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Who is the real Paul Rusesabagina?

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Paul RusesabaginaIn the summer of 2006, Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of Rwanda’s Mille Colline Hotel during the 1994 genocide, was interviewed by Mother Jones, a respected American magazine. Rusesabagina’s heroic actions during Rwanda’s 100 day slaughter that left over 800,000 mostly Tutsi individuals dead were well known by then after a Hollywood film entitled, “Hotel Rwanda,” had re-enacted his story for the world to see.

Rusesabagina tried to stay modest as the interviewer compared him to renowned heroes such as Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved almost 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, but his jubilance was palpable. “You seem to radiate a quality of joy,” said the interviewer. “If I knew nothing about you and saw you sitting across from me, I would say, ‘That’s a happy man.’”


At the time, Rusesabagina had much to be happy for. Not only had he saved himself, his family and an estimated 1,268 Tutsi’s during the genocide, but his inspiring tale, complimented by the film, had led to the release of a memoir entitled, “An Ordinary Man,” the creation of the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating children orphaned by the genocide, and the adoration of millions across the world.

Soon Rusesabagina himself had become a celebrity; at the December 2, 2004 premier of the film he posed for pictures with Angelina Jolie, and by Christmas the following year he was seated opposite Oprah on the Oprah Winfrey show recounting how he had to ply genocidaire leaders with drink and charm to keep his 1,268 guests safe from their machete wielding foot soldiers.

A few weeks before his Oprah appearance, Rusesabagina had been amongst 14 individuals awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians. Alongside legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, world-famous singer Aretha Franklin and baseball great Frank Robinson, Rusesabagina was decorated with the medal at the White House by then President George W. Bush.

In response to the Mother Jones interviewer’s observation, Rusesabagina responded: “Well, that is true. I think I’m a happy man, and I’m a blessed man. I have been able to adjust to any situation, whatever is was, in my life.”

These words are now being tested again after Rusesabagina was detained by Belgian authorities on June 20, 2011 over his alleged funding of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Congolese-based terrorist group comprised of remnants of the same genocidaires Rusesabagina had courageously fought off during the genocide.

The allegations against Rusesabagina are nothing new. In an article published by The Guardian newspaper in October last year, Martin Ngoga, Rwanda’s prosecutor general, claims that Rusesabagina transferred money via Western Union to two FDLR commanders.

“We have the dates of transactions made,” said Ngoga. “Money was sent from San Antonio, Texas, and received in different banks in Bujumbura and Dar es Salaa. The people who received the money told us what the money was for,” added Ngoga in reference to Col. Tharcisse Nditurende and Major Vital Uwumuremyi, who have since pleaded guilty to terrorism related charges in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, who has residences in both Belgium and the US, adamantly refuted the charges, saying that Ngoga is, “not only lying, but lying with bad logic.” Instead, he accused the Rwandan government of targeting him on account of his criticisms towards the Kagame government.

In an interview with Voice of America on October 6, 2010 Rusesabagina welcomed the UN’s controversial report suggesting that the Rwandan army could have been responsible for genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003, and also criticised Rwanda for exploiting conflict minerals from the same country. He went on to accuse Kagame of creating in Rwanda, “a dictatorship [where] the winner had silenced everybody.” He added that Kagame should be brought to account for his role in previous events and  warned that unless the international community played a bigger role in the country, Rwanda was like, “a dormant volcano, which can erupt any time.”

During his detainment in Brussels, Belgium’s capital, Rusesabagina was questioned by Belgian Federal Prosecution in the presence of a delegation of investigators from Rwanda. It was the first time Rusesabagina had been investigated by a foreign country over his links to the FDLR. Rwandan authorities have also requested the US to provide certain potentially incriminating documents on Rusesabagina, but unlike the Belgium authorities who have cooperated with Rwandan in previous criminal cases, the US response has not been forthcoming.

According to Rwandan Deputy Chief Prosecutor Alain Mukurarinda the US has not offered any explanation, but he is optimistic that even if it takes long, “they will eventually corroborate. We are still waiting.”

