RUSESABAGINA DURING THE GENOCIDE:
Paul Rusesabagina was the interim manager of the both of the Hotel Diplomates and Milles Collines during the four, long months of the Rwandan genocide. He was instrumental in helping save thousands of lives (1,268 to be precise), and became a hero who did all he could to prevent the loss of lives. He used persuasion and tact to lure the would-be killers away by offering them liquor and convincing them to leave. The Mille Collines was classy and upscale but Rusesabagina used it as a form of shelter to many.
Following is a timeline and summary of the major events that involve Rusesabagina, starting April 6, with the assassination of President Habyarimana.
APRIL 6: Rusesabagina has dinner at the Diplomates hotel, the sister counterpart of the Hotel Mille Collines, with his brother-in-law, who is a Tutsi…He drives home after his wife, Tatiana, calls…Stays home overnight because it is too dangerous to travel back to the hotel with the blood-thirsty Rwandan militia and Interahamwe roaming the streets of Kigali.
APRIL 7: Rusesabagina hides 32 Tutsi refugees inside his home…In the meantime, he works his phone line and political connections to try to secure an escort back to the Diplomates, where he is needed since he is the manager there.
APRIL 9: The Rwandan Army arrives at Rusesabagina’s house, and demands that Paul come and opens the Diplomates, since he is the manager. Paul brings 32 ‘’family members’’ with him, but eventually the Army general catches on to his ploy. Rusesabagina ultimately negotiates a price to pay for them all (one million French francs) in order so that they aren’t killed and end up safe inside the Diplomates. The new, interim Rwandan government uses the Diplomates as its temporary operational and military headquarters.
APRIL 12: Rusesabagina and his immediate family (he leaves his 32 neighbors and friends back at the Diplomates, where it is safe) follows the evacuating government leaders to just get out of the Diplomates hotel and discretely peels off to the nearby Mille Collines…He eventually manages his way through the military roadblock at the entrance. Once inside, he contacts the commander of National Police to rid himself of the roadblock. In short time, he is named the official interim manager of the Mille Collines in order that he can retrieve the master keys to the hotel from a disgruntled employee.
APRIL 16: Rusesabagina writes to UN General Romeo Dallaire to request for additional UN troops and protection. The request was unsuccessful due to lack of cooperation from within the UN chain of command.
MID-APRIL: The Mille Collines loses water and electricity.
When ordered by a young lieutenant of the Department of Military Intelligence in the early hours of April 23rd to evacuate his hotel guests, most of whom were there for protection, he hesitated and asked for thirty minutes to put on his clothes, as he was just waking up. In the precious time he was provided, Rusesabagina made phone calls to the military connections he had established (previous to the genocide) from within the country, people in the Rwandan Army he knew who outranked the lieutenant chosen to carry out the order.
In the meanwhile, Rusesabagina, who was still in his underwear, ran five flights of stairs to the rooftop and looked down upon the scene that was surrounding his hotel. As Rusesabagina described in his autobiography An Ordinary Man, ‘’What I saw opened a hole in my stomach. The militia had the place completely surrounded. There were hundreds of them holding spears, machetes, and rifles. It would be a killing zone here in an hour.’’ Instead of panicking, Rusesabagina went back down to his room and hastily dressed, not knowing whether this would be the last time he would put a pair of pants on or button up his shirt. Rusesabagina went to meet with the lieutenant in the reception area, but instead talked to a high-ranking police officer that went by the name Ntiwiragabo. This man stopped the proposed evacuation and Rusesabagina walked away, knowing that one of his phone calls had worked, and that he and his hotel guests would live yet another day.
END OF APRIL: The phone service at the Mille Collines is lost, but the secret and crucial fax machine inside Rusesabagina’s office is still available. It remains his sole line of communication throughout the entire siege at the hotel, and was not cut off with the other phone lines, because it was not routed through the main switchboard.
MAY 3: The United Nations attempts to evacuate the Mille Collines as a part of the deal with the Hutu government (selected Mille Collines refugees would be allowed to leave Rwanda, while Hutu POW’s, in turn, would be released from captivity across town). Only those with invitations from people abroad could leave the hotel in the UN trucks. Rusesabagina compiles a list of those specific people (63 to be exact), including his own family, and hands them over to the UN. Paul decides to remain behind, because he feels obligated to protect the refugees staying at the hotel. The UN envoy is attacked shortly after leaving the hotel (someone had leaked the route information to a Rwandan Hutu Power/anti-Tutsi radio station), but they manage to miraculously escape with only minor injuries inflicted and no deaths.
MAY 13: A sympathetic Rwandan Army Intelligence Agent arrives at the hotel and meets with Rusesabagina. He warns that an invasion of the hotel is imminent and says that it will occur at 4 in the afternoon. Rusesabagina scrambles to work the phone lines, and employ every political connection that he has left, including his most crucial ‘’French connection’’ (the French had previously funded the Hutu Power government and also trained and supplied their military forces). The time arrives, and the invasion does not happen. One of Rusesabagina’s calls had apparently worked, but at 10 later that evening, a rocket-propelled slams into the south wall of the hotel just above the second floor. Nobody was injured, and fornuately, that was the lone sign of trouble. A half hour later, General Dallaire and an UN contingent show up, but the source of the missile remains a mystery.
MAY 26: A second attempt at an evacuation of select refugees is made, but instead of going to the airport, the destination, this time around, is a hill behind RPF lines. It is a more organized effort than the first, and ultimately is successful. Paul’s family, this time, does not leaves with the convoy, because Paul does not trust the UN or the rebels to protect them after the first botched attempt.
JUNE 17: Rusesabagina leaves the hotel to meet with General Bizimungu, his friend and commander of the National Police at the Diplomates hotel. While talking, a message had been delivered that the Rwandan militia and Interahamwe had entered the Mille Collines. In response, Bizimungu and Rusesabagina quickly rushed back. Bizimungu barked out orders as soon as he arrived to halt the proposed mass execution that would have taken place by the hotel outdoor swimming pool area, while Rusesabagina searched for his family to make sure that they were safe and secure (they had successfully hidden behind a shower curtain in their room). The militia reluctantly followed Bizimungu’s orders and filed out of the hotel for the last time. A joint order was given soon after (by the UN, RPF, and Rwandan Army) to completely evacuate the hotel the following day.
JUNE 18: The Hotel Mille Collines was evacuated, and 76 days of horror and fear had effectively ended. Rusesabagina sat in the back seat of the last UN convoy vehicle. He hid below a tarp in fear that he would be recognized at a roadblock and killed for his significant role in protecting the refugees. The Mille Collines had been one of the few places in all of Kigali where not one person was killed.
Rusesabagina demonstrated bravery and selflessness while he sacrificed his job to save lives. He was constantly on alert and very assertive in handling the situation. He never backed down and sought the help of influential people to ward off any attacks on the thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were in danger at his hotel. He knew just what to do and who to call at the appropriate time and was a hero and humanitarian whose bravery and concern for human lives will be embedded in history.