'An Ordinary Man' Navigates Rwanda's Genocide
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
April 6th, 12 years ago, the private plane of the Rwandan president was shot down over Kigali, the capital. Just hours later, the slaughter began. At the end of 100 days, 800,000 people were dead, and the silence from the international community was deafening.
Paul Rusesabagina was one of those who watched Rwanda descend into madness, but he did not stand by in silence. As the manager of Rwanda's four star luxury Mille Collines, he transformed the hotel into a haven for refugees, standing between 1,200 people and all but certain slaughter.
He never planned to make his story public, but he became an international celebrity after his story was dramatized in the widely acclaimed film HOTEL RWANDA. Now he tells his story himself. His autobiography was released last week. It's called AN ORDINARY MAN. Paul Rusesabagina is with me for the hour today in studio 3A. It's an honor to have you here. Welcome to the program.
Mr. PAUL RUSESABAGINA (Author, AN ORDINARY MAN): It's a pleasure. Thank you.
MARTIN: And we'd like to hear from you this hour, particularly those of you who are from Rwanda or who have lived or worked in Rwanda. If you have questions for Paul Rusesabagina, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, Mr. Rusesabagina, I have to confess to you that I carried your book around in my bag for weeks, and I did that because I just, you know, I did not go to Rwanda, but I know many people who did who covered the story. I watched the story closely, and I just did not want to relive those memories, and I know that reliving it from a distance is not at all the same as living through it, but I wanted to ask you, was it hard to write this book because you had to relive them?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Definitely writing this book was very hard for me because it recalls always what we went through. You know that whenever we think about the Rwandan genocide, everything is always fresh in mind as if it was happening yesterday.
MARTIN: And did you hesitate to do it or did you feel that you had to?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: I never hesitated. I first of all, I only didn't want to talk about myself right from the beginning in 1994. I wanted other people to do it, first of all, and this is what happened with HOTEL RWANDA.
MARTIN: How did your story become public?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Immediately after the genocide, all those people who were not there to witness what was going on during that genocide, they came in as angels, as book writers, as journalists, and all of them were very much surprised to notice that Mille Collines Hotel was the only place where many people were hiding and no one from the beginning to the end was killed. No one was taken out to be killed outside or even beaten in the hotel. So from the beginning to the end, I had 1,268 people, and they all of them went out safe.
MARTIN: And many of those people, then, told people what had happened and that's how they came to you?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: They actually were surprised, and then referred to me by the hotel employees and the many Mille Collines survivals who just were saying how they survived. Then, in most of the books talking about the Rwandan genocide, you will see my name and a lot of stories from the Mille Collines Hotel.
MARTIN: Your story, your book is very helpful in understanding this conflict, which is still very hard to understand, but one of the things you explain is how the conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis began, and it is described as either a racial conflict or an intertribal conflict. Is that really true?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually, that conflict is written in our history. It is starting a long time before the colonization when Hutus were actually slaves to Tutsis. And when colonizers came in late 1800s, they took Tutsis to be more intelligent, to be more closer to Europeans, to be made to be leaders, whereas Hutus were supposed to work land, and they used Tutsis to oppress Hutus until 1959 during the Hutu revolution which was, unfortunately, a Hutu revolution and not a national revolution.
A national, what here I mean, what I mean by national revolution is a Hutu and Tutsi revolution, all together, to get rid of the colonizers. So our countrymen also had to leave the country because for about 60 years, they had been partners to colonizers, so they were also, they were kicked out of their country, and that time about 250,000 Rwandans fled the country and went to neighboring countries as refugees.
MARTIN: So the oppressed became the oppressor.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: The oppressed became the oppressor.
MARTIN: Can I, as an outsider, tell people apart? Are these differences as distinct as they are, as they are experienced in Rwanda, to an outsider?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually, to an outsider, maybe many years ago you could see and say that this one's a Hutu, the other one is a Tutsi, but today, many people look alike. People have been mixing through what are centuries, and today people, you can't know who is a Hutu, who is a Tutsi. Almost all of us we are mixed.
MARTIN: In fact, your mother is Tutsi.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: My mother was a Tutsi and my father was a Hutu.
MARTIN: Well, why then were you not considered Tutsi?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Because in Rwanda, we follow the father's lines, so I was a Hutu because my father was a Hutu.
MARTIN: And you tell a story in your book of a friend of yours, a childhood friend of yours, who had the same mixture but the opposite, that his father was Tutsi and his mother was Hutu, your friend --
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Gerard.
MARTIN: Gerard. What happened to Gerard as a result of the fact that slight difference made all the difference.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Gerard was kicked out of the school. He went to work land just like any peasants, and he started selling the banana beers, and until a time when he got a job in a bank, in a people's bank, where he worked as a small clerk throughout his life. I used to talk to him. He had ambitions. He had goals and objectives, but that time, being kicked out of a school in Rwanda meant the end of life almost.
MARTIN: And that sort of discrimination was, was it legal, I mean, was permitted, tolerated, accepted?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually, it was accepted at that time because being out, kicked out of a school meant the loss of everything because a school, one school was just meant for a student. There were so few schools. About only 2 percent of the children were going to a secondary school, so it can, the chances were not so many, and being what, being reinstalled in another school, it was almost impossible.
MARTIN: Let's talk to a caller now. Let's go to Roanoke, Virginia, and Brian. Welcome, Brian.
BRIAN (Caller): Yes, ma'am. Yeah, my Rwandan name is actually Rubaduka (ph) which is what I prefer, but I'll go by Brian.
MARTIN: Well, what's on your mind, Brian?
BRIAN: Well, I'll tell you what. I've been a teacher in Rwanda, and I'm engaged to a Rwandan so, I don't know, I taught, I had the opportunity to teach at the Prime Minister's Office out there in Rwanda up until recently. But I've been back for a couple of months.
I have two questions. The first question concerns the French involvement in the genocide and the recent story that just came out about that. The second question deals with how, here in the west, the western media tend to repeat the old, the old myths about the Hutus and the Tutsis, without going back to the primary sources to try to figure out where these myths came from in the first place. But, if I can get to my first --
MARTIN: Well, you know what, Brian, I think let's stick to the second question here, and just to hone in on it, you're saying what, that you don't think that in the west it is well understood that the origin of these ethnic differences is what?
BRIAN: Well, how could it be easily understood? Because in one region the definition means one thing. In another region, it's something else. At one time period it means one thing at another time period it means something else. You know.
You had Belgian colonists measuring the width of people's noses to determine, you know, whether it's a Tutsi or a Hutu. If you had a wide nose, you're a Hutu; if you had a narrow nose, you're a Tutsi. At another point, it depends on how many cows you have. If you have more than 10 cows, you're a Tutsi, if you have less than 10 cows, you're a Hutu. So, I mean, the definition changes from time to time and from place to place, so how could you possibly understand it or easily summarize it.
MARTIN: Okay. Thank you Brian. I appreciate that. Thank you.
Is that so?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: That is, that is very much so. Before colonization the king could have, could take many Tutsis who were not responding to his duties and obligations and call them Hutus. Take all their cows, because the wealth in Rwanda was always measured in terms of cows. And also, when colonizers also made it again worse when they started measuring noses. Taking some Hutus as Tutsis in some, because they had what are thin noses and taking some Tutsis as Hutus because they had wide and short noses. That is, at a given time, the argument of Hutu and Tutsi became just meaningless.
MARTIN: What, I guess what I'm trying to understand is were those distinctions original to the country before the Europeans arrived and do the Europeans exploit them? Or were these imposed from outside as a way to create conflict among the population, to make it easier to control?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: There was a difference between Hutus and Tutsis before colonization. Because a Hutu, what does a Hutu mean? A Hutu means someone who works for another. It meant to that time, someone who is just like a slave. A Hutu was working for Tutsi.
MARTIN: Why do you think you, your father particularly, and you also, who are married to a Tutsi, why do you think that this kind of racial consciousness did not infect your family?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I think that was because of my father and mother. My parents were, they were above the racial, the ethnic, the ethnic programs. They went above everything.
MARTIN: We're talking with Paul Rusesabagina, his book is called NO ORDINARY MAN. And we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is email@example.com. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington.
We're honored to have as our guest today Paul Rusesabagina. He's the hotel manager who saved 1200 of his countrymen who sought refuge in his hotel. His story inspired the Oscar-nominated movie HOTEL RWANDA. You can read an excerpt from his autobiography, NO ORDINARY MAN, at our web site, npr.org. You're invited to join the discussion. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Rusesabagina, your father sounds like an extraordinary person. You talk about the 1959 rebellion, and all of a sudden, all these people show up at your house and what was that like for you?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: In 1959, I was a boy who was five years old. I saw many houses being burned, and I was even asking my parents, what was happening. They told me that bad people had come. Why were other people coming to our house? I don't know, but they told me then that something has happened in Kigali, many things were happening around us, and those people had militaries to come to our house to stay with us for a few days. So that is how it was. But my father, he was a gentleman. He was someone who was between Hutus and Tutsis but also very strict, correct, and I admired his sense of justice.
MARTIN: Were you scared though, when all these people showed up at your house and you had to sleep outside?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: I was a child. I really didn't care. And whenever my father was around, just like kin children, I felt protected.
MARTIN: Do you think that his decision to shelter these refuges affected you later on?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Maybe, maybe it did, because later on, I happen to learn what was going on that time.
MARTIN: And how, how did you talk to your own children about the racial differences in Rwanda? How did you talk to them about where they fit into the firmament and how they should think about that?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: To go about that, talking with examples is always the best solution. But we also, at a given time, had to sit down and talk about it. But it, with examples, Hutus and Tutsis have ever been coming to my house just sharing whatever we had. Each and every year on the New Year Eve, many people, Hutus and Tutsis, all together, come to my house. We celebrate for the whole night, until the following day, so my children are use to both Hutus and Tutsis.
MARTIN: In the days before the massacre began, did you have a sense that something was going to happen? Did you and other people have a sense that something was about to happen?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: We were all of us sensing something. Since 1993 when we saw that many, about a million people were surrounding Kigali, fleeing the zones occupied by the rebels. Because the rebels also were killing civilians on their way to Kigali. And all the zones behind them were just empty.
So by that time, 1993, many people were surrounding Kigali, coming to beg in town, going to sleep in the open air, under the sun, under the dust, under the rain, in (unintelligible) without food, without water, without shelter. Just dying every day of natural catastrophes in camps.
MARTIN: Did you, you had just been in Belgium for a training exercise or experience or something, just a couple of weeks before the massacres happened. Did it ever occur to you not to come back?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I was in Belgium in the managers' meeting. I went in March, 1994. That was a month before the genocide broke out. And then, after my managers' meeting, I had a vacation. I had taken my wife and my younger son, who is now 13 years old, almost 14. He's, we toured. We did a tour until March 31st, a Thursday morning, that is when we landed in Kigali, and instead of going to the hotel, where we had been staying for months, we went to our house, because we trusted the international community. We believed in the U.N. peacekeepers. We thought that that they were peacekeepers.
We never knew that they were there to run away when things become tough. And even the few ones who remained there, about 260 soldiers, were not keeping peace. They were just observing. In just in uniforms, without any weapon, without even defending a civilian.
MARTIN: When did it become clear that the United Nations was not going to step in, that they were not going to stop this, that no international outside force was going to stop this?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Already on day one, that was when the, April the 7th, when the ten built-in soldiers were massacred by the army, the ten, those were bodyguards to the Prime Minister, when they were massacred, Belgium decided to pull out, backed by the United Kingdom, the United States, the whole of the international community, decided to pull out, to take out more than 2,000 soldiers and leave us with 200 and a few more.
