In 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.
written by Moussa, July 05, 2011