By Tom Ndahiro

Sometimes songs of praise go to false characters. Because of the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Paul Rusesabagina was made a Hollywood star and a conqueror of hearts. He has won several awards as an unequaled ‘Humanitarian’ as he describes himself. On Top of Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award and Amnesty International’s Enduring Spirit award he got the prestigious US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Going through Rusesabagina’s speeches, and numerous articles about him, tells a different story and person. Rusesabagina is consistently vague and evasive whenever he responds to issues related to the role of known criminals in the cataclysm. Considering the way he defends and recycles the genocidaires’ ideology, he sounds a man with regrets for not having participated in the genocide enterprise.

Rusesabagina repeatedly refers to “the power of words.” He has said that “[w]ith words you can kill and with words you can save lives, depending on what you want to achieve, evil or the right thing.”

True, that makes him a powerful genocide denier. He knows that words denying the reality about the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda would influence how some ignorant people think about the crime committed.

His speeches and writings betray both sensitivity to this power, and portray carelessness in its usage.

His sensitivity to the power of words is seen in his refusal to admit that what happened in Rwanda in 1994 was Genocide against the Tutsi. He uses his speeches to paint what happened in Rwanda as a simple conflict started by Tutsi rebels in 1990. The “result” that he hopes to achieve with his words is the removal from history of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi.

To do this, he first describes the Tutsi as slave drivers. In a 2007 address given to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, he explained that “[s]tarting from before colonization, Rwandans were divided. The relationships between the Hutus and the Tutsis were relationships between a master and a slave, because Hutus were slaves to Tutsis.”

Then, again and again, he describes what happened in Rwanda as Tutsis “attack[ing] their own country” in 1990, causing a war to break out. He has said of the Tutsi rebels, “…when they came in, they came in killing Hutu civilians.”

Rusesabagina has said that “what is happening in Darfur is the same thing that happened in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994.” Note that he does not say it is the same thing that happened in 1994, when the Tutsi’s were targeted, but rather it is the same thing that happened from 1990 to 1994, when, as he explains, “the rebels attacked, killed men and their sons” and “all the people were fleeing the zones occupied by the rebels” so that “by 1994 Rwanda had 1.2 million people surrounding Kigali.”

The way this reads, the real crimes were not in 1994, but in 1990. 1994 was a natural consequence of RPF’s actions in 1990.

In an interview in the Rome News Tribune, Rusesabagina repeats: Actually, what happened — is happening today in Darfur is exactly what was going on in Rwanda between ’90 and 1994, when the rebels on the hills were butchering men— and, also, the militia, on the other hand, also killing civilians.

He uses his words cleverly, to pin the blame for the mass-murder in 1994 on the RPF rebels. As an afterthought, he throws in a line about the militia “also killing civilians” — not Tutsi, just civilians — presumably in response to the rebels’ actions.

Rusesabagina categorically alienates the Tutsi.  He firmly alleges that in 1959 Hutus took over from “Tutsis and colonizers. Tutsis went away. 250,000 of them fled the country.” Placing the “Tutsi and colonisers” on the same plane is not different from what the genocidaire Leon Mugesera announced in 1992, that the Tutsi should be sent back to Ethiopia. Considering Tutsis as foreigners was meant to justify their hounding and discrimination.

When talking about the events of 1994, he speaks of soldiers and militia killing his neighbours and other civilians. He does not call it genocide, and he does not explain that it was Tutsis being targeted. If he had his way, this Genocide against the Tutsi would be remembered as a simple conflict, like any other, started when Tutsi rebels attacked their own country and butchered civilians.

However, even while carefully choosing his words to create a specific impression of the events in Rwanda in the early 1990s, he’s shown carelessness with words at other times.

Most strikingly, his comments on current Hutu-Tutsi relations are confusing and incorrect. He says that the two groups “hate each other.” The use of the phrase “each other” implies that the hatred goes both ways, calling to mind an image of Rwanda where neighbour actively abhor neighbour based on ethnicity.

At the same time, he contradicts himself. Speaking to a group of journalism students in Chicago, Rusesabagina said Hutus and Tutsis “are the same culture.” In other speeches, he describes the designations of Hutu and Tutsi as artificial and proclaims that they “share the same country” and “worship the same God.” He has pointed out that “Hutus and Tutsis have been intermarrying and mixing.”

Indeed, Rusesabagina himself is the product of intermarriage: his mother was Tutsi and his father Hutu. He identifies as Hutu, and his wife identifies as Tutsi. How can he cling to these ideas of boundaries and hatred between the groups when his own personal life is proof that they do not exist?

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