africa / news / Politics

Was ‘Hotel Rwanda’s’ Paul Rusesabagina a hero or opportunist?

by Nelima

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?


39 thoughts on “Was ‘Hotel Rwanda’s’ Paul Rusesabagina a hero or opportunist?

  1. I’m actually not surprised by the allegations. I heard these rumors a while back, but then again in such situations it’s hard to know how one would act. Same thing happened to Schindler (Schindler’s list) many called him a hero for saving the lives of over one thousand of Polish Jews whereas others claim that Schindler was in charge of a German unit which helped plan the Nazi invasion of Poland.

  2. I am glad that some concerned people have seen the hidden picture of Paul Rusesabagina! He espouses theories verging on hate speech, then it is our responsibility to protest the distortion of our history. All men and women of good faith should not allow this composite Hollywood character to mortgage our future, and that of our children by taking us back to a destructive ethnicism.

  3. History has often been a victim to manipulation and mis-interpretation but one Rusesabagina Paul has taken the game too far.
    After hoodwinking the entire western world, thanks to that Holy wood movie,the Man has cunningly woven a heroic aroma around him.His lies are quite rude and blatant but as often said,a big lie often is easily believed.
    why doesn’t he move with his so called survivors to confirm his heroic deeds?

    There cant be an oskar shindler without survivors testimony? In fact it is the survivors of the Jewish Holocaust that informed the world of his deeds not vice versa.
    Contrary to our Rwandan Hero,it is him talking of his deeds alone. But the survivors have a different story of the Man, only that the Western World has refused to hear from them.

    The Man is simply a Con Man.Period.
    The Witnesses to this are the Men and Women who had to sign checks as a guarantee for their protection.
    He continues to maintain an Organization calling it the “Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation”,calling for donations from the unsuspecting World purportedly to help out the survivors of the Tutsi Genocide.
    Oh My, what callousness! For either the donations haven’t materialized or some one is running a con job ,for none of the survivors is yet to receive the so called Rusesabagina help.

  4. Holllywood decided Rusesabagina was a hero. We,in Rwanda know who the real heroes are: many Hutus men and women who actually risked their lives to save innocent people. If you choose to live in a Hollywood world. Then he is, indeed, your hero. Keep it with you. Don’t impose him on Rwandans; don’t impose him on the genocide survivors whose scars haven’t healed yet. Keep him for you. Keep him in Hollywood!

  5. Like Schindler’s case there will be testimonies painting Rusesabagina as anything, but a hero. Bottom line is that the times were difficult and difficult times call for difficult decisions, many which were not black and white, but grey.

  6. Things are much more complex than that Sheryl. And the comparison between Schindler and Rusesabagina is not appropriate. Rusesabagina become a hero after Terry George decided to make him a hero. He did it with good intentions but he CREATED a hero. Hotel Rwanda is a fiction movie. A beautiful story. Maybe the real status of Rusesabagina wouldn’t matter if he didn’t start using his status for political purposes and, much worse, if he didn’t engage into those horrible distortions of Rwanda history.

  7. I really feel sorry for Paul..he,unlike anyone else, should know that ” you can’t hide the truth”…I once had respect for him, now he’s as sorry as Hitler or Mosolini…I pray for his family,as for him, all will catch up with him …

  8. I notice how all the people who just straight up defend Paul, haven’t any proof to back their claims of “hero” status. Have you read anything?

    The reality is that the UN officers standing outside the hotel are the heroes who kept the people inside safe. This has been reported by numerous witnesses. I have read 16 books about the genocide, and not one, either than Paul’s accredits him with the protection of the lives in the hotel.

    On the other hand, most locations where UN peacekeepers were stationed (often unarmed observers), managed to keep the killers out of the locations and the survivours safe (sadly, not always). No one talks about these brave men and their efforts.

    Paul Rusesabagina’s story is in question. Real heroes, of which there is no doubt of their acts, the lives they saved, and their bravery, are men like Captain Mbaye Diagne, a UN MO who was killed in action – saving lives. No one talks about his story.

    And one has to find the conflict between Rusesabagina and President Paul Kagame interesting…

  9. I have done every “hero” project, essay, and research paper on this man. I’ve read his autobiography at least four times. I looked up to this man as a great role model. I then read this article, and I was crushed.

    Have any of you spoken to the hundreds of people that were saved from masacre? I don’t know that anyone will ever find the true story if we are not willing to trust facts shown to us.

