By Tom Ndahiro
United States of America is a country known for her philanthropists. Some of them offer millions of dollars to help various causes.
Big or small, a donation is a token of approval of the cause and recognition of the importance of assisting those in need.
The money of generous people has improved the lives of refugees the world over, and giving hope to thousands who have been affected by natural calamities or wars.
Some genocide survivors have managed to make ends meet through humanitarian money. Individuals and charity organizations have assisted them in accessing health and education.
This generosity, though, can be abused by con artists. One example is Paul Rusesabagina and his foundation Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF).
Some Americans consider Rusesabagina an “African Schindler”, because of the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. On June 2, 2011, he is holding a fundraising for his foundation at Matt Lamb Studios, in Chicago, Illinois. It is one of several.
On April 17, 2006, a headline caught my attention:‘A Lesson Yet to Be Learned: Hero of Hotel Rwanda to Speak on Kent Campus.”
The event focused on the HRRF. “Rusesabagina currently resides in Belgium with his family and remains active in assisting survivors of the Rwandan genocide”, the announcement continued. “He created the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to aid Rwandan orphans”.
In November 2009 journalist Chido Nwangwu wrote HRRF “has been providing psychological care and material assistance to children who were orphaned by the genocidal killings in Rwanda” and that it “supports thousands of women who were abused during and after the Rwanda genocide”.
Here, most baffling is the mention of “thousands” of human lives supported by HRRF.
In a press release of October 28, 2010, HRRF claimed that “Rusesabagina Combats Fiction with Facts”, saying: “The last time I sent money to Rwanda was in 2002 or 2003, I think 2002, to my younger brother for a brain operation. It was about 500 or 1000 Euros”.
The press release, written by Kitty Kurth, refuted allegations that he has been sending money to the genocidaire organization FDLR. But the revelation that he hasn’t been sending money to Rwanda was even more important.
I have made inquiries into whether HRRF has a branch in Rwanda, and the answers have all been: “NO”. It is not possible to assist thousands of people without some sort of presence.
I asked the genocide survivors organization, IBUKA, if it has ever received money from Rusesabagina, and it affirmatively denied knowledge of any such assistance.
In the U.S., non-profit foundations are typically incorporated. This means that their directors are bound by the duty of care and the duty of loyalty, like those at any other corporation.
Together, these duties mean that decisions should be made based on adequate information, with the best interests of the organization in mind.
If an organization’s alleged mission is to help genocide survivors and prevent future genocides, decisions should be made in pursuit of that mission.
Directors who make decisions that further their own interests are in violation of their duties, and can be held liable.
Furthermore, non-profits are generally bound by a duty of obedience. This means that the management is responsible for ensuring that the organization is in compliance with the law.
This duty is important because donors usually assume that foundations obey the law — otherwise, they would not be giving any donations. In American society and culture, foundations are trusted.
When a foundation abuses this trust and does not act according to its mission, it undermines the very core of American philanthropy.
These duties, particularly the duty of loyalty, demand good faith, fairness, and honestly. Directors must work for the interests of the organization without any self-dealing or conflicts of interest. Donors expect this, and deserve it.
Where does the money go if it doesn’t go to Rwanda? Where are those thousands he claims to assist? The mystery of the Rusesabagina Foundation’s money raises serious questions about whether the organization is fulfilling its duties.
If the money is not going to Rwanda, where beneficiaries are supposed to be, could it be that it is going toward causes that are not in line with the organization’s stated mission?
Rusesabagina and his foundation owe donors an explanation.