Paul Rusesabagina’s story was adapted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, along with the events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His humanitarian efforts during the 1994 Rwandan genocide preserved the lives of 1,268 refugees during the 100 days of mass killings that took 800,000 Rwandan lives.
In 1994, Rusesabagina was the general manager at a hotel in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where he lived with his wife and children. He is of Hutu descent, his wife, Tutsi. The two major ethnic groups of Rwanda, Hutus are the largest group and Tutsis had been put in a place of power by the colonizing Belgians until 1959. On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan president, who was Hutu, was assassinated when his plane was shot down, setting spark to an ethnic tension that was already on edge.
Following the assassination, Hutu government officials collectively organized military squads to exterminate Tutsis, whom they maligned through propaganda claiming Tutsis were a plague to their nation and would cause its downfall. When Rusesabagina was unable to secure protection for himself and his family from the international peacekeepers, who completely underestimated the violence and terror involved, he moved them to the Hotel des Milles Collines, an international hotel that he hoped would provide a safe haven.
The hotel’s managers gradually evacuated as violence increased, leaving Rusesabagina to act as General Manager of the Milles Collines. With difficulty, he convinced staff to heed his authority as he took in refugees and orphans. He had no weapons, their only defense was the hotel’s international status and mattresses set against windows to protect from grenades and gunfire.
The Hutu militia announced an ensuing attack on the Milles Collines, a special target was Rusesabagina’s wife, Tatianna, who is Tutsi. She and their children were able to desperately steal away to the airport while Rusesabagina remained at the Hotel, a decision that came down to Rusesabagina’s belief that “so far I'm the only person who can negotiate with the killers.” To ward off the Hutu militia, Rusesabaginia frantically called upon figures abroad, who influenced the Rwandan National Police to call off the siege. Rusesabagina protected the hotel and its inhabitants until the Tutsi rebels forced Hutus out of Rwanda. He then transported Tutsi orphans to safety in Tanzania, away from the ethnic tension in Rwanda.
While other Hutus were killing neighbors, even spouses, Rusesabagina explains his resistance in true form with little pomp and due directness: “This is why I say that the individual's most potent weapon is a stubborn belief in the triumph of common decency.”
Copyright © 2006 Richard Lowkes under Creative Commons license