As of now the Rwandan prosecution says it cannot reveal the outcomes of Rusesabagina’s recent interrogation, but Mukurarinda did admit that Rusesabagina continues to deny all charges against him.

After the interrogation, Rusesabagina was released by Belgium authorities. “He is still a free man, and has the freedom to go anywhere he wants,” says Mukurarinda.

However, he warned that Rwandan authorities are confident that their evidence will eventually support charges against Rusesabagina that include forming a militia group, funding a terrorist group, threatening the President’s security, threatening the constitution and causing state insecurity.

How Rwanda’s one-time hero will adapt to this new situation remains to be seen.

Comments (8)Add Comment
There is nothing new here
written by kato, July 03, 2011
I can not vouch for Rusesabagina but when i nsaw the title of the article i thought.. ahaaa, we could have something that has not yet been said by the those who allege that the guy has engaged in subversive acts. Give us something that is close to answering the question posed in for of the title of this article.
Guns are not an answer
written by Muhinda, July 04, 2011
Mr.Kagame regime believes in guns yet guns may not be the answer to all ills in the Rwanda society. Why label every one a terrorist? Why fabricate all sorts of charges against political opponents? Why not engage opponents in dialogue and debates for policy development that serves all interests? Whoever relies on guns and terrorism; will reap bitterness.
The Kigali regime should also be investigated
written by Kawanguzi, July 04, 2011
Is rather cynical to see that whichever person that calls for the investigation of the Kagame regime on issues pertaining to human rights and genocide in say the DRC, he's labelled an enemy!, whereas Rusesabagina should be investigated for funding the FDLR, the Kigali regime should also be investigated for its repressiveness particularly on issues like muzzling of press freedom, detention and assassination of the dissenting voices.
Written by Col. Emmanuel Ndahiro...
written by nziza, July 05, 2011
The article has the whole mark of the Rwandese National Security Services; nothing new from this biased paper that will always support the Rwandan butcher, oppressor, looter and land grabber for his cheque. Mr Andrew Mwenda, before you start criticising monitor journalist for writing fabricated stories about your sister; you should first look at yourself and your proffesionalism.... Long live RNC, God bless Rwigema(RIP).
written by Moussa, July 05, 2011
Is this researched journalism? Is this balanced journalism? What I can gather this is P.R journalism paid by Kagame and his NSS agents. Just feel sorry for Mwenda's morality and where his soul has gone. When will he write about Kagame's killings, assassinations, poisonings, suffocation of the press, corruptions, nepotism, his jets, land that he has grabed , the countries economy that is in debt of 3 billion us dollars by 2010 from 500million us dollars in 1996. Mr Mwenda wake up and we Rwandese know who is Kagame.....
written by Kayitesi, July 05, 2011
This article forgets the vital point that Rusesabagina was treated as a hero in Rwanda, by the RPF, by Kagame, until he started speaking out against the injustices he was seeing. They say now that he lied about the Hotel Rwanda story, but why did people only come forward to dispute his story AFTER he fell out with Kagame? The Independent could do some real journalism but it's easier to just print what the RPF tell you.
"One Man vision bearers"
written by Vincent, July 05, 2011
Bravo Mr. Rusesabagina, not very many can risk their own lives to save others, however, your woes stem from the fact that in Africa, no one is allowed to have a bigger audience than the "Revolutionary Vision Bearer", your crime--being internationally recognized for your Heroic actions and speaking out on the wrongs in your home country, because then the international community has a credible source from which they can listen to Kagame's terror. Just hang in there, and please continue speaking--i just wish you don't meet the same fate like the NYAMWASA's of this Africa.
Stop your Fanatism Mwendwa and get on Paper and work unbiased!!!!
written by Lydia, July 07, 2011
Until when will this biased journalism stop or up to when will Andrew Mwendwa stop being a puppet to a Despotic and cruel leader Kagame. This folk goes to an extent of welcoming Ms Kagame today at Entebbe, what a shame is that!!!
Why is that you never report about his cruel deeds and past political mistakes and he continues to be an authoritarian dictator.So Mwendwa stop your nonsense fanatism about kagame.

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