MARTIN: And how, can you describe what the moment was like for you when you realized the massacres were occurring? And in what, you had your family, did you think about just leaving the country? What, what was going through your mind? I know, you made the decision to take your family to the hotel, but then what?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I did not really have an opportunity to think about leaving the country with my wife and my children, because already, from my house, on day one, many, we saw our neighbors, most of them in military uniforms, others in militia uniforms. We couldn't believe our eyes. Many of our neighbors were killed the same morning, the very same morning of day one.
And then, all those who were not killed and not yet, not killing, came to my house. By the end of the day, we had 26 friends, strangers who were staying with us, so even when I got an opportunity to leave my house and go to the hotel, when the government, the new government, the interim government decided to get settled in my hotel, the diplomat hotel, and they sent soldiers to come and they procured me, I had to take my neighbors who were also in my house.
MARTIN: You didn't have to.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I had to because my own conscience was to my own advisor, I call my conscience my advisor. My advisor was telling me that listen, do not leave these people behind. If you do, and they are killed, you will never be a free man. You will be a prisoner of yourself. You'll be, you will never eat and feel satisfied. You will never drink and feel satisfied. Don't leave them behind. This is an opportunity.
MARTIN: Why do you think that you were able to make that decision and so many other people were not? I mean, educated people. This was not simply, you know, ragamuffins with nothing. There were, as you pointed out in your book, there were clergy who said nothing, who stood by. There were people who were radio announcers, the radio broadcasters were fomenting the genocide. Why do you think you were able to make the decision to spare life when other people who were similarly situated either stood by or took life?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually, I was not, opposite to what people say or think, I was not the only one who did that. There are so many others, other people who did the same, because if there is Tutsis who survived, it was because of their neighbors, Hutus, who helped them to survive. And we thought simply that we were doing the right thing.
We thought we were sure that we were doing the right thing from the beginning to the end. And many of those ones were even killed protecting their neighbors.
MARTIN: Let's go to, I think it's Devor, California. I'm sorry if I'm mispronouncing this, let's go to Dustin.
DUSTIN (Caller): Hello
MARTIN: Hello, Dustin.
DUSTIN: Hi. Paul, it is very nice to speak to you today. I want to first thank you for your contribution to humanity, because people like you really make the world that I live in a better place. And I appreciate that.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, thank you.
DUSTIN: My question is, you know, I'm a journalist, and I, I have seen some tragedy, not on anywhere near the scale that you were exposed to, but you know the things that I've seen have left a feeling of fear and terror in me that comes to the surface sometimes. And I wanted to know, for you, with the scope of the tragedy witnessed, how, as an ordinary man, how has that affected your spirit, and how does that impact, you know, your life day to day? Because I can't even imagine putting myself in that situation. I think it would break me down.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: That has really affected my day-to-day life. Before the Rwandan genocide, I use to be a very cheerful guy. I could go to a bar, even pay, pay rounds to other people who were in the bar, just smiling, laughing, talking to each and every one. But since the genocide, I never went back to any bar.
I suspect each and every human being, and my belief has also been affected, just like many Rwandans. We, before the genocide, we used to say that God could wander all around the world and make sure to come to sleep in Rwanda, but during the genocide we were asking God, but God, where are you? Where have you gone? You have abandoned our whole nation.
And afterwards, even now, many people have been affected by what we have seen. We do no more trust any human being. A human being to us is more or less like a shark, just sleeping, lying on the bottom of a sea, which can emerge any time and break a lot of boats.
MARTIN: Thank you, Dustin.
It's a very personal question, Mr. Rusesabagina, but have you lost your faith as a result of what you saw and lived through?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Not really. I not really lost my faith, because I believe that no one will die before the hour, before the day, even the minute, each and everyone has got a time on the earth, and even if the people, if Rwandans were not going to kill Rwandans, they were going to die in another way.
