The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


‘Hotel Rwanda’ manager speaks

Paul Rusesabagina doesn’t consider himself a hero. Yet there is no other word to describe this man, who, as a hotel manager in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, saved more than 1,200 people from the killers who murdered nearly a million people in a hundred days.

Rusesabagina, whose story is told in the Academy Award nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda,” spoke yesterday at Theatre Three. The Writer’s Garret, a literary center that organizes readings, classes, workshops and other special events, brought Rusesabagina as part of their Writer’s Studio series.

Rusesabagina answered questions posed by two moderators and audience members, and he read from his recently published autobiography, “An Ordinary Man.” The tile of Rusesabagina’s book reflects his prevailing attitude toward what he was able to accomplish.

“Surviving was a miracle,” Rusesabagina said. “I believe God did a miracle through me. I had nothing special, I was no one special. All around me many innocents and souls had been butchered.”

The Rwandan genocide can’t be explained more than any other genocides can. There is no exact formula that provokes one group of people to systematically eliminate another group of people because of ethnic, racial or religious differences. But centuries of power shifts between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes and western colonizers, which strengthened tribal resentments, finally provoked groups of Hutu extremists to murder Tutsis and moderate Hutus in April 1994.

Rusesabagina said that the scene was set and ready for genocide months before it finally happened.

“I was so clear that something was going to happen,” Rusesabagina said. “Many lists were moving around in the capital city of people who were supposed to be assassinated.”

The murderers were largely provoked by the radio, the RTLA, whose DJs urged people to kill their neighbors. According to Rusesabagina, the DJs went as far as announcing where specific people were hiding. Rusesabagina said that the “demons” in people had been awakened.

“We tend to forget the Holocaust was just 60 years ago,” Rusesabagina said. “Hitler sent a message and people followed. I was surprised to see all of those people [in Rwanda] we respect act as if they had never been themselves.”

When the brutality began, instead of actively trying to stop it, the United Nations withdrew all but 200 peacekeeping troops from Rwanda. The U.S. and all western nations evacuated their citizens and then did nothing to stop the genocide, said Rusesabagina.

“When we saw the U.N., we trusted that the international community was coming, that they would protect us,” Rusesabagina said. “The U.N. abandoned people to killers.”

According to Rusesabagina, Rwandans would have been better off if the U.N. had withdrawn completely before the genocide began, so that people would have been motivated to evacuate, escaping from the violence they knew was inevitable.

Rusesabagina, whose father was Hutu and mother Tutsi, sheltered 1,268 people who were mostly Tutsi in the hotel he managed when the genocide broke out. He said that having friends and a stockpile of favors, along with an ability to communicate and persuade, helped him to keep the people he sheltered alive. Rusesabagina went to ministry school before getting into the hotel business, and he said this experience helped him learn about human behavior.

“You learn without knowing that you are learning,” Rusesabagina said. “I used to follow my father to traditional courts where people could discuss, and my father was always the last person to speak. I admired my father, and in high school, I started admiring Nelson Mandela.”

According to Rusesabagina, the situation in Rwanda hasn’t changed much since before the genocide occurred. He says that another power shift has occurred, and that a Tutsi-led militia is now oppressing the people of Rwanda. Rusesabagina believes that the only way Rwanda will solve its problems is by bringing the Hutus and Tutsis together to discuss and compromise.

“I believe in the power of words,” he said. “I believe that with words we can save lives or kill lives. However hard a heart might be, it always has a soft part of it and it is our duty to go look for that piece and then deal with it.”

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