Twenty years after the Rwandan Genocide, with Paul Rusesabagina

March 28, 2014

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu hotel manager who sheltered and protected over 1,200 people from the 100-day massacre, visited the Ford School to share his story. More than 700 members of the university and surrounding community attended his talk in Rackham Auditorium on March 27, 2014.

While militants threatened and surrounded the well-groomed grounds of the luxury hotel he managed, Rusesabagina bartered money, gold, cigars, and aged bottles of wine for the lives of the strangers who had come to his hotel for refuge. Under his care and protection, no one who was housed at his hotel died during the genocide that took the lives of more than 800,000 members of the Tutsi and moderate Hutu tribes.

For 55 years, Rwandans tried to resolve their conflicts with guns, Rusesabagina told the audience, but guns have failed. “Words can be the best weapons in a human being’s arsenal,” he said. “With words, we can save lives.” Rusesabagina emphasized the important role of the media in fueling the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. “I think the media played one of the most important roles in spreading the hatred,” he said. “In Rwanda, the real media does not exist. The only media that exists is government controlled.” Rusesabagina’s talk is archived in the Ford School’s video library and embedded below; photos and a transcript of his speech are also available.

Rusesabagina’s wrenching story was chronicled in the critically acclaimed film, Hotel Rwanda, a riveting account of a man finding courage within himself to save others in the midst of his country’s darkest moment. He has since founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, which provides support, care, and assistance to children orphaned by, and women abused during, the genocide.

Paul Rusesabagina is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, the Peace Abbey Courage of Conference Award, and the University of Michigan’s Raoul Wallenberg Medal (2005). His talk was hosted and sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and its International Policy Center. Cosponsors included the University of Michigan’s International Institute, African Studies Center, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and the Ford School’s Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies.