A genocide survivor tells a true story about ‘Hotel Rwanda’

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When it comes to the Genocide against the Tutsi, stories of survivors often go hand in hand with those of their rescuers. The genuine heroes during the Genocide have been documented and are known within and out of the country. Many more continue to be identified as time goes on.

Stories of such people as Zula Karuhimbi, who pretended to be a witch to save the Tutsi, Senegalese UN peacekeeper Capt. Mbaye Diagne, who lost his life while protecting Rwandans even against the wishes of his bosses, as well as countless other individual accounts are told in the same breath.

But when it comes to knowing exactly what happened inside Hotel des Mille Collines, better known in the international media as ‘Hotel Rwanda’, stories by survivors are not exactly the same as those told by their perceived saviours.

When Paul Rusesabagina published his autobiography, An Ordinary Man, he swept the world with sentiment about his “not-so-ordinary” actions–at least, according to some of the survivors.

If anything, they were allegedly pure actions–the kind that would later compel Hollywood to produce a motion picture by the same title (Hotel Rwanda–played by Don Cheadle) that was acclaimed across the world.

Success to the film. Success to Rusesabagina. But a fail for truth. This is what many Genocide survivors say.

In a new book titled, “Inside the Hotel Rwanda,” a Genocide survivor, Edouard Kayihura, recounts how Rusesabagina’s self-portrayal as a real life ‘Superman’ is nothing but a folly that digs holes into the memory of Genocide survivors, especially those who maintained refuge inside Hotel des Mille Collines for most of the 100 days of the Genocide.

Co-written with American author, Kerry Zukus, Inside the Hotel Rwanda takes its readers on a journey inside the walls of the famous hotel, and also provides an interesting insight for those who know the Genocide only through the movie, Hotel Rwanda.

Kayihura told The New Times that he is positive his book offers a critical deconstruction of the much-acclaimed Rusesabagina’s book and its adaptation of the film.

“Because of the film Hotel Rwanda, the real life Rusesabagina has been compared to Oskar Schindler, but unbeknownst to the public, the hotel’s refugees don’t endorse Rusesabagina’s version of the events,” Kayihura said.

The life and events

Having destroyed his ID for baring the damning label of “Tutsi”, Kayihura was certain that his end would come somehow for having nothing to identify him when the Genocide sprung out.

As the search for “cockroaches” intensified, Kayihura found himself living a day at a time, and, hadn’t it been for a couple of his Hutu friends, he would not be around to tell his story.

“Radio stations were broadcasting that there were “cockroaches” hidden in the Hotel de Mille Collines. I tried to convince a friend to accompany me in the hotel. Naturally, he was reticent, but eventually agreed, both of us taking off together on foot. We knew that if we reached a roadblock, I would most likely be killed,” Kayihura said.

His friend, Pascal Hitimana, a Hutu, would only flash his ID at the machete-wielding militiamen manning roadblocks and they both would pass. One, two, three roadblocks… until they made it inside Hotel des Mille Collines.

“On entering the hotel on April 11, 1994, the first person I saw was a friend. He could not believe I was still alive.  He took me to his room on the third floor. I had no money, but he assured me we could still go to the hotel restaurant and get food,” Kayihura said.

The manager of the hotel was a kind European, according to Kayihura, who told his staff not to charge anyone since it was a time of national crisis and normal business such as banking and shopping had halted.

However, as fate would have it, the European manager evacuated the hotel soon after and, on April 16, Paul Rusesabagina joined the hotel from the nearby Hotel des Diplomates, where he had been employed.

“Hotel des Diplomats had hosted senior military leaders who were carrying out the Genocide. It was where the declaration of the Genocide was pronounced. On April 15, the genodical government was obliged to leave the capital because RPA were shelling that hotel, dislodging their host Paul Rusesabagina as well,” he said.

“Once at Hotel des Mille Collines, the first meeting Rusesabagina had with the staff was to make sure all refugees paid before they were served food, and to pay for their rooms as well. This, despite the fact that most of them had no money.”

More horrors were soon to follow under Rusesabagina’s reign.

Kayihura recounts that the first communication Rusesabagina made with the UN peacekeepers was a written request to “remove the Tutsi refugees from the hotel.”

For the hotel asylum seekers, it became quite clear that the management had changed for the worse–this was made clearer when a cashier was placed at the restaurant to ensure that no one got a free meal.

“Under Rusesabagina, only those who had money could go to the hotel restaurant and get food. Suddenly we felt hopeless and helpless. Soon after, Rusesabagina also began charging for rooms; if you didn’t pay you were removed from your room,” Kayihura recalled.

“We were using the hotel phones to call international organisations for rescue, but soon the lines were disconnected and only the phone in Rusesabagina’s office was working.”

Later, the refugees ran out of water and began drinking the swimming pool water until it was drained.

Once too often, the masterminds of the Genocide also visited the hotel, usually spending their evenings laughing and drinking with the hotel manager, who was their friend.

When the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) took control of Kanombe military camp, it was a big blow to the genocidal government.

Eight hundred soldiers and their families surrendered to UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda commander Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who handed them over to the Red Cross from where they ended up being under the RPA as prisoners of war.

The prisoners of war were later used for exchange with hostage Tutsi inside Hotel des Mille Collines. Kayihura and more than 100 asylum seekers in the hotel walked to safety.

“In a meeting at Hotel des Diplomats, UN peacekeepers, the militia, and the then government decided that the refugees in Hotel des Mille Collines would be exchanged for government soldiers held in RPA zone. That is the reason we were spared. None of this is captured in the movie you have seen,” Kayihura recounts.

“On the day of evacuation, a delegation of Rwandan military and UN peacekeepers were there with three trucks. Before we got on to a truck, Rusesabagina checked us to make sure no one took any hotel towels.”

Acclaimed book

Inside The Hotel Rwanda has garnered positive reviews from critiques and famous personalities, including Gen. Dallaire.

“This book offers a window into the real life experience of those who hid in the Hotel des Mille Collines during the 100 days of the Genocide. For those who have learned of this story only through the movie Hotel Rwanda, the story of Edouard Kayihura is a privileged opportunity to put reality to the Hollywood dramatisation,” Gen. Dallaire said.

Notable reviewers include Stephen Kinzer, award-winning foreign correspondent, and author of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, Bernard Makuza, vice-president of the Senate, and Stephen D. Smith, UNESCO chair on Genocide Education.

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