April 7, 1994 is the date recognized by the international community as the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide.
During his lecture on March 27th at the Rackham Auditorium, Paul Rusesabagina shared why the anniversary of the atrocities is for him, and many other Rwandans and Ugandans, October 1, 1990. This is the date that exiled Tutsis returned to Rwanda and began killing Hutu civilians, leaving 1 million people in refugee camps. In 1993, a Hutu president was elected in the neighboring country of Burundi but he was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers. Following the assassination, a peace agreement was signed by the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels and 2500 UN soldiers were placed in the capital city Kigali. Mr. Rusesabagina said that people who thought the genocide came and disappeared at specific points are mislead and misinformed; there were signs that genocide was occurring and that is was going to continue prior to April 7, 1994.
On April 7, 1994, Mr. Rusesabagina had just returned from a vacation in Europe. On April 6th, he was at his home with his brother-in-law and family. That evening, the atrocities escalated. His Tutsi neighbors flocked to his home and asked for his help; he took them to the hotel where he was manager. And for the next three months Mr. Rusesabagina kept his neighbors and 1200 Rwandans alive while outside the hotel walls more than 10,000 people a day were being killed.
Mr. Rusesabagina’s story was the basis for the 2004 Academy Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda in which Mr. Rusesabagina was portrayed by Don Cheadle. Mr. Rusesabagina’s autobiography was published in 2006, An Ordinary Man. During his lecture, Mr. Rusesabagina shared how his actual life story diverges from the movie portrayal. He did not go to Tanzania as the movie shows but instead remained in Rwanda for 2 more years until an assassination attempt on his life in 1996. He has been living in exile in Belgium and began the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation.
He was a very passionate speaker and engaged the audience during his talk and answered questions thoughtfully. He told those in attendance that his conscience is his best advisor and that for now, being a humanitarian is the best way he can bring about change for his country and the international community. The final question asked was “How can you still have faith in the international community after it failed you in 1994?”. Mr. Rusesabagina responded:
“I do not have faith in an organization… If you want to score a goal, you have to go down to the pitch and play. If you don’t go down to the pitch, you can not score. By being silent, he could not score. So he went down to the pitch to try and score. This is message today to change the international community.”
You can see the entire talk on the Ford School event website, the video is at the bottom of the page. You can also go to Twitter and do a search for the #fordschoolrwanda to see the thread from the afternoon.