Paul Rusesabagina

Paul Rusesabagina (Kinyarwanda[ɾusesɑβaɟinɑ];[2][3] born 15 June 1954) is a Rwandan humanitarian and activist who, while working as a manager at the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, hid and protected 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees from the Interahamwe militia during the Rwandan genocide. None of these refugees were hurt or killed during the attacks.

Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina.jpg
Rusesabagina in 2004
Born (1954-06-15) 15 June 1954 (age 66)
Alma materKenya Utalii College
Political partyMovement for Democratic Change
  • Esther Bamurage (div.)
(m. 1989)

Rusesabagina's efforts were the basis of the dramatized Academy Award-nominated film Hotel Rwanda (2004), in which he was portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle. He has homes in Brussels, Belgium and San Antonio, Texas. Rusesabagina is Belgian citizen and has a US green card.[1] Rusesabagina founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to fight for global human rights.[2] On 31 August 2020, he was arrested in Kigali after a trip to Dubai on "terrorism charges", being accused of supporting opposition parties. Rusesabagina and his family deny all charges.[1]

Birth and careerEdit

Rusesabagina was one of nine children born to a Hutu father and Tutsi mother in Murama, Rwanda. Rusesabagina's parents sent him to school in a town near Gitwe run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By the age of 13, he was fluent in English and French. He married his first wife, Esther Sembeba, on 8 September 1967. By the end of his adolescence, Rusesabagina had decided to become a minister. He and his wife moved to Cameroon where he studied at seminary[clarification needed].

In December 1978, he, his wife, and two children moved to Kigali. While there, a childhood friend, Isaac Mulihano, invited Rusesabagina to apply for an opening to work at the Hôtel des Mille Collines. He was offered a position and was later sent to Switzerland and Brussels to study hotel management. Due to distance and his commitment to work, he and Esther legally separated in 1981. Rusesabagina was granted full custody of their three children: Diane, Lys, and Roger.

In 1987, he was invited to a wedding where he met Tatiana, the maid of honor and a Tutsi nurse in Ruhengeri. Rusesabagina bribed a frequent customer of the Mille Collines, a Minister of Health, to transfer Tatiana to a job at Central Hospital in Kigali. Tatiana and Paul married two years later and she adopted his children. Later, they had a son together named Trésor.

In 1992, Paul Rusesabagina was promoted to assistant general manager of the Diplomates Hotel, an affiliate of the Hôtel des Mille Collines.

Rwandan genocideEdit

In Rwanda, while Paul was receiving education in Nairobi, Switzerland, and Brussels, the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvénal Habyarimana faced pressure from a Tutsi-led rebel force as they tried to maintain their power. Machetes were ordered and brought to the capital and given to the Interahamwe; while Tutsi were being discriminated against, a rumour brought on by a radio station RTLM explained that the Tutsi wanted to kill all the Hutus.

On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana's plane was shot down by surface-to-air missiles as it approached the Kigali Airport for landing. On board the plane with Habyarimana were the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Rwandan Army Chief of Staff Déogratias Nsabimana, and Colonel Elie Sagatwa, the head of presidential security. The wreckage landed in the garden of the presidential palace and everyone on board was killed.[4][5] The Rwandan genocide started on 6 April 1994. On 7 April 1994, the Presidential Guard assassinated Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana along with many other ministers, mainly those from political parties different from that of the assassinated Habyarimana and those slated to play important roles in the transitional government that had been planned to be instated on 8 April. Ten Belgian UN peacekeepers were also killed.[4] Interahamwe hunted down Tutsi and began killing them at the start of the genocide. Though Rusesabagina was Hutu (his father was Hutu and his mother Tutsi), his wife Tatiana was a Tutsi and his children considered mixed. Due to this, he was unable to escape from the war zone with his family.

When the violence broke out, Rusesabagina brought his family to the Hôtel des Mille Collines for safety. As other managers departed, Rusesabagina phoned the hotel's corporate owners, Sabena, and secured a letter appointing him the acting general manager of the Mille Collines.

When a murderous Hutu militia threatened to enter the Mille Collines, Rusesabagina ensured that his wife and children fled safely in a truck past the militia's roadblocks. The truck set out for Kigali airport so they could flee to another country. He remained in the hotel to tend to the refugees. Tatiana and her children were specifically targeted within the convoy by radio messages, and returned to the hotel after being attacked.

