Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

March 27, 2013

The real Hotel Rwanda

TAHLEQUAH — On April 6, 1994, Paul Rusesabagina let his conscience be his guide. He made a tough decision and saved thousands of lives amid the slaughter of millions.

Rusesabagina gained international fame through the film “Hotel Rwanda,” which was based on the actions he took as a hotel manager during the Rwandan Civil War. Tuesday night, he was the featured speaker at the Larry Adair Lectureship series at Northeastern State University.

The Rwandan Civil War, virtually ignored by the outside world, was sparked when the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down on approach to the Rwandan capital of Kigali on April 6, 1994. Over the next 100 days, Hutu militias, or Interahamwe, killed about 800,000 Tutsis, political opponents and “moderate” Hutus.

Rusesabagina said he would never forget the night the plane was shot down.

“My wife had finished work and had left the hotel, but I was there celebrating with my brother and his wife,” he said. “My [sister-in-law] had just completed her degree and got a job, and we were celebrating, having dinner.”

Rusesabagina’s wife called, saying she’d heard some horrible noises coming from the airport near their home, and to come home immediately. He said goodbye to his brother and sister-in-law and hugged them, not knowing he would never see them again. They were killed on their way home.

“We saw the genocide coming years before that night,” he said. “We had already left Rwanda once, and only returned because the United Nations had come in, and we thought we were safe. But once I got home that night, [my boss] called to tell me the president had been killed and I needed to come back to the hotel.”

Rusesabagina said that was the beginning of the massacre that would last three months. Many of his neighbors sought asylum in his home, and at the end of the first day, he had over 26 guests. By April 9, that number had grown, and Rusesabagina thought it best to try and move the people to the hotel.

“We saw soldiers climbing the gates,” he said. “I decided to open a dialogue, and asked them why they were climbing the gates when I would have come had they rung the bell. I always believe that words are the best and worst weapons in human being’s arsenal.”

According to Rusesabagina, the Hutu soldiers were there to transport him back to the hotel, as it was now occupied by the new government and they needed supplies. He expressed concern for the 34 people in his home, and asked to bring them along.

“And the soldier was so nice, saying ‘Of course, bring them with you,’” said Rusesabagina. “But once we got out on the road, they pulled all the cars over, and one told me, ‘Look, you traitor, you’re lucky I don’t kill you today, because we need you. But we’re going to kill all the other cockroaches.’ See, they were already dehumanizing people so they could kill them.”

Again, Rusesabagina used his bargaining skills and convinced the soldiers to allow him to transport his “guests” to the hotel.

“By April 19, I was eye to eye with the devil, and again we came up with a compromise,” he said.

Once he arrived at the hotel, he set to work calling every contact he knew that could be helpful in getting them out of the situation, to no avail. Eventually, food and water became scarce, and he had to ration items to the people staying in the hotel.

“The water in the pool was more precious than gold and diamonds,” he said. “I continued calling people at the state department, the European Union, the Peace Corps, everyone I knew.”

Over the next few weeks, Rusesabagina would encounter more violence, soldiers and generals, and continually employed his bargaining skills to buy time for the refugees.

On June 17, 1994, Rusesabagina struck a bargain with a general from the national army, and managed to get everyone out of the hotel to safety.

Called “Africa’s Oskar Schindler” by some, Rusesabagina used his leverage and contacts as a hotel manager in Kigali to shelter 1,268 Tutsi refugees during the genocide.

Rusesabagina, son of a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, and husband of a Tutsi, has not lived in Rwanda since he and his family escaped in 1996. He lives in Brussels and is critical of the Tutsi-dominated government of Rwanda, claiming it is not truly inclusive of all Tutsis and Hutus, that elections are not free and fair.

Today, Rusesabagina is president of the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, which works to prevent future inter-ethnic conflict by promoting reconciliation in Rwanda and Africa’s Great Lakes region.

During the question-and-answer session, Rusesabagina was asked if the U.N. presence made the situation in Rwanda worse.