    Maybe I am just naive and innocent for believing the autobiography, but so be it. This man is my hero and I will not let that be taken away from me.

  10. Everybody has their own definition of hero, so calling him a “false Hollywood hero” is nothing but your own opinion.

  11. Every rwandan likes Hotel rwanda movie even the genocide survivors. Keep your Rusesabagina as Hollywood heroe since he can’t be a genocide survivors heroe. Look for the truth.

  12. I’m curious as to just ‘when’ Paul Rusesabagin became such a villain in Rwanda? Wasn’t President Kagame going to honour him for his efforts at a genocide memorial service? Wasn’t Hotel Rwanda shown in Rwanda before it was released internationally? If he had been such a villain why wasn’t he exposed immediately after the genocide as such? Why wasn’t there a protest immediately after the movie? Why would he be selected for presidential recognition? Why didn’t over 1,000 witnesses speak up earlier?
    Whatever anyone thinks of the movie, research shows it was made with the assistance of survivors (this was documented and can be verified). Hollywood and history are often at odds, but what I am reading here is that the movie was more than misrepresentation, it was a lie. There is a case for a law suit against the production company if this is true. What creates some confusion is that it appears that the timeline for this campaign against Paul Rusesabagina is curiously aligned with the beginning of his criticism of certain government policies. Is this the real issue? I realize that this is a complex issue but if Paul Rusesabagina is a “con man” looking to manipulate the truth for his own gain then he’s gone about it in the most dangerous and foolish way possible. He stands by his convictions at a cost…unusual for a con man. The Western world is as keen to push someone off their pedestal as they are to put them on one. If he’s all that he is accused of being, it will be revealed.
    In a country where dealing with crimes against humanity are still a daily reality, I admit to being surprised at the level of intense hatred being directed towards a man who, for whatever reason and to whatever extent, was instrumental in saving over a thousand Rwandan lives and by agreeing to tell his story, fact or fiction, brought the world’s attention to an event they had conveniently avoided. My youngest daughter is actively involved in providing support to Rwandans because of reading Paul Rusesabagina’s book and seeing Hotel Rwanda as are many others.
    We will all have an opinion as to whether he is a hero or an opportunist but in the end we will know him by his fruits.

  13. My wife was in the Hotel Des Mille collines(AKA Hotel Rwanda) throughout the whole event, each time we come accross an article about Rusesabagina she just starts crying. This is man is a pure OPPORTUNIST. He charged those who could afford to pay and dumped the unfortunate in the lion’s den. The survivors are the truth and are everywhere, in Rwanda, europe, canada and here in the US. Incuding my wife. Anyone dares to check on them?..Hell no!!!.Meanwhile the con man Paul Rusesabagina continue to spread lies.

  14. While I cannot vouch for Paul’s veracity, I can say that the gods were with him. And if they chose to leave him out, it could be coz they wanted him to testify the genocide and get the guilty generals punished. And that did happen. So no matter what some ppl say, it makes sense to call him an opportunistic hero but a hero nevertheless.

  15. As a group Promoting Music and Television from Rwanda, I find your blog pretty interesting, “Rwandan weddings Blue Marble Dreams” I will keep checking for additions.
    Well written, thank you 🙂

  16. what money was paul using to pay off those that were trying to kill them all? with what money was paul purchasing food for the “guests” or liquor for payoff for protection? did these survivors expect to have monies returned that was spent to keep their lives. the attitudes of the nay sayers is exactly why atrocities are allowed to happen. shameful.

  17. Just watched the movie. cant believe some of the comments made here. but as long as i was’nt there, i cant comment for or against with much conviction. but if Paul saved even one Rwandees, then to me he is a hero.

  18. I have checked all the accounts including the testimonies of the survivors, which nay sayers have not embraced the discipline to check. Facts are available to achieve various things, of which the defence of the contents of history is one. Paul Russesabagina is a hero. The facts are clear. The high standards of perfect behaviour are unjust to judge the character of a man in difficult times such as the Rwanda genocide; and our future peace cannot be tied to perfect behaviour. Nothing can be taken away from the humanitarian heart of Paul. He remains Africa’s pride.

  19. I really did not know about the genocide of the people of Rwanda until I saw the movie. I was very moved by the plight of the people and it enlightened me to the horrible atrocities against the people. We could just say he is a con artist which then could negate the plight of the people in Darfur and Rwanda or we can use the movie to bring to light what is happening to them. If you want to continue to debate his character then you diminish the people. Use the story to bring to light the degradation of mankind that continues to kill and maim the people in Darfur and Rwanda. Use it for good not bad.