Tatiana's family faced extreme tragedy. Her mother, brother and sister-in-law, and four nieces and nephews died in the genocide. Her father paid Hutu militia to execute him so that he would not die a more painful death:

 We all knew we would die, no question. The only question was how. Would they chop us in pieces? With their machetes they would cut your left hand off. Then they would disappear and reappear a few hours later to cut off your right hand. A little later they would return for your left leg etc. They went on till you died. They wanted to make you suffer as long as possible. There was one alternative: you could pay soldiers so they would just shoot you. That's what her [Tatiana's] father did.

— Paul Rusesabagina in Humo, nr. 3365, 1 March 2005

The Interahamwe left nearly 1 million dead. Tutsi rebels pushed the Hutu militia into the Congo in July 1994, after over half of the Tutsis in Rwanda had been murdered. Rusesabagina took orphans from the camp behind Tutsi rebel lines with him to Tanzania, to keep them safe and away from Rwanda. By the end of the massacre, four of his eight siblings remained alive. He comments in his autobiography that "for a Rwandan family, this is a comparatively lucky outcome."

Rusesabagina, his wife and children, and the refugees eventually managed to escape to Tanzania, thanks to the Rwandan Patriotic Front. After staying in Rwanda for two more years, Rusesabagina applied for asylum in Belgium and moved to Brussels with his wife, children, and his two adopted nieces in 1996 after receiving credible threats on his life. When they received threats again, they settled in Texas although they still maintain their Belgium home.


On 31 August 2020, Rusesabagina was arrested for charges of terrorism, arson, kidnap and "murder perpetrated against unarmed, innocent Rwandan civilians on Rwandan territory".[6] According to a Twitter post by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), he was arrested in Kigali on an international warrant and is "the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits", including the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change and the Party for Democracy in Rwanda. Kitty Kurth, a spokeswoman for his Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, said: "We believe he was kidnapped and taken by extraordinary rendition to Rwanda".[1] Rusesabagina's adopted daughter Carine Kanimba has claimed: "What they're accusing him of is all made up. There is no evidence to what they're claiming...We know this is a wrongful arrest".[7] The authorities have not yet provided any evidence of the charges against him.[1] Rusesabagina's lawyers and writers in several news outlets have argued that the arrest was motivated by Rusesabagina's outspoken criticism of the Rwandan government, in line with other arrests and disappearances of dissidents under the presidency of Paul Kagame.[8][9][10][11][12]

Rusesabagina, a permanent resident of the United States who has not lived in Rwanda since an assassination attempt in 1996,[1][13] had gone on a trip to Dubai shortly before being arrested.[7] In a jailhouse interview with The New York Times, Rusesabagina stated that in Dubai, he boarded a private plane that he thought was bound for Burundi, where he planned to speak at the invitation of a Christian pastor; instead, the plane took him to Kigali.[14]

Awards receivedEdit

Feud with Paul Kagame and controversyEdit

Rusesabagina and Rwandan president and former head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Paul Kagame have feuded in public. In his 2006 autobiography, Rusesabagina alleges, "Rwanda is today a nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis... Those few Hutus who have been elevated to high-ranking posts are usually empty suits without any real authority of their own. They are known locally as Hutus de service or Hutus for hire." He has also criticized Kagame's election to president.

On 6 April 2006, Kagame suggested, "[Rusesabagina] should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it's totally false." Francois Xavier Ngarambe, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella body of survivors' associations for the genocide, said of Rusesabagina, "he has hijacked heroism. He is trading with the genocide. He should be charged." Terry George, the director of Hotel Rwanda, characterized the comment as part of a smear campaign.[15]

In 2007, Rusesabagina claimed that the killings committed by the RPF rebels during the conflict constituted genocide.[16] The historian Gérard Prunier agrees that the RPF committed "horrendous crimes", but he rejects the notion of a "double genocide", which he argues "does not stand up to serious inquiry".[17]

In 2008, the book Hotel Rwanda or the Tutsi Genocide as seen by Hollywood, by Alfred Ndahiro, a public relations advisor to Kagame, and journalist Privat Rutazibwa, was published.[18] It provides an alternative take to the portrayal of Rusesabagina's actions as seen in the film Hotel Rwanda.

