As Rwandans prepare to vote in their presidential elections, many are questioning the rule of incumbent President Paul Kagame.
By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi, Hereward Holland in Kigali, Colin Freeman and Alex Hannaford
If, as he fears, Rwanda returns to the bloodshed of its past, Paul Rusesabagina and his wine cellar will no longer be coming to the rescue.
The former manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines, he famously sheltered more than 1,200 Tutsi refugees during the 1994 genocide, persuading local militiamen to turn a blind eye by plying them with best Burgundy.But 16 years after the slaughter that killed 800,000 people, the man whose quiet tact inspired the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda has abandoned the role of diplomatic maitre d'. Instead, he is an outspoken critic of the other Rwandan hailed as a hero in the West - President Paul Kagame, the shoo-in favourite to be returned to power in tomorrow's elections.
"The West is sponsoring a government that has been torturing and killing its own citizens," Mr Rusesabagina, 56, who now lives in exile in America, told The Sunday Telegraph.
"President Kagame has already eliminated or arrested his opposition, and my only hope now is that the international community will realise that their dollars have bought an illusion, not an election."
Sadly for Mr Rusesabagina and other opposition figures, the president's story does not fit the kind of simple good and bad narrative that made his own tale such a Hollywood hit.
Critics of the 52-year-old incumbent say he shows all the signs of becoming yet another African "Big Man", welshing on the democratic reforms he promised when he came to office 10 years ago. In recent months, his intelligence services have been linked to grisly murders, several opposition supporters have been arrested, and two independent newspapers suspended - all part of a Mugabe-like plan, critics say, to cling to power.
However, in nearly every other aspect of his rule, he has been held up as a model for other African leaders to follow. An austere, bespectacled figure, his firm hand is credited with turning Rwanda from a bloodstained bankrupt into one of the most dynamic nations on the continent.
Thanks to his Herculean efforts, Rwanda is today considered one of the top five countries in Africa in which to do business. In Kigali, the capital, living standards are rising as fast as sky scrapers, while the streets are startlingly clean of litter, crime and beggars.
Household incomes have tripled, and in the next decade, Rwanda is tipped to become the first African "basket case" to turn itself into a middle-income country.
Small wonder, then, that Mr Kagame has many friends in the West who prefer to focus on his good side, including Britain, which is Rwanda's biggest single aid donor, giving £70 million a year. Tony Blair believes Mr Kagame is a "visionary", while David Cameron's Conservatives send MPs out there every summer voluntary work. Andrew Mitchell, the new Secretary of State for International Development believes that Mr Kagame should be "cut some slack".
"This is a government that had to rescue its country after the dreadful events of the genocide," he told The Sunday Telegraph in a recent interview. "We in the West should be respectful of that in arriving at conclusions about how they handle it."
That view is not shared by Victoire Ingabire, 41, the chair of the opposition United Democratic Forces. Since April, she has languished under house arrest, after demanding to know why the genocide memorial in Kigali did not also commemorate the Hutus who perished.
On the face of it, that question was not unreasonable. While the vast majority of the casualties in the 1994 massacre were ethnic Tutsis, many moderate Hutus also died under the genocidaires' machetes - including her own brother.
Yet in Mr Kagame's Rwanda, to even talk about Hutus and Tutsis is to risk being accused of "genocide ideology" - a vague, catch-all charge which is ostensibly to promote harmony, but which some say is used to keep opponents quiet.
Other regime critics have been silenced for good. Last month, the vice-president of the Democratic Green Party was found almost decapitated from machete wounds. And the month before, a journalist was shot dead after publishing a story linking Rwandan intelligence to an assassination attempt on a dissident general in South Africa.
While the Rwandan government protests its innocence, one Western diplomat in Kigali observed that the "the sudden outburst of murders makes that increasingly implausible."
Such talk is unlikely to bother Mr Kagame much. For one thing, he is virtually assured of a repeat of the landslide vote he got in 2003. His election poster stares out sternly all over Kigale, and his campaign rallies attract tens of thousands, compared to small crowds for opposition candidates.
"Many people like him because he builds hospitals, he supports women, and he creates unity in the people," said Alex Ntagengula, 20, a student and Kagame supporter. "He has brought a strong democracy. Victoire Ingabire, she brings a bad message to the people."
In Mr Kagame's view, the restrictions of which Mrs Ingabire fell foul are not unlike Britain's "hate crime" laws - except that in Rwanda there is a more demonstrable case for them. He also believes that creating prosperity will prove the best way to sap the country of its ethnic hatreds, as he made clear in a Daily Telegraph interview last month. "We must get people to take responsibility for improving their lives, rather than putting them in a position where they sit back in their poverty and blame others for it," he said.
Whatever Mr Kagame's intentions, tomorrow's election should mark his last stint in power. He has said that if he has no credible democratic successor by the next elections, in 2017, his rule will have been a failure. Yet his critics fear that unless opposition parties are allowed to flourish, that is exactly what will happen. They also say that by inhibiting discussion of the genocide at all, the government may once again be stoking resentment in the majority Hutu population.
"Rwanda was a volcano and it erupted in 1994," said Mr Rusesabagina, who now runs a reconciliation charity that preaches a "never again" message. "Today's it's a volcano once again.