Since the Rwanda National Police welcomed him to Kanombe International airport, with a pair of hand cuffs, there have been hours of radio and television broadcasts, hundreds of thousands of words, printed about Paul Rusesabagina. Yet, one would be forgiven for being none the wiser about the reasons for his arrest. With the verdict in his case now upon him, shall we at last learn what has landed him in Rwanda prison pink?
Pick up any Western newspaper, or visit their website, and the headlines are all virtually identical, at best, variations on the theme of “Hotel Rwanda Hero, accused of…” The reader is then given a tale of how a heroic humanitarian has fallen into the clutches of a terrible “regime.”
It is as though there was a virtual meeting of all the newsrooms in the global north, where the question, “what shall we go with on this one” was put, and the response, to murmurs of approval, was, “oh obvious, humanitarian hero, falls in grip of evil government.”
In any other case that became so celebrated, news organisations would pore over court proceedings, to give their readers, at least a summary of what it was about. Not this one.
There have been two courts, one in Rwanda, with all the evidence one would expect in a court of law, and the other, in Western media, like fervent fans, filling column inches, with their “alternative facts” in praise of “Hotel Rwanda Hero”, and praying for eternal damnation of the “Kagame regime.”
What drives this intensity? Is it for love of Rusesabagina, whom they barely know, or is it hatred of the RPF led government, which they have also made little attempt to understand?
Whatever their motivation, it is astonishing, if perhaps instructive, that no news editor, has thought it worth even a cursory glance at whether there might be any validity in the charges against Rusesabagina. After all, at least nine people, going about their daily business, trying to make a living, raise their children, were murdered by the armed group he is accused of leading and financing.
Major newspapers, broadcasters, the odd American Senator, have all decided to block out anything that might interfere with an image of Rusesabagina, created by a work of fiction.
For them, the story of “Africa’s Schindler”, as told in the Hollywood film, Hotel Rwanda, is so compelling, that no one, nothing, and certainly no inconvenient fact, must be allowed to get in its way.
It matters not what the survivors of the Hotel de Mille Collines say. They are dismissed out of hand, with the predictable claim that the “regime” has got to them.
And what of the then commander of the UN mission in Rwanda, Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, who had certainly hoped that the film would serve to raise awareness about the genocide against the Tutsi?
As he has said, “I promised never to let the Rwandan genocide die, because I knew the Rwandans didn’t have much power internationally and certainly didn’t have the resources. I felt it was my duty having witnessed it, and having stayed to witness it, that I had to talk about it and keep doing it”
His hope that the film would help to spread awareness of the truth he felt need to be told, were dashed. His verdict after seeing it? “Revisionist Junk.”
One aspect witnessed by Dallaire, and one about which he had to do something, was that as soon as Rusesabagina arrived at Hotel de Mille Collines, the names and room numbers of prominent refugees sought by the killers, found their way to the genocidal government. Dallaire and his staff, hurriedly changed the intended victims’ room numbers, for their protection.
That Rusesabagina was sent by the genocidal government, expressly to keep it informed of what was happening in the hotel, has been conveniently forgotten.
No fact about Rusesabagina, it seems, however damning, cuts any ice with journalists across the Western world. For them, the source of the truth about Rusesabagina has not gone beyond a Hollywood film. Romeo Dallaire has been bewitched by the evil Kagame. To anything contrary to that, ironically, including Rusesabagaina’s own self incrimination, they will stick their fingers in their ears, chant la, la, la, Humanitarian Hero, over and over again, until the offending fact goes away.
The result of this selective vision and deafness to anything except what conforms to what they want to project, has meant a continued distortion of both Rwanda, and Rusesabagina.
It could not be otherwise. Acknowledge the truth about Rusesabagina, and you have to acknowledge the truth about Rwanda, defeating the object of what on balance, can only be a deliberate campaign to demonise the country, the leading governing party, and its candidate for head of state, Paul Kagame.
Rusesabagina’s family, and his supporters have been tireless, relentlessly leveraging this odd state of affairs, where people choose to know as little as possible, the better to perpetuate a chosen prejudice. Can there be a better definition of propaganda?
Everything has been thrown at Rwanda. Rusesabagina was “kidnapped” “forcibly disappeared” “bound and gagged” and bundled on an aeroplane to Kigali, by the “regime.” He was in imminent danger of his life, because he had been denied his medication, he would collapse from high blood pressure, or die from being infected with Covid-19.
There was the inevitable claim that he was denied access to legal representation. Most recently, it transpired, at his urging, his family sent out a plea to the world, to come to his rescue, because he was being denied food.
