Why Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda is Contentious

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By Louis Gakumba

When I first came to America in 2007, people I met asked where I come from. Being from Rwanda always trigged more questions… “Oh my God! Did you see the movie Hotel Rwanda?” a question I always expected to follow. I had seen the movie a few times. Out of curiosity some would ask: “is that stuff still happening?”

I never doubted their sympathy. Some people apologized on behalf the U.S government for doing nothing as Rwanda sank to hell— nineteen years after the genocide; people still ask me if Rwanda is safe. Before the movie came out, Rwanda was an explored map.

Whether Hotel Rwanda is purely a Hollywood creation or merely about the man infamously known as the Hero ofHotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina Paul remains a dubious character. It first started when Rwandans discredited the inaccuracy of the movie. Truth is Rusesabagina did not allow people in the hotel unless they paid him huge amounts of money. Thousands were killed outside the hotel simply because they couldn’t afford the price to walk through the gates of the hotel. The government of Rwanda also accused him for funding FDRL, a Rwandan terrorist group actively operating in the eastern DRC. I travelled to Lebanon to hear Paul’s side of story.

Why is Rusesabagina controversial?

I never understood why until I attended his lecture on May 14th 2013 at Lyman High School in Lebanon, Connecticut USA. Paul of Hotel Rwanda was the guest of honor who spoke on this year’s diversity theme “ Power of One.”

I imagined Paul tall and light skinned—he is short, baldheaded and dark. His roar if amplified could shatter your eardrum. On the podium Rusesabagina calls himself an “Ordinary Man who does Extraordinary things.” For those of you who don’t know the meaning of my name, R U S E S A B A G I N A means one who disperses enemies.”

Rusesabagina has no appreciation of anything about Rwanda. He told his audience that Rwanda is hostile beyond words. He ran down a list of accusations against the government Rwanda. According to Rusesabagina, Rwanda’s economy was strong prior to 1994 with a growing middle class. He blames president Kagame and his administration for creating an economic system, one that favors people living in Kigali while 90% of the population in rural areas has no access to education, healthcare and basic infrastructure such as electricity and clean water.

In my seat, I heard myself woofing, “Wooh! Wait… What? Good Jesus! What is this man talking about?” I went to hear him speak hoping he would tell the American people about the remaking of a new Rwanda, not one of Hotel Rwanda… instead I was baffled by his enthusiastic lies.

He went on to say that Rwanda of today is no different from that of the past. “People are oppressed by Kagame regime.” He repeated a few times.  He refers to the government of Rwanda as a handful of people who control the means of production— never once did he mention that one million Rwandans had been lifted from poverty since 2005—of course he was dumbly uncomfortable to say that.

Rusesabagina amalgamates with other haters of Rwanda to spread rumors about Rwanda. I was truly appalled when Rusesabagina said that the Rwandan government uses the international guilt for not intervening during the genocide to further its mission in the Congo Democratic— plundering natural resources. He made false statements that Rwanda forcefully sends prisoners to mine Coltan and Tin ore for M23, a rebel group operating in the eastern Congo; which he also accused Rwanda for supporting. He did not stop there—he affirms that the government of Rwanda is the architect behind the death of several million Congolese since 1996.

The nuisance and discomfort of hearing him lie for forty-five minutes was unbearable.  Of all the things he said, I never expected him to say, “The government of Rwanda is made up with Tutsi elitist.”  I tried not to yell at the son of a Bword, unable to wrap my mind around what he was saying.

I failed to understand the political motivation that actuates him to walk this path. In so doing, he claims to be the “voice of the voiceless.” Rusesabagina says his humanitarianism knows no borderline. “The people of the Congo cannot speak for themselves.” He says, “My weapon is my mouth—I cannot keep silence” As he paused to receive applause, I looked around his beloved audience and wished only if they knew what a vicious man Paul is.

Clearly, Rusesabagina has a mission. He is making a living by doing what he does best. Tell lies. He is teaming up with others like him to propel wings of negativity about Rwanda. He has fundraised millions of dollars working along with high profile people in the U.S—Kitty Kurt and her husband Kevin Lamp are among a few who have devoted their time to stand side by side with Rusesabagina.

No matter how hard they try, Rwanda is striving to solidify its confidence of reconstruction and economic development path, which cannot be deterred by self-serving individuals. The noises he and others alike are making about Rwanda will not slow the government’s initiative to prioritize education, health, economic and infrastructure development.

Paul Kagame should not fight this fight. Nor should the men and women who bled blood fighting to secure a country for all Rwandans. Neither should the parents who raised us— Their share is far greater beyond measure. What is asked of us, the young and daring along with friends of Rwanda, is to keep the wheel of unity turning and peacefully engage those who wish us no good.

If there is better time to chip in and do our part, the moment is now. The urgency of now calls us not to wait until tomorrow. Next week is far too long to wait.  Leonardo da Vinci wrote: “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

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