A couple years back, I had the pleasure of listening to Paul Rusesabagina give his first speech in MN at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. I listened to him calmly retell the events which had become the historic drama film, ‘Hotel Rwanda’. The mostly American crowd was moved at points to tears and as he passionately said ‘NeverAgain’ there were claps (Darfur still goes on). Anyhow I was lucky to get an interview with him because I had to write an article for Mshale (African Community Newspaper). Later that night I went to a party at Babalu and happened to run into a Rwandese lady who was in town with friends from Iowa, I excitedly told her about Rusesabagina’s talk and about how much I admired his courage. She immediately burst into tears, seeing that I may have evoked some bad memories I ushered her to the bathroom to console her. “He’s a liar!” she exclaimed between sobs. “He’s not what you think, the stories are not true!” she continued. I cautiously pressed her and she let on that Rusesabagina had actually mistreated people at his hotel. Because she was so distraught I decided not to persist, rather I asked for her contact information so that we could talk later. Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from her. I have many close friends who are Rwandese and Burundian and when I told them of the experience they either said that Rusesabagina is a good man or that they didn’t know him that well. Today the claims by that Rwandese lady are being raised again elsewhere. In a Mshale article, Dorcas Komo writes;
Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose account of the 1994 Rwanda genocide is recounted in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”, came under fire this month during a lecture he was giving at the Birmingham-Southern College. Rusesabagina is doing a world tour to promote his autobiography, “An Ordinary Man”. Prior to the speaker’s scheduled appearance, Grace Balinda and her brother Daniel from Rwanda sent a mass e-mail to the college community calling Rusesabagina a “heartless impostor”. They said that he was taking advantage of horrible situations to do business and earn a living.
And in his defense;
Rusesabagina refuted claims that he charged people to take shelter at the hotel. He also rebutted concerns that he was a genocidaire, saying that the Rwandan government had rewarded certain people to make those claims.
So was Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina a hero or opportunist?