MARTIN: How, then, do you make sense of what happened?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, actually, it doesn't really make sense. But we have to find a sense to find a solution somewhere.
MARTIN: One of the atrocities that you describe in the book is the one I think we all confront, and it is the atrocity of silence, and you've previously described the U.N. as not only useless but worse than useless, in some ways a negative presence. Would you talk more about that?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I believe that the United Nations have kept quite silent and silence is agreement or complicity. So, the U.N. never did anything. They simply turned backs, closed ears and eyes, and didn't want to see. Didn't want to take responsibilities.
During the Rwandan genocide, when U.N. left, it was a clear message sent to killers, telling them that, listen, you guys, you are stronger than us. Telling the killers that you are stronger than us. Go ahead. Do your job. We have failed. We can't face you. So, that was the message and that encouraged killers much more to kill many more than earlier.
That time when the U.N. just turned backs and ran away, we saw priests killing their church members. Church members killing priests. Husbands killing wives and wives killing husbands. We saw people killing people, piling dead bodies on the road, making road blocks and drinking beers. We saw a lot of disasters in that country.
And yet, many people who had fled, many people had fled their houses, had gathered in schools, had gathered in churches, under the U.N. protection, but when they just decided to leave them, they simply left, and those people were just begging, telling them that, please, do take us with you. Because if you don't, these guys are going to kill us.
So you can imagine seeing the United Nations evacuating all the foreigners, including their soldiers, their so-called peacekeepers being evacuated, leaving victims on their own, abandoning, actually, victims. So, how can you be on my side and have faith and trust again the United Nations?
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Is it hard for you to travel to these world capitals? You've been a guest of many countries. Many people have received you, particularly in connection to the film and to be feted and, you know, petted and given awards. And to look at these world leaders who could have intervened and failed to do so, is that difficult?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, it is difficult, but again, if we want to play, if you want to play a role, if you want to play a game, you have to go to the field. Because if you don't go to the field, you'll be isolating yourself and you won't get anywhere. Becoming bitter, angry, just going in my own corner, it is possible. But is it the best solution? If you want to change things, you have to be there. So, we also have to be there.
MARTIN: And one of the things you've been active on is the question of Darfur. You've been an eloquent spokesperson on behalf of the Sudanese people who are caught between Arab militias and the rebel armies. Why have you decided to get involved in this conflict? One would think that you've seen quite enough.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: I think that after the Rwandan genocide, I became a humanitarian. I became very much concerned by what is going on all around us. And then as a humanitarian, I travel, I just recently traveled to Darfur with some congressmen and Don Cheadle who is also the actor who played my role, and John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, we went to see, me, I wanted to see what was going on in Darfur, and unfortunately, what was going on in Rwanda in 1994 is exactly what has been going on in Darfur since 2003 up to now.
MARTIN: And do you feel that the international community has responded in any meaningful way? I mean, certainly many, I think more journalists have been writing about this than the situation in Rwanda. It's gotten high level attention from some of our, you know, major publications, but do you see anything different in the response?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Unfortunately, history keeps on repeating itself and does never teach us any lessons. What was going on in Rwanda is what is going on in Darfur. The whole world stood by in the Rwandan case and even today, the whole world is again standing by watching and doesn't do anything to help those victims.
MARTIN: Is there anything that gives you cause for hope that these spasms of violence that we experience around the world will cease or that the international community will somehow involve itself before so much life is lost? Is there anything that keeps -- What keeps you hopeful? Surely, something must or you wouldn't be able to visit with us today.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Definitely I still have hope. I believe in the people. I believe in the power of you and I changing things. We vote for our leaders. In the west, especially. So, we believe that our leaders in the west are going to change things.
What I heard this morning is that the U.S. administration was trying now to get a little more involved in what is going on in Darfur, so, I believe in a better future for the Darfurians, which is the difference of what was going on in Rwanda in 1994.
