Driven by an unseen force, mild-mannered Rwandan, Paul Rusesabagina, became a living legend when he negotiated with the Devil.
“I was but a young boy when a group of strangers walked into the courtyard at my home in Nkomero, a small Rwandan village,” Paul Rusesabagina told. “They had fled Kigali, the capital, where Hutus were hounding Tutsis. My parents offered them shelter then later we joined them outside, sleeping in the courtyard. I recall my father saying it was safest outside as when the Hutus come to burn down our house, we will not cook inside.”
Rusesabagina looked to the distance recalling the memory. “That was in 1959, during the Hutu Revolution. Tens of thousands died in that conflict, and even more fled across the borders.”
“Thirty-five years later they returned to seek vengeance and history repeated itself, in reverse.”
In his role as hotel manager, Rusesabagina knew how to keep Rwanda’s military brass happy (and in his pocket). These business chips became his salvation when in 1994 Rwanda plummeted into genocide. In an act of self-sacrifice of the rarest kind, this former seminary student turned his hotel into a shelter for more than 1,200 of his countrymen; a harrowing event which inspired the Academy Award-nominated film ‘Hotel Rwanda’.
FAREWELL MY BROTHER
“My family and I had just returned to Kigali from a vacation when, less than a week later, the killing began. I was enjoying the company of my brother-in-law and his wife when Tatiana, my wife, called telling of a mortar attack and urged me to return home. My relatives and I parted company in the car park, where we shook hands – this was the last time I would ever see them as they were killed and their bodies were never found, but months later their two babies became mine.”
His story is a long and bitter one that describes how he managed to alert people and institutions of influence in the west, apprising them of the happenings in Rwanda.
THE FACE OF EVIL
“Soon United Nations troops arrived and Rusesabagina mistakenly believed they would be rescued. His exhilaration turned to alarm when he and his hotel of refugees understood that the peacekeepers had not shown up to defend them or bring stability, but to evacuate the tourists. At which point Rusesabagina comprehend how insignificant, powerless and absolutely alone they were,” he swallowed hard.
“I began cashing in on every favour my street smarts had earned me by buying off generals and murderous militia, ensuring they remained outside the hotel gates during the massacre. I negotiated and charmed the devil. I bribed and pleaded with evil and came to a deal. Several times my life was threatened but I could not show weakness.”
A shadow fell across his face. “I saw the dark side of human nature,” he stated, “like a cobra waiting in the tall grass, ready to attack at any time.” He considered this statement, nodding knowingly at a personal thought then added, “but I also learnt that one person can make a difference.”
“Why did you risk your life to do this?” I asked.
“I did not make the decision – God was the one who decided for me.” He paused for reflection. “If I did not do His will I knew I could never be a man again, I could never sleep another night, I could never be alone with my conscience.”
KILLING BECAME A DUTY
“The international community was silent whilst Rwandans were being hacked to death by the militia,” he said. “And they are again closing their eyes. This time it’s the Sudanese militia.”
According to the United Nations hundreds of thousands have died in the Darfur conflict and near 2-million people have been displaced.
“International ignorance of Africa continues”, Rusesabagina continued. “What is happening in the African continent is a disaster,” he continued describing current violence in the Sudan.
Rusesabagina shook his head in dismay, recalling how international leaders abandoned him and Rwanda during the 1994 genocide that brutally claimed the lives of nearly one million people in 100 days.
“That’s more than fifteen percent of my nation.” His voice faltered. “If the same percentage of Americans were systematically slaughtered, that would equate to 40-million people.”
“Has the UN failed in terms of its peace keeping missions in Africa?” I asked.
“I have lost hope in the United Nations. Their soldiers are powerless. All they can do is observe and report on what they see.”
“Consider this for a moment: when Security Council members eventually agree to intervene and send an army they will need to seek soldiers from donor countries, which usually represent’s small numbers. At the end of the process they’ll source a few thousand soldiers coming from ten or twelve countries, speaking ten or twelve languages, who have never trained together. How can you command such an army?”
“History had repeated itself but without teaching us any lessons,” he announced.
“After the Jewish holocaust, Armenian genocide, Cambodia, Serbia, the Congo, Rwanda, western-world leader vowed ‘never again’. But it keeps happening; and the international community chose to look away.”
“What happened in Rwanda is the blue-print of Darfur’s crisis. The Sudanese government has destroyed more than 3,000 villages in Darfur, even burning plantations and poisoning water wells. About 250,000 refugees had crossed the border and are living in the Sahara desert with no shelter.” He wiped at his eyes with a handkerchief and shook his head in dismay.
“People in Africa have been forgotten, left without food, shelter or hope. They are being killed like flies and nobody cares.” Rusesabagina was outraged.
“Is this not a shame on mankind?”
AN UNLIKELY HERO
“I went into exile and became a humanitarian,” said the softly-spoken businessman, who remains somewhat indifferent about his selfless acts of heroism.
“Africa’s true hero is Nelson Mandela. He is my model. His is Africa’s rock. Me, I’m but a grain of sand.”
“I often draw on the inspiration Mr Mandela provides me, and I frequently recall how the whole world demonstrated against apartheid, and now apartheid is gone. Therefore I will always believe in the power of words, and the awareness they raise. We need to ask our leaders to send these warlords a sign that they are not untouchable, that they are not above rules, regulations and laws, they are human beings like us that will face justice one day.”