Rusesabagina has consistently denied allegations put forward by the Rwandan government accusing Rusesabagina of helping the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group. In a 2010 interview with CNN, Rusesabagina said: "I have sent no money to terrorists... He [the prosecutor] is not only lying, but lying with bad logic... This is pure and simple fabrication from Kigali."[19]

Rusesabagina stated in a public lecture at the University of Michigan on 27 March 2014, that he has chosen to forgive Kagame, as this is the only way that Rwanda can move past the genocide.[20]



Rusesabagina's story was first told in Philip Gourevitch's book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, which was published in 1998.


Rusesabagina's work during the genocide is dramatized in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, he is portrayed by Don Cheadle.[21] Cheadle's performance was met with critical acclaim and the actor was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.


His autobiography An Ordinary Man (written with Tom Zoellner ISBN 0-670-03752-4) was published by Zach Bell in April 2006.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Abdi Latif Dahir (31 August 2020). "'Hotel Rwanda' Hero, Paul Rusesabagina, Is Held on Terrorism Charge". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b "'Hotel Rwanda' Manager: We've Failed To Learn From History". National Public Radio. 5 April 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  3. ^ "Paul Rusesabagina, Rwanda's hotel " (13 November 2013), by Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times
  4. ^ a b Melvern, Linda (2006). Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide. Verso.
  5. ^ Rusesabagina, Paul (2006). An Ordinary Man. The Penguin Group.
  6. ^ Burke, Jason (31 August 2020). "'Hotel Rwanda' inspiration Paul Rusesabagina held on terror charges". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Hotel Rwanda hero kidnapped from [Dubai, says daughter". Associated Press in Johannesburg. 1 September 2020. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  8. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (8 September 2020). "UN urged to intervene in case of detained Hotel Rwanda dissident". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  9. ^ "The hero of "Hotel Rwanda": Rwanda arrests the man who shielded people from genocide". The Economist. 3 September 2020. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  10. ^ Smith, Jeffrey (1 September 2020). "Rwanda just kidnapped its most famous activist. Will anyone speak out against the regime?". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 8 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  11. ^ "Paul Rusesabagina's arrest shows there's no place for critical voices in Rwanda". Independent Online. 3 September 2020. Archived from the original on 4 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  12. ^ Levinson, K. Riva (8 September 2020). "The 'extraordinary rendition' of a US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, 'Hotel Rwanda' hero". The Hill. Archived from the original on 8 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  13. ^ Busari, Stephanie; Braithwaite, Sharon; McKenzie, David (1 September 2020). "'Hotel Rwanda' film hero Paul Rusesabagina arrested". CNN. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  14. ^ "'Hotel Rwanda' Hero, in Jailhouse Interview, Says He Was Duped Into Arrest".
  15. ^ George, Terry (10 May 2006). "Smearing a Hero". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  16. ^ "Keith Harmon Snow interview with Paul Rusesabagina". Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  17. ^ Prunier, Gérard (2009). Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. Oxford University Press. pp. 13. ISBN 9780199705832.
  18. ^ Movie sparks public feud[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Karimi, Faith. "'Hotel Rwanda' hero denies sending money to rebels." CNN. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 28 October 2010.
  20. ^ Public lecture at University of Michigan, 27 March 2014 4:30-6
  21. ^ 12/29/2011 12:09 pm EST (29 December 2011). "Romeo Dallaire: Senator Slams 'Hotel Rwanda' Film As Revisionist 'Junk'". Retrieved 23 December 2015.

Further readingEdit

  • Interview with Paul and Tatiana Rusesabagina in the Belgian magazine HUMO, nr. 3365, 1 March 2005.
  • Hotel Rwanda: A Lesson Yet to be Learned – talk (part of the Presidential Events series) at Eckerd College on 23 February 2006.
  • Rusesabagina on Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide – Gariwo
  • Shake Hands With The Devil - Gen Romeo Dallaire (Canada)
  • George, Terry. "Smearing a Hero." The Washington Post. Wednesday 10 May 2006.
  • Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story and Why It Matters Today. Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2014.

External linksEdit