MARTIN: When we come back from a short break, we'll have more about Rwanda and Darfur with Paul Rusesabagina. I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Today, we're talking with Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who risked his life to save 1200 Tutsis and moderate Hutus form slaughter during the genocide that raged in Rwanda twelve years ago. You can read an excerpt from Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography, AN ORDINARY MAN, at our website, NPR.org. Please join us if you have questions about Rwanda or for Paul Rusesabagina at 800-989-TALK.
Let's go to a caller. Let's go to Oregon and to Konzo (ph). Are you there?
KONZO (Caller): Good afternoon, brother Paul.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Good afternoon.
KONZO: I was born in Khartoum Sudan. And my question is with all the devastation and suffering that Africa has faced, whether it's Rwanda, Sudan, you name it. Every nation must have from epidemics to AIDS to ethnic cleansing, when the world looked the other way, but 1990, one million soldiers rallied to liberate the Kurds in north Iraq because they have the oil. Is this the case, that Iraq is left alone to devastation because there isn't enough oil?
MARTIN: What he's saying, do you understand the question?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, I think that is a rather political question and I really don't want to get involved, to involve the ordinary man in political, in deep, political business.
KONZO: Do you see an end to ethnic cleansing and tribal devastation, at least, in Africa?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Yes.
MARTIN: Okay, thank you. Thank you, Konzo. Thank you for joining us.
What is the situation in Rwanda now?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Unfortunately, after the genocide, the killings never ended. Many people were being tied from the back, beaten to death. Others were tied and thrown in containers. You can imagine how a container can be hot daytime and cold in the night. And then, many died like that. Burnt and their ashes thrown in the forests. Many others were gathered and locked into houses and oil was poured on the houses and they were burnt alive. A refugee camp in 1995 was completely destroyed by government helicopters and machine guns and 8,500 people were killed.
We, you can see, when I lived in Rwanda in 1996, I did not go outside as a tourist. I just went to seek asylum. So, Rwanda unfortunately, things did not change immediately, and even now, I think we need to really sit down, talk about our problems, and through dialogue, truth, we reconcile and rebuild the country.
MARTIN: Is there any mechanism for doing that? Is there any way that people are talking?
I mean, one thing we've observed is that there are, a number of women have been elected to the legislature. Not that that's the, sort of the panacea there, but there's a sense that perhaps they are more willing to set some of these rivalries aside.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Yeah, we'll bring up women and they brought them in the Parliament. That is a very good idea. But were they elected? They were just nominated. Who just chose them? The president himself. He's choosing who he wants to do what he wants. So there's no free election in Rwanda.
For instance, the president himself was elected at 95 percent point something. Can you imagine that happening in the United States?
MARTIN: In fact, you have some strong words toward the end of your book about the current president. You've called him a classic African strong man. And he has some rather strong words for you, too. He has said in interviews subsequently that, he says that you took money from the refugees. He's said that you had little to do with the actual release of the refugees who were staying at the hotel. Why is he saying these things and what is your response to these things?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: I think that from the day I was received at the White House last year, the president, Mr. Kagame, felt threatened. And, when the movie came out and was shown in Rwanda in April last year, he was much more threatened.
That is when he spoke for the first time about myself and called me a Hollywood-made hero. That is what he talked about during the eleventh commemoration of the genocide on April 7th, 2005.
MARTIN: And for those, any who have any lingering doubt, who have heard these allegations that you took money from the refugees, what, your response is?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually HOTEL RWANDA does never show, I knew that the government was going to do this, definitely, absolutely. Hotel Rwanda does not show a hotel manager who does not receive payments from the guests. You have seen for the first time that he doesn't. A manager does not run after clients, customers, to make them pay. But you saw the manager in HOTEL RWANDA, just himself, distributing bills to people asking them for payment. Because I knew this was going to happen, and I asked filmmakers to add that part of it. So then it won't be new, so that there wouldn't be any discussion about this.
