Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero from the film “Hotel Rwanda,” spoke at UCF about his vivid memories of the Rwandan genocide.
Rusesabagina spoke to an audience of nearly 650 people at his presentation, which was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office as a feature of the 2010-2011 programming theme “Global Peace and Security.”
Rusesabagina described the ethnic makeup of Rwanda, explaining that of 10 million people, 85 percent are Hutu and 14 percent are Tutsi. Rusesabagina said he is considered a Hutu, based on his father’s lineage.
He said the seeds of the 1994 Rwandan genocide were sown many years before the actual crisis happened, as power struggles and clashes had occurred several times between Hutus and Tutsis. An early marker of this tension dates back to the 1959 Hutu Revolution, when the Tutsis lost power and were forced to flee into exile.
“One could see the genocide coming, but no one spoke out,” said Rusesabagina. “We closed our eyes, closed our ears and turned our backs.”
Genocide doesn’t come out of nowhere, Rusesabagina said, but remains almost hidden until certain conditions cause it to emerge. Then it catches attention, he said, and is recorded in history books as a genocide that lasted for a mere moment, or three months in Rwanda’s case.
Once the murder and mayhem had begun and intensified in Rwanda, the United Nations arrived, but the killing didn’t stop as he thought it might, said Rusesabagina.
At one point, his home became a shelter for 26 people looking to escape the carnage. Later, Rusesabagina would spend 76 days at the Hotel des Mille Collines, which he managed, sheltering more than 1,000 people.
Every day, he went to the swimming pool, which was guarded, to draw water for people to use.They had only dry beans and corn to eat, and attacks on the hotel occurred relentlessly, Rusesabagina said. At that point,10,000 Rwandans were dying each day, he said.
In dealing with the evil, he said the most important lesson he learned was“open your mouth, and you will come to a compromise.”
Even after the genocide was over, Rwanda wasnot safe.Rusesabagina was threatened many times, forcing him into exile. Eventually, he explained, he was approached to help make the film “Hotel Rwanda,” which hesaw as a window of opportunity to inform the international community of his homeland’s tragedy.
“What happened in Rwanda did not start or end in 1994; it is an ongoing problem in the country,” Rusesabagina said, adding that thousands are killed in Rwanda each month, amidst a background of limited political freedom and a bloody mineral war.
“For so long, we have stood by,” he said. “Today is the day to do something.”
In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors of Rusesabagina’s presentation included the UCF Student Government Association, The Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, LarsonAllen LLP, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Office of Diversity Initiatives, the UCF International Services Center, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.