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Paul Rusesabagina’s Heroic Acts Inspire Oscar Nominated Film, “Hotel Rwanda”

In 100 days, a total of one million Rwandans lay dead after Hutus rampaged through the streets and attacked the Tutsis, resulting in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, risked his own life to shelter over 1,200 Tutsi and Hutu refugees from violence in the Hotel des Mille Collines.

Last Friday, Rusesabagina, who inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” led the Andover community through his experiences during the genocide.

“Many people came to me saying, ‘[The Hutu army] will kill you,’ and I said, ‘Okay, but before they kill me, let me do another small thing.’ And [I] kept going, doing small things, and today, I’m still living. All of these years I’ve been living since 1994 are years of bonus,” he said.

The army attacked Hotel des Mille Collines many times during the genocide, demanding that Rusesabagina turn over the Tutsi refugees staying at the hotel.

“I opened the door [of my house] and went to [the soldiers]. How do you open up a discussion with such people? You know that these are soldiers, you know that they are killing your neighbors and killing people all over the country,” said Rusesabagina.

After two hours of negotiation, the Hutu soldiers finally agreed to leave the refugees alone for a bribe. None of the 1,200 refugees sheltered at the hotel were killed or beaten, said Rusesabagina.

“That day, I had learned one of the most important lessons that I have ever learned throughout my whole life. I learned how to deal with evil,” he said.

Although refugees at the hotel urged Rusesabagina to evacuate the hotel with his family, Rusesabagina decided to stay.

“I made a decision to listen to my own conscience. All the [refugees] were telling me that they were going to jump off [the roof of the hotel] once the army took over the hotel. So I said, ‘Listen my friends, I am not leaving tomorrow,’” he said.

Rusesabagina said that the international community failed to respond appropriately to the killings in Rwanda.

“You go through a genocide, a situation whereby, according to the Rwandan government, over a million people were killed. This was more than 15 percent of the Rwandan population. Try to be in my position. During the genocide, I was calling the whole world, urging them to get involved. And everybody was avoiding me from the beginning to the end. What will be your attitude towards the international community?” he said.

“The [United Nation soldiers] were not making peace, they were not keeping peace; they were just observing and reporting,” he continued.

Rusesabagina said he was very satisfied with the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” which he directly helped to produce. He travelled with the screenwriter to Johannesburg, South Africa, to gather testimonies from survivors of the genocide and personally worked with Don Cheadle, the actor who portrays him in the movie.

However, Rusesabagina never left Rwanda, as the film suggests. He was eventually evacuated to a town about 25 kilometers away from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. After just two weeks, he returned to the Hotel des Mille Collines and started to clean the hotel.

After the Rwandan genocide, Rusesabagina continued to support victims of genocide. In 2005, Rusesabagina established the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF) and devoted his career to promoting peace in Rwanda and the surrounding region, according to the HRRF website.

The situation in Rwanda and other African countries has not improved much from 20 years ago. Corrupt militia still control the region, said Rusesabagina.

“[It] is our mission to actually be the voice of those people in Africa who cannot talk for themselves, who do not have any platform, who don’t have any chance to tell their stories… to talk about how tortured they have been, how many women in terms of millions and men have been killed… So I have a lot to do, and I’m always busy travelling the world advocating,” he said in an interview with The Phillipian.

Rusesabagina’s visit, hosted by the African Student Union (ASU), was made possible by an Abbot Grant.

“Genocide in Africa is often times generalized and seen as a distant atrocity. Rusesabagina really personalizes it. He had a message for the community, a message that I think a lot of American students were unaware of,” said Laura Bucklin ’14, Co-President of ASU.