, Rusesabagina blamed the 1994 genocide on the RPF, claiming that Interahamwe leaders, including Robert Kaguja, were working for Paul Kagame, who had ordered them to begin the genocide.[65] He also claimed that the RPF shot down Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane, a theory later ruled out by a ballistics report, and that the killings committed by the RPF rebels during the conflict constituted genocide.[66][67] The historian Gérard Prunier agrees that the RPF committed "horrendous crimes", but he rejects the notion of a "double genocide", which he argues "does not stand up to serious inquiry".[68]

In an open letter to President Bill Clinton in 2012, Rusesabagina warned against the Clinton Foundation’s support for Kagame.[69] In this letter, he made claims that Rwandan nurses were being ordered to kill by the government. He said that one nurse was “ordered to give tainted vaccines to prisoners, Hutus and other enemies of the Kagame administration” and to “control population growth among undesirable populations by causing birth and surgical complications".[69] For example, during C-sections, nurses were to place metal objects such as scissors into the abdomen before closing the wound to cause infections and death".[69] These claims have not been supported by any evidence.

His comments have attracted strong criticism in Rwanda. On 6 April 2006, Kagame suggested, "[Rusesabagina] should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it's totally false".[70] 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."[71] Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, characterized the comment as part of a smear campaign.[72]

Rusesabagina stated in a public lecture at the University of Michigan on 27 March 2014, that he has chosen to forgive Kagame, as this is the only way that Rwanda can move past the genocide. He has, however, remained a strong opponent of Kagame: in 2018, he called the RPF an "enemy of the Rwandan people", before encouraging the FLN, the armed youth wing of his MRCD political coalition, to use "any means possible" to bring about change.[73][59]

FDLR[edit]

Rusesabagina has consistently denied allegations put forward by the Rwandan government accusing Rusesabagina of helping the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu Power rebel group, which has been condemned by the UN Security Council for “serious violations of international law involving the targeting of women and children”.[74] In an open letter to the UN, he equated the FDLR to the RPF, and cast them as “bona fide refugees” who had been “collectively demonized".[75] 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".[76] Text messages intercepted by German intelligence, between Rusesabagina and the FDLR's former leader, Ignace Murwanashyaka, came to light during Murwanashyaka's trial in 2011.[59] Further evidence of his involvement is expected to be presented in his upcoming trial.

FLN[edit]

The armed wing of Paul Rusesabagina's PDR-Ihumure and MRCD political parties, the FLN, was accused of terror attacks in South-West Rwanda in 2018.[17] Rusesabagina has publicly expressed his support for their "liberation struggle" in a widely disseminated video online.[73] In a Voice of America Kinyarwanda interview in 2018, when asked if FLN rebels were in the Nyungwe forest, near where the attacks took place, Rusesabagina responded: "We are angry. We did not enter it to abandon it, we are there to demand our rights as Rwandan natives".[59] After his arrest, he admitted that he had founded the FLN "as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group ... I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy".[77] He has denied any wrongdoing.

Arrest and trial[edit]

On 31 August 2020, Rusesabagina was arrested for charges of terrorism, arson, kidnap and "murder perpetrated against unarmed, innocent Rwandan civilians on Rwandan territory".[78] The charges refer to terrorist attacks that took place in the south of Rwanda, near the Burundi border, in 2018. At least 9 people were killed in these attacks, including two children.[17] According to a Twitter post by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), he was arrested in Kigali on an international warrant and is "the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits", including the FLN, MRCD and PDR-Ihumure.[citation needed]

His arrest has divided public opinion. Critics, including Rusesabagina's adopted daughter Carine Kanimba have protested against his arrest. Kanimba claimed: "What they're accusing him of is all made up. There is no evidence to what they're claiming...We know this is a wrongful arrest".[79] Rusesabagina's lawyers have argued that the arrest was motivated by Rusesabagina's outspoken criticism of the Rwandan government, in line with other arrests and disappearances of dissidents under the presidency of Paul Kagame.[80][81][82][83] They have also argued that his flight to Rwanda was illegal under international law and constitutes extraordinary rendition.[84] The Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye, admitted in February 2021 that the Rwandan government had paid for the private jet that brought Rusesabagina to Kigali on an interview with Marc Lamont Hill on Al Jazeera.[85][86]

The European Union criticised the arrest in February 2021 by adopting a resolution (2021/2543(RSP)) condemning the arrest.[87]

The Rwandan parliament criticised the EU resolution, saying that it gave an "unrealistic and baseless characterisation" of his arrest.[88] Some academics, including Michael Rubin and Phil Clark, have criticised Rusesabagina, arguing that his story has been mischaracterised by Hollywood, and he should stand trial to face the accusations of terrorism made against him.[89][90][91] Various media outlets in Rwanda, including The New Times have accused him of genocide denial.[92]

Rusesabagina, a permanent resident of the United States who has not lived in Rwanda since an assassination attempt was made on him in 1996,[1][93] had gone on a trip to Dubai shortly before being arrested.[79] In a jailhouse interview with The New York Times, Rusesabagina stated that in Dubai, he boarded a private plane that he thought was bound for Burundi, where he planned to speak at the invitation of a Christian pastor; instead, the plane took him to Kigali.[94]

In October 2020, the Rwandan Prosecution Authority announced that it would try Rusesabagina along with 16 alleged rebels.[95] His trial was initially scheduled for the 26 January 2021, but was postponed due to ongoing complications with the Covid-19 situation in Kigali.[96] His trial, alongside 20 co-defendants, began on 17 February 2021.[97] Rusesabagina told the court that he did not have Rwandan citizenship, so he could not face trial in Rwanda.[98][99] Another defendant, FLN spokesperson Callixte Nsabimana, seemed to be shocked by these comments, testifying that Rusesabagina "had ambitions to become the president of Rwanda. Now how do you have such ambitions when you're not Rwandan? We waged war on Rwanda, and failed and were captured. It is embarrassing for him to now claim that he is not Rwandan."[100][98]

Following a hearing held on 12 March 2021, Rusesabagina stated his intention to no longer engage in the court process due to his belief that justice would not be achieved, and accusing the court of not respecting his rights to a fair trial. Rusesabagina did not attend subsequent hearings, with the presiding judge Antoine Muhima ruling that the trial would continue.[101][102] In July 2021, the court announced that the verdict of the trial would be announced on 20 August 2021.[103]

Awards received[edit]

Media[edit]

Books[edit]

Rusesabagina's 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 An Ordinary Man (written with Tom Zoellner ISBN 0-670-03752-4) was published by Zach Bell in April 2006.[108]

Since the release of Hotel Rwanda in 2004, and the publication of An Ordinary Man, two other major books have been published about the Hotel des Milles Collines during the Rwandan Genocide and Rusesabagina's purported role. In 2008, Alfred Ndahiro - a close advisor to Paul Kagame - and Rwandan scholar Privat Rutazibwa wrote Hotel Rwanda: Or the Tutsi Genocide as Seen by Hollwood (ISBN 2-296-05046-8). In 2014, genocide survivor Edouard Kayihura, who hid in the Hotel during the 100 days of genocide, wrote Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story ... and Why It Matters Today (written with Kerry Zukus ISBN 1-937-85673-9). Both have been critical of Rusesabagina.[109][110]

Film[edit]

Rusesabagina's work during the genocide is dramatized in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, he is portrayed by Don Cheadle.[111] Cheadle's performance was met with critical acclaim and the actor was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  39. ^ Ndahiro and Rutazibwa (2008), p. 59.
  40. ^ Rusesabagina (2009), p188.
  41. ^ Rusesabagina (2009), p238.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Interview with Paul and Tatiana Rusesabagina in the Belgian magazine HUMO, nr. 3365, 1 March 2005.
  • Hotel Rwanda: A Lesson Yet to be Learned – talk (part of the Presidential Events series) at Eckerd College on 23 February 2006.
  • Rusesabagina on Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide – Gariwo
  • Shake Hands With The Devil - Gen Romeo Dallaire (Canada)
  • George, Terry. "Smearing a Hero." The Washington Post. Wednesday 10 May 2006.
  • Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story and Why It Matters Today. Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2014.

External links[edit]