“I would say yes,” said Rusesabagina. “Before the U.N. came, we had fled. We had only returned because we thought it was safe. But the U.N. presence worsened the situation. Once violence erupted, the peacekeepers left, leaving only observers, who filled out reports.”

Another audience member asked if the Tutsis could have defended themselves against the violence, and if Rwandans were allowed to own guns.

“No, there was no way to defend against the killing, and Hutus were killing Tutsis and Tutsis were killing Hutus. Rwandans were not democratically allowed - if that’s how you say it - to own guns. If they had guns, they were a secret.”

He was also asked why he chose to stay when the war broke out, and if he felt in some way obligated to do so.

 

To see the complete version of this article, subscribe to the Daily Press e-edition by following the link below.

Click here to get the entire Tahlequah Daily Press delivered every day to your home or office.

Click here to get a free trial or to subscribe to the Tahlequah Daily Press electronic edition. It's the ENTIRE newspaper (without the paper) for your computer, iPad or e-reader.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • rf-poker-run-main.jpg Poker run

    Fundraiser was in the cards for local philanthropic group

    It was perfect weather, with temperatures in the high 80s Saturday, as boaters filled their vessels with friends for a fun afternoon on Lake Tenkiller. A crowd gathered at Cookson Bend Marina, and folks lined up to support a local charity event.
    As fundraisers go, the Beta Sigma Phi Mu Omega Poker Run last Saturday could be considered huge success, as nearly $9,000 was collected.

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • bilbrey-anthony.jpg Man arrested for blackmailing woman for sex

    Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies put a man behind bars Monday night after he allegedly tried to blackmail a woman by threatening to post nude photos of her on the Internet if she did not meet him for sex.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Peach_photo_2.jpg Peach crop lean, but fruit still available

    Summer is all about peaches in Porter – especially at Livesay Orchard.
    The Livesay Orchard is still busy a week after Porter’s annual peach festival. The orchard’s crop this year was cut in half from what had previously been expected, according to Kent Livesay, one of the owners of the orchard.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • jackson-jaymee.jpg Tot’s injuries prompt abuse charges for two local residents

    A Tahlequah couple was formally charged Tuesday with child neglect and child abuse after an 18-month-old girl was found with a number of injuries.

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • proctor-micah.jpg Pair accused of threatening man

    Two men behind bars at the Cherokee County Detention Center are accused of wielding a knife and gun and assaulting a man at a trailer park on West Keetoowah Sunday afternoon.
    Tahlequah Officer Reed Felts spoke with Reinaldo Flores, who told officers he heard a knock on his door and went to answer it.

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • Reach Higher an innovative approach to college

    The “Reach Higher” degree completion program is helping many Oklahoma students go back to school without drastically changing their lives.
    “This program is designed for working adults,” said Tim McElroy, program coordinator at the NSU- Muskogee campus.

    July 30, 2014

  • City attorney, others questioned chamber use of tourism tax

    Letters written in 2006 by City Attorney Park Medearis to former city councilor and Tahlequah Area Tourism Council board member Jack Spears suggest money from a hotel-motel tax could be disbursed through an agent other than the Chamber of Commerce, without voter approval.

    July 30, 2014

  • Hulbert council discusses Internet service

    During a meeting Tuesday night, members of the Hulbert Town Council discussed the possibility of Lake Region Electric Cooperative’s extending its cable and Internet service.

    July 30, 2014

  • ts-marching-MAIN.jpg Marching in step

    Tahlequah High School Orange Express Marching Band kicks off 2014 season with summer drills.

    The Tahlequah High School Orange Express Marching Band has added 30-35 freshmen to its roster this year, and drills began for the newest members last Thursday.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • studie-roberta.jpg Woman accused of stealing cash, taking it to casino

    A 35-year-old Tahlequah woman is free on bond after she allegedly took $1,200 from a man who had been jailed for old warrants.
    Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies said they spoke with Jason Jones last week after Jones was arrested by park rangers for the outstanding warrants. Jones said he came to Oklahoma to see family, and when he was arrested, he left his wallet and cash with one of his daughters.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA
Stocks