  20. saw the movie yesterday night, dont knw wat people of rwanda are saying abt him but really he is a hero, doesnt matter if he took money or no.
    all those 1000 people should b thank ful to him.
    even if he had svedeven 1 life he is ahero as said by some1 in comment.
    1000 wishes to him from goa india,
    seens schindlers list as well, both can b equally considered as hero

  21. Heroes come in any form…They don’t have to be in the front line armed with guns, he used his head or didn’t you notice that…He never proclaimed himself a hero go through your evidence (it’s shown over and over again in many interviews, also the reason for the title of his book)…truly the reason for charging people was quite obvious he had to keep Rwanda authorities under the impression that this was still a hotel, bills were visible proof of this (if they had any proof that it was a full blown refugee camp they would have gone under way quicker)…Even if he did get money where do you think all the supplies came from they certainly did not fall from heaven?…you get the heroes that use physical strength, and then you get those who use their intellect, he knew how his people thought and he knew how manipulate them for the advantage of staying alive and protecting those around him…and if you watch the movie carefully he did only care in the beginning about his family and the ones he loved but this progressed to something bigger…and just like anything else in life there will always be people trying to destroy the little hope and good that came from someone else in events of most terrible circumstances…the war will always be there Africa is a big nation with an enormous variety of ethnicity groups and for this reason there will never be complete peace and harmony there will always just be “ups and downs” in the warfare at least Paul did something when it was expected of him…maybe he is a con artist but i truly think the system is more advanced than that and that he would’ve been caught right at the beginning…

  22. quote from comment above: “if you watch the movie carefully he did only care in the beginning about his family and the ones he loved but this progressed to something bigger…and just like anything else in life there will always be people trying to destroy the little hope and good that came from someone else in events of most terrible circumstances…” agreed.
    The movie brings the horror of genocide into the light of day. It raises the questions we need to ask. You would think and hope that humans would relearn their humanity. Whatever that may be, instead of once again saying, “never again.”

  23. Russesabagina-is an odd bird. During the genocide I led a Rwandan Doctor and his family into this man’s hotel in Kigale late one moonless night when It was too late to leave the capital. I left the family hidden in my vehicle–took the pistol I secrety carried and entered the pitch black lobby. There was broken glass all over the floor. I froze when I heard someone else walking towards me. I called out and told him

  24. Is there a collection of eyewitness accounts available somewhere? I agree that money might have been needed for supplies. Would the UN soldiers guarding the hotel not have been made aware of the fact that Paul R was selective of who was allowed to stay and who was kicked out – according to those rumours floating around these days?

  25. My name is Allen Campbell-l was actually in Rwanda from April through December. I rescued numerous people from Kigali. I ran into this guy late one night at his hotel when I found I could not escape with another family I was rescuing. I spent the night at his hotel of horrors for one night. When I first entered the very dark and shattered lobby I ran into him in the lobby area. I was in fact armed and threaten him with his life if he did not help me hide this doctrine his family from the Hutu’s. He advised me that he was a “good Hutu”and not one of the bad ones. I had him stay in the room with the doctor and his family that night. I threatened to kill him if he attempted to leave the hotel and communicate with the bad guys. In the morning he prepared a meal of African fruits for breakfast. All that night, I kept thinking I should kill this guy-but in the morning I departed and he was still alive. This man is a remarkable liar and perhaps that’s why he remained alive. For other Tutsi families he welcome in the front door and then pushed them out the back door into the hands of the waiting Intermamwe (killers) according to General Romeo Dallaire who advised me personally on this man. I have come to regret decision I made that night in 1994 to let him live.

  26. Allen I think you might be lying. not about the Paul being bad but the you being there here is how I can tell. you said he said he was a “good Hutu” when he had a Tutsi family, and you said “interMAMwe” when it is the interHAMwe so any questions on how you got schooled?

  27. ,
    Richard, you are absolutely correct in that I misspelled the word Intermamwe. I was schooled through the Jesuit system and received my BA from Loyola University in New Orleans. I received my MA while flying in southern Africa, the name of the University I choose to not. name. I would only suggest that you were not in Rwanda , and therefore you should not base your total perception of me based on a single grammatical error. I stand by everything I said about the individual in question and am, in fact, finishing a book on the subject that should be published sometimes next year. I am also a 100% disabled veteran of the United States Marine Corps, part of my injuries include my non functional right hand that I use to type with. Allen Campbell

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