Stupefyingly, all this, including the incredible claim that a prisoner was deliberately being starved to death, was amplified through the world’s major newspapers, radio and television studios.
For the prize of demonising Rwanda, and its government, otherwise self respecting news organisations are apparently content to be complicit in a transparent charade, to sanctify a character, whose finest hour was extorting money from desperate people, seeking refuge from mass murderers of men, women and children.
A world away from the newsrooms where these yarns were being spun, in a Rwanda courtroom, the truth of what happened was being painstakingly laid out.
No, Rusesabagina had not been kidnapped. He had fallen for an elaborate, laborious ruse to get him to Rwanda, to answer the charges against him.
A comfortable journey, in a private jet, he believed was heading to Burundi, ended at Kigali’s Kanombe International airport, where instead of a red carpet he expected, the welcoming committee was handcuff wielding Rwanda National police officers and their van. A startling surprise that might be enough to give a man a heart attack. That surely should have been the complaint.
But, even if anything untoward had befallen him, immediate help would have been at hand. He was provided with everything, from a local lawyer, to medical attention, including protection from Covid-19, later on, becoming one of the first people in the country, to be vaccinated against the virus.
Once the case got underway, Rusesabagina stuck to a defence that while he was indeed the leader of Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), his role was diplomacy, and he had little to do with the actions of its armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FLN).
This would turn out to be an untenable, if not unwise line of defence. The MRCD was, or is, an umbrella organisation for several groups, including the self styled “General” Wilson Irategeka’s National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD), Callixte Nsabimana’s Rwanda Revolutionary Movement (RRM), and Paul Rusesabagina’s own Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (PDR).
Nsabimana is one of Rusesabagina’s co-accused, and very early on, opted to plead guilty to all charges against him, declaring that it was pointless denying what even the birds in the air knew to be true. Irategeka, who founded the FLN, and led it, allegedly with Rusesabagina, remains at large.
Half way through the case, Rusesabagina absented himself from proceedings in court, claiming that he would not get a fair trial. His reaction seemingly a response to the weight of evidence being presented by the prosecution.
One could hardly blame him. Apart from his own self incriminating evidence, most of which is readily available to everyone with access to the internet, there was, what for the prosecution, was a treasure trove of information, found by the Belgian judicial authorities, after a search of Rusesabagina’s Brussels home. Et tu Belgium? He may have thought ruefully.
The search was indeed a body blow for his defence. Records from electronic devices leave little doubt that Rusesabagina was not only the head of these armed groups, but their chief financier.
After Callixte Nsabimana’s detention by Rwanda, FLN suggests candidates for his replacement, and the rank to which he (it is almost always a he) is to be promoted. When the replacement, Herman Nsengimana, is suggested as the preferred candidate, and his new rank agreed, it is Rusesabagina who has the final word, before the appointment is confirmed.
Most of the messages are on whatsapp. After one of the attacks, Rusesabagina sends a message of congratulations, and a promise of more financial support. The latter is greatly appreciated, because, as one message complains, not a week goes by without the “farmers” demanding more money.
Farmers is code for combatants, agricultural tools, code for arms and pebbles, code for ammunition. In one message Irategeka remonstrates with Rusesabagina for having sent money through channels other than him. “Do you realise that this could sow division among the farmers” he warns. Rusesabagina accepts the error, and promises that it would not happen again.
There is a long discussion about the public response to attacks against Rwanda, focusing on whether they should be officially claimed.
The group’s legal adviser, Innocent Twagiramungu, is clear on what should be done. Attacks where civilians are killed, should always be blamed on the government of Rwanda, because the MRCD must not be seen to target civilians. Attacks should be claimed, only when they are against security forces, or other government targets.
It is instructions that Rusesabagina’s adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba, who has emerged as the public face of the Rusesabagina campaign, is reminded, somewhat late in the day, when she claims that attacks attributed to FLN, are in fact “false flag” operations by Rwanda.
The problem with that, is that Rusesabagina seemed unable to resist taking credit for his role in the attacks. It was after all, important for him to be recognised as the paramount leader, given the constant jockeying for position among these groups.
Given the gravity of the charges, it is likely that come Monday, the prosecution will ask for Rusesabagina to be incarcerated for a term reflecting the multiple murders committed, allegedly under his guidance.
If experience is any guide, Western media will ignore entirely, the overwhelming evidence presented in court, and as was claimed by the Guardian, the world will be informed that, “Rusesabagina’s arrest and trial suggests that Kagame is more interested in publicly discrediting one of the few Rwandans with name recognition globally, and the credibility to make his criticism stick.”
It will be a mockery of the people murdered by the FLN, those who have been left maimed for life, and going by the evidence, it will be a travesty of the truth.