MARTIN: Do you find these allegations painful?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Oh well, they are not painful to me. I would like to see the president himself talking about me every day.
MARTIN: Well, okay. Let's go to Florida, and Jenny. Welcome Jenny.
JENNY (Caller): Well, first of all, you're just a true inspiration to me. And my question is, my cousins are two lost boys from Sudan, and I was just wondering, I know you've set up something, a relief for the orphaned children in Rwanda? And I was just wondering how you did that and what it's about?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: In 1994, immediately after the 100 days, my wife, a friend and myself decided to drive south and see what was remaining where we come from. We come, all of us, we come from the south. So when I arrived at my brother-in-law's home, one of my brother-in-laws, we noticed that he had been killed and one of his daughters was killed with my mother-in-law. But his wife had, my wife's sister, had eight children, other children. They were living in a rural area. She had seven daughters and just a small boy whom she was carrying in a bag, zipping in, in order to hide him, because killers were hunting for boys.
I took my sister-in-law to Kigali, to my house in Kigali, and I went to (unintelligible) a diplomat with my wife and children. And the house she occupied, our house. Then I had to create a job for her and I also to pay, school fees, for her eight children. She was new in the city and she hadn't, she knew nothing, she had nothing to survive.
So I had to create a job for her and pay school fees for her. A few weeks later, one of my wife's younger sisters again came in from the Congo where she had fled with others. She came, she knew that, learned that we were still alive, and she came back. I also sent her to my house with her three sons.
So then, we had 11 children and their two mothers. That is how I started. And then, as time went on, also my nephews, my nieces, came seeking for help, and that is how I started that. Now, Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation. But it had started a long time before.
Today, most of those kids are university students. And my foundation is helping, paying tuitions for all those young kids, helping all those raped women, paying for the medical care, with their psychological follow-up, and everything. I had, my own conscience advised me to do so.
MARTIN: Jenny, how are your cousins doing? The boys from Sudan. How are they doing?
JENNY: They're, one of them is doing really, really well. But the other one is, he's having a rough time. Because he's in school right now, but he can't speak very good English. And so, he's having a rough time with that. But they're really starting to fit in.
MARTIN: Okay, Jenny, thank you for calling.
JENNY: Yes, thank you very much. Bye.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Thank you.
MARTIN: You live in Brussels now. How do you support your family?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well, when I left Rwanda, a refugee, I had no other alternative. I was lucky to leave Rwanda with a briefcase, with at least something. And when I left, I just had enough money to buy a cab. Just one taxi. And I became a boss of myself. So I was driving my taxi myself, every day, getting up at five, making my coffee, driving my taxi all around Brussels. Until 7PM. And I did this for a year.
After a year, I bought a second one, and three years later, I opened a trucking company in Zambia. And today, I own a trucking company. I'm moving around, doing a lot of speeches. I'm a writer; I have written a book. So I'm busy and also my foundation. So I'm busy.
MARTIN: How is your family?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Everybody is doing well. My two daughters are grownups. They are married with, my elder daughter has got two daughters, and her sister has got a son. So we, everybody is doing well. My youngest son is now in Southboro, not far from Boston, in a boarding school. That (unintelligible) is also who, our daughter is attending secondary schools in Brussels.
MARTIN: Does he remember what happened? Your youngest son?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: No, my youngest son does not remember what happened, because during the genocide he was one and a half years old. And his cousins, also, my wife's two nieces, you have seen, they were babies. The elder one was just three years and her sister was nine months.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Do you still have dreams about what happened?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: I used to have dreams and nightmares. But since I started talking about Rwanda and genocide on such a large scale, every day, I believe that the best therapy in life is to talk. To share with others. And this is what I have been doing.
MARTIN: And you never find it painful?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Well it is always, ever, painful. And you know then, even if I followed HOTEL RWANDA, when it was being made, from the beginning to the end, even the production side of it, I followed it in London. But whenever I see it, it is always fresh in mind. I always take at least 15 minutes to come back to myself.
MARTIN: I'd like to go to Columbus, Ohio, and John. John, welcome.
JOHN (Caller): Hello.
MARTIN: Hello. What's on your mind?
JOHN: Yeah, I just want to ask my brother, what they are doing in Rwanda now? Are they doing reconstruction or are they let themselves, how long it take for them to take their people who are responsible for this crime to court or wherever?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Unfortunately, we replaced a dictatorship by a dictatorship. There you can have no reconciliation, you can never reconcile people before you do justice. In Rwanda we have almost 100,000 Hutu prisoners. Hutus killed Tutsis during the 100 days, from April the 6th up to July the 4th, when the rebels took over the country. But before the genocide, Tutsis on the hills were inviting Hutu men for meetings and killing them. They were inviting their young people, their young sons to join their rebel's army, and killing them on the hills.
If you go to Byumba and the Ruhengeri in the north of Rwanda today, you will notice there 80 percent of the population are just widows without sons, without husbands. And that is why people were fleeing the rebels. And by 1993, we had about a million people displaced within Rwanda, surrounding Kigali, who had fled the zones occupied by the rebels.
Those ones are not supposed to be punished because they have been the winners. And the winner is writing history. And then after the genocide, also, as I described Tutsis killed Hutus. Those who killed are supposed to be killers as well. So all the killers are not being judged, and not tried, and not convicted the same way. As long as the injustice is not being done, there won't be true reconciliation.
MARTIN: John, thank you for calling.
JOHN: Um, hello?
MARTIN: I said thank you for calling, John.
JOHN: Wait, I want to make a point but I didn't get it done. If you --
MARTIN: Okay, briefly, if you would.
JOHN: The point that I want to make is, you know, that, when you start talking, you talking about U.N., international community. I think U.N. is there for the white people, it's not for the Africans or black people. The reason why I'm saying so is a couple of years ago we saw South Africa. There's millions of people who are being killed, but nobody has been called for trial. There is international community, hey, what about (unintelligible). Nobody called them for trial.
Recently, they caught Charles Taylor. Bush, our President of United States, he told Charles Taylor to go to Azar without having any trial problem. They might accept him. And he went to Azar. And right now, he call him back, go to trial. Which is there is no peace in Liberia now.
I don't know what the international community is doing.
MARTIN: Okay, John, thank you so much for the call.
JOHN: (Unintelligible) stop, but they can able to try them. I mean, was there --
MARTIN: Okay, John, thank you so much for calling.
But do you, what about John's point? Do you think that that's a widespread view? I mean, not that you, you know, you cannot speak for the continent, you cannot speak for a whole country, but do you think that there is a view in Africa in the region that the U.N. really doesn't care about the problems of the region? That it's more European oriented or somehow more interested in other parts of the world?
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: Actually to me, the United Nations is a nonexisting institution, because it does nothing. The United Nations are not doing anything, and especially when it comes to the peacekeeping side of it. But it will, and they are doing a lot of things of course in the other fields. But in the peacekeeping mission, they are not doing anything. Especially when it comes to Africa.
What happened in Rwanda in 1994. A million people were killed. Approximately, they say 800 or a million were killed in fifteen, or in 100 days. And a million men to that time, 15 percent of the population. So it was a million out of 7.5, 15 percent of the population, killed, decimated, in 100 days.
Imagine if, for instance, the United States. You--about 300 million. Imagine if someone could come and kill 45 million people in 100 days. Do you believe that the whole world, the international community, would keep quiet and silent, stand by, watch?
MARTIN: Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography is called AN ORDINARY MAN. He's a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Civil Rights Museum's 2005 Freedom Awards. He joined us in studio 3A.
Thank you so much for being here.
Mr. RUSESABAGINA: You're welcome. Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.