I have recently seen a most extraordinary document from Paul Rusesabagina, the non-Schindler of the Genocide of Rwandan Batutsi. In it, Rusesabagina rails against Genocide survivors, those who stopped the Genocide (RPF), Human Rights Activists involved in documenting it like African Rights’ Rakiya Omar, and others too numerous to list. A most extraordinary document indeed.
Those who have doubted my assertion in this column that Paul Rusesabagina is no Oskar Schindler only need to read this document. It drips with venom, barely disguised hate, and a deep and enduring distaste of the survivors of Genocide and their organisation Ibuka – yet these are the same people he has been recognised for allegedly saving. He calls them puppet survivors, cowards, and their organisations shady. Incredible.
I will not comment on his assertion that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is jealous of Rusesabagina’s success. The claim is too ridiculous to be dignified with a response and I hope the President never responds.
Just consider the facts though. Paul Kagame led the forces that stopped the Genocide, through grit, determination, personal sacrifice, sweat and blood. Paul Rusesabagina gained fame and/ or notoriety through a glib tongue that misled Hollywood to declare him a hero. The one’s reputation is anchored in solid achievements, the other in the glitter of fiction. One has received the gratitude of the survivors of the Genocide; the other suffers their incandescent wrath for turning their suffering into personal gain. One is determined that the survivors fully recover their humanity, that the innocent dead are remembered in dignity; the other has established a foundation whose directors are all members of his immediate family, and which has not benefited a single survivor. One travels the world explaining the Rwandan tragedy and mobilising support for the country’s recovery, with no personal gain; the other charges people money to hear him speak. One has led Rwanda’s extraordinary post-genocide recovery; the other has invested heavily in his personal financial recovery. One promotes national unity and national reconciliation; the other is determined to return Rwanda to the ethnic and ethnicised politics of yesteryear. One lives in Rwanda and shares the hardship of his people; the other has chosen the comfort of Europe. Indeed, the only thing the two men have in common is their first name!
Paul Rusesabagina is incandescent with rage but has only himself to blame. Those he claims to have saved bitterly contest his version of events. The perpetrators of the Genocide including Valerie Bemeriki, Amri Karekezi and Gregoire Nyirimanzi testify that he worked with them, and was only thwarted by the fact that the hotel whose management he usurped during the Genocide was under United Nations protection and the inmates important to the Genocidal government for anticipated negotiations with the RPF. In one of the most revealing sentences of his reply to this charge, Rusesabagina writes that the Genocide suspects are "held hostage in prison". Therein lies the Rusesabagina paradox. This is a man who has risen to prominence for allegedly saving people during the Genocide, but who now is at the forefront of the revisionist/ negationist agenda. Where a suspect of Genocide is on trial, there you will find Paul Rusesabagina as a witness for the defence. In his lectures and publications, he does not see those who committed the Genocide as criminals; they are hostages – and by extrapolation, those who have arrested them are hostage takers and thus criminals. No wonder then that he has filed a case against Paul Kagame and the RPF at the ICTR in Arusha and has not filed a single case against those who committed the Genocide of the Batutsi in 1994. What farce!
Were it not so tragic, the Rusesabagina saga would be comically hilarious. He informs us he has set up the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation! Indeed. Rusesabagina knows, and so do we, that there has never been a Hotel in Rwanda called Hotel Rwanda. His foundation is therefore based on Hollywood fiction, on an outright lie. The man walks a very fine line between fact and fiction, between falsehoods and the truth. We in Rwanda know that the altruism of his foundation is as fictitious as its name. I have, in the past, dared him to mention a single survivors’ association his foundation has supported. I repeat the dare. I know he cannot, because, by his own account, survivors’ associations like Ibuka are puppets, shady, cowardly, and gatherings of Tutsi extremists. Tutsi extremists Paul? Were you a Schindler, you would not dare attach this derogatory label to those who survived in extremis.
I would have expected Rusesabagina to respond to the documented charge that during the Genocide and before, he was employed by the intelligence services of the Genocidal regime. Alfred Ndahiro and Privat Rutazibwa in their recent book have provided documentary evidence to this effect. It is serious enough not to be wished away, the putative origins and professions of the authors notwithstanding. I had hoped to hear Rusesabagina explain what he did with the money he charged the people who took refuge at the Milles Collines Hotel in 1994; monies he collected despite the documented explicit instructions from the Belgian owners of the Hotel not to. I expected a response to the grave charge from the survivors of Genocide that he deliberately prevented them from raising the alarm to the outside world by cutting off the telephone and fax lines except the one line he kept for himself at the Hotel. After all, the fiction we all have been fed is that Rusesabagina singly saved 1200 people at the Hotel using a single fax line (and a lot of whisky). I had hoped for an explanation as to why not a single one of those who took refuge at the Hotel Milles Collines those dark days of April 1994 agrees with the version of events portrayed by the movie Hotel Rwanda. If his version of events is true, why are there no "Rusesabagina Tutsis" the way there were "Schindler Jews," even in Oskar Schindler’s years of obscurity? Rusesabagina claims those survivors of Genocide in Rwanda who contest his narrative do so out of fear of the current Rwandan Government. Why are there no survivors of Genocide in Europe, the USA, Asia, and elsewhere who do agree with him? Mr. Rusesabagina, why do Yolande Mukagasana and Tatien Ndorimana so vehemently disagree with you? One of them was the Chairman of the Hotel Milles Collines self-help association during those dark days of 1994. I have been terribly disappointed that Paul Rusesabagina has simply chosen to besmirch those who raise questions about his role during the Genocide and his activities today, instead of answering them.
I have said in the past, that Hotel Rwanda the fiction reminds me of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero. I then reconsidered my judgment given the seriousness of the story line and compared it to Roberto Benigni’s Life is beautiful – La Vita e belle, without the comedy. Rusesabagina’s recent reply to his critics has now convinced me he is playing Last Action Hero, the tragi-comic version.
Terry George has said Hotel Rwanda the sequel is not a movie he would like to make. I think he should, just to undo the harm he has caused by the original Hotel Rwanda. As for Paul Rusesabagina, I invite him to respond to the serious questions raised by the people he claims he saved from death. Until he convincingly does, his credibility is in tatters in my mind.
Thank you Alfred Ndahiro and Privat Rutazibwa for opening our eyes to what is probably the greatest fraud in Rwanda’s recent history. Life has stolen too much from the survivors of Genocide, many of who describe themselves, as Yolande Mukagasana has, as the living dead. They do not deserve Paul Rusesabagina’s sullying of the memories of their departed, or their history. A foundation named Hotel Rwanda is in bad taste. Fourteen years after Genocide, Rusesabagina the Genocide hero is in terrible taste.