April 19, 2012 By Leave a CommentA Rwandan man who saved more than 1,200 Hutus and Tutsis during the 1994 genocide and inspired a Hollywood film says the US and Europe have increasingly distanced themselves from President Paul Kagame “and other dictators.”
“Until 2005 Kagame was coming to the White House as he would go to his own home. But he’s no longer welcome as he once was,” said Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotel manager who was portrayed by Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle in the film “Hotel Rwanda.”
Kagame, whose army is credited with ending the genocide of more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, is now isolated.
Rusesabagina has called for an internationally led truth and reconciliation commission to be created for Rwanda and Africa’s Great Lakes region.
He said Kagame’s repressive rule and decade-long foray in neighboring Congo have left leaders in Europe and Washington cold. Rights groups have accused Kagame of assassinating political opponents and destabilizing the region.
Two years ago, the United Nations said his ethnic Tutsi army stalked and slaughtered thousands of Hutus in the Congo in 1996-97, and may have committed genocide. And for years critics accused Rwanda of arming militias in the Congo and plundering its neighbor of tin, coltan, diamonds and gold.
Rusesabagina, now a humanitarian, said U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge “to reinforce the institutions not the individuals in Africa sent a strong message to Kagame and other dictators.”
Washington has belatedly admitted that Rwanda’s political climate is so toxic that people who speak out are turning up dead, he pointed out.
In a speech in Kigali in November, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said political opponents in Rwanda “have simply disappeared.”
“The political culture in Rwanda remains comparatively closed. Press restrictions