The New York Times’ apology of terrorism

Until lions learn how to write, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’, an African saying goes.

It is not uncommon for the West to manufacture a hero for Africans. When they do, they pick a simple mind, ‘an ordinary man’; teach him to speak English, French, suit him up, prize him up, and return him to his people an extraordinary man: ‘Behold your hero: You must worship him!’ 

 

Paul Rusesabagina was such a ‘hero’ made in Hollywood, who mixed up fiction and reality and mistakenly delivered himself to his enemies at the end of the film. Oops! You should watch it, it’s a classic! 

 

Since the ending hadn’t gone according to script, the New York Times sent its correspondent to Kigali to try and salvage the millions of dollars of Hollywood production and postproduction. 

 

The correspondent Abdi Latif Dahir, an African based in the region, came over to interview Paul Rusesabagina. He was granted full access with his camera crew. The New York Times was the first international newspaper to be granted an exclusive with the suspected terrorist.

Rusesabagina had earlier been interviewed by the East African newspaper, which inquired on his detention conditions. The East African described his diet, bed, mosquito net and office desk. A friend who read the article thought it was an Airbnb review. For a man being detained on terror charges, Rusesabagina was being given special favours, including to speak to journalists. 

Abdi Latif too seemed impressed by these conditions and published a brief report. After he had done his work, four ‘sofa journalists’ based in New York, Cairo, Brussels and Athens, who weren’t there, probably haven’t been to Rwanda in ages, took Latif’s story and drowned it in their usual cesspool of prejudice and deceit. In a ten-page fiction, displaying white privilege with Latif in the role of the token black friend, they proceed to list accolades and celebrations gained by Rusesabagina, following his Hollywood fame.

The Rwandan context on the one hand and the description of the hero character were drawn from Hollywood fiction. Children of the accused are quoted as credible sources for his innocence, while a Hollywood fiction writer, Terry George attests to his heroism. 

In contrast, readers were treated to the soviet-era gulag in which we Rwandans live, under a tyrannical despot, Paul Kagame, one whom hero Rusesabagina was trying to oust. In fact , “the hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ fell into a vengeful strongman’s trap” – the title of the article reads.

But the New York Times had to admit that their hero had founded an armed group which launched attacks on Rwandan soil, torching passenger buses and killing civilians. 

Oh that? That’s merely a reaction to the ‘lack political space in Rwanda’; essentially, his violent actions are to be blamed on the Rwandan leadership. It’s madness. 

The paper effectively made an apology of terror, either because the victims were black, or because Hollywood fiction is more important than Rwandan lives.

In the ten-page essay, only two lines are reserved to a single one of Rusesabagina’s victims, a widow, Josephine Mukashyaka whose husband was killed by the FNL armed group. 

While Rusesabagina himself claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in international media and in a video publicized last Christmas on the website of his terror organization, the New York Times implies that these are other accusations levelled by ‘the vengeful Rwandan government’, in fact, the article pursues, ‘From jail, he (Rusesabagina) said he did not recall making such a video.’

More such lies are told, with facts being twisted as government’s allegations: “A government official published a book that purported to tell Hotel Rwanda’s ‘real story.” Like almost everything else, this too is entirely misleading. The book was co-authored by an American, Kerry Zukus and a Rwandan Edouard Kayihura. 

I spoke to Mr. Kayihura, he worked for the government only briefly after the genocide, then went on to study in America before joining the United Nations where he works in Central African Republic, to date. When I wrote the book, I had left the government. But I am used to that lie, from people who support him (Rusesabagina)’, Kayihura told me. To keep the story entertaining, the several lectures by the American author Mr. Terry Zukus exposing Rusesabagina’s imposture are ignored.

“The Rwandan government intensified its campaign against Rusesabagina”, the New York Times declares. “In 2007, Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States accused Mr. Rusesabagina of financing rebel groups in eastern Congo.” This too is misleading: the Rwandan ambassador was quoting America’s Federal Bureau for Investigation (FBI), which had uncovered wire transfers from Rusesabagina to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. 

The FDLR is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. It is led by genocide perpetrators on the run in eastern Congo’s forests.

The article goes on to refer to Rusesabagina’s Belgian citizenship, his Hollywood stardom and medal of freedom bestowed by American president George Bush Jr., as excuses to shield him from accountability on terror acts committed in Rwanda. 

None of these reasons is actually relevant, it is not his citizenship that is on trial, it is his actions.

Of course, the article reminds that, ‘a former Rwandan spy chief and critic of Mr. Kagame who was found strangled in a South African hotel room in 2014, is a signal of ‘how far the president was prepared to go to quash dissent.’ 

Seven years in, no evidence has been brought forth supporting those allegations. In January 2019, South African magistrate Jeremiah Matopa finally struck Karegeya’s case from the roll, citing missing documents and outstanding evidence. 

We haven’t heard from the case ever since, but western media has handed its own ruling in the murder of the spy in Johannesburg, one of the most dangerous cities in the world: To them, Rwanda was behind it.

Even then, how does a spy chief become a legitimate dissenting opinion? Before his death, which opinions did he air and where? Rusesabagina too publicly confesses to starting a rebel group that attacks and kills people, and that’s considered a dissenting opinion by the New York Times.

There is a lot of ‘Kagame here’, ‘Kagame there’ in the New York Times article. From where we stand as Rwandans, is tiresome when western media single out our president as the sole target of Rwandan enemies and therefore the sole protagonist in holding them accountable. 

Rusesabagina’s FNL didn’t kill Kagame’s relatives in south-western Rwanda, it killed Rwandans. Rusesabagina has a problem with each one of us, which is why we all rejoiced when he was arrested. 

Rusesabagina is delusional if he fancied himself a Kagame’s enemy – no doubt his sponsors deceived him to believe that. One is an African and global statesman who stopped the genocide and the other is an opportunistic cook who was chosen for a part, precisely for his lack of grasp for reality, but always remained an impostor - which is why he is detained with petty thieves and city delinquents, and it has begun to dawn on him more clearly after they shaved his head and gave him a pink uniform: short pants and a short sleeves shirt in nylon fabric: his new outfit, hopefully, for the rest of his life.

‘Rusesabagina was not free to speak to us’, the New York Times regrets, ‘there were policemen in the room’ But what did they expect? A chat in a Hotel Rwanda suite with room service? 

In which prison does an inmate speak to third parties without the presence of guards? Rusesabagina’s lawyers - whom I spoke to, confirmed that they get to speak to their client on camera at their convenience. 

A favour not extended to journalists and any other third party, whether from New York, Hollywood or Nyamasheke in rural Rwanda, where Rusesa’s rebels killed innocent civilians.

He may be a hero in the west, Paul Rusesabagina is known in Rwanda as a member of MDR-Power, a Hutu extremist movement of the early nineties, which sensitized citizens to commit genocide against the Tutsi. 

Genocide survivors at Hotel Rwanda remember him as the man who racketed and blackmailed those who didn’t pay him and threatened to deliver them to killers just outside the gates. 

This is why he fled Rwanda in 1996 before the Gacaca courts were initiated, for he knew he would be held accountable after the genocide.

I struggled to read the New York Times article to the end, I only did as a duty to respond. I felt for Americans who had to, there was almost nothing factual in it. 

I thought the American newspaper had no respect for its readers, it thinks of them as dunce blinkers to whom thinking is a burden, and chews information and spits it into their brains like a bird feeding its babies.

A few days after the New York Times had published the article whitewashing the Hollywood hero, Rusesabagina admitted in court what we already knew; that he formed a violent rebel movement. Immediately, western headlines started to change: from HERO, to ‘hero’ and soon, zero. 

All did, except the New York Times, who’s poor African correspondent Abdi Latif is so embarrassed for having unwittingly partaken in the mascaraed, that he has been reporting reality on his twitter account to placate his own conscience. 

That’s who needs placating, we in Rwanda are used to their bias. Which is why we do what we must and let them shout. No love lost. 

Rusesabagina’s movie got me thinking of the ending scene in another Hollywood fiction: ‘Tropical thunder’ with a twist: Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), the all-powerful producer after making endless threats to the ‘Flaming Dragons’ or whatever their name was, lands his helicopter in their barracks in the middle of the jungle.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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