The Rwandan genocide lasted for approximately 100 days and it claimed around 500,000 to 1.2 million lives of Rwandans caught between the massive ravaging of the Hutu led interhamwe militia.
Paul Rusesabagina was one of nine children born to a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother in Murama, Rwanda. He has often described his family as a solid middle class family despite being raised through harder situations. By the age of 13, Rusesabagina was fluent with English and French, as well as his native Kinyarwanda.
Paul was encouraged by his childhood friend, Isaac Mulihano, to apply for an opening to work at the Hôtel Des Mille Collines. He was successfully offered the position and was sent to several countries on a ‘hotel scholarship’ to develop his skills on hotel management. Paul Rusesabagina later on rose to a distinguished hôtelier.
During these times, Rwanda was in a political and social turmoil. The message of ethnic cleansing and Regionalism was a focal ideology. Thus, on 6th April 1994, a plane containing President Habyarimana (and others, including Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira) was shot down as it approached the Kigali Airport for landing. Hutu extremists within the government structure blames the Tutsis for this casualty. At this time also, the Infamous Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) were broadcasting messages of hate against Tutsis and also using the code word “cut the tall trees” which was a call to slaughter.
Though Rusesabagina was a Hutu, his wife Tatiana was a Tutsi. This meant the family was under serious threat and danger. When the violence broke out, soldiers came to Rusesabagina’s house, asking him to open the Hotel Diplomates, which the interim Hutu government used as Headquarter. Rusesabagina together with his family arrived at the Hôtel Des Mille Collines.
Paul Rusesabagina assumed acting manager of the hotel amidst the genocide. He was responsible for saving more than a thousand Hutu and Tutsi refugees. In fact, the hotel was used as a refugee camp and a “safe haven”. He had to bribe the military on several occasions to provide policing and security. Rusesabagina was a target of hate focused by the RTLM and calls for him to be hunted and killed was rife by the radio station.
Rusesabagina, his wife and children and the refugees later had to manage an escape to Tanzania, thanks to the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The war ended on 15th July 1994. After staying in Rwanda for two more years, Rusesabagina applied for asylum and relocated to Belgium with his family.
Sadly, Rusesabagina is controversially under detention for alleged acts of terrorism and anti governmental activities as proposed by the Kagame leadership. Nevertheless, he is widely considered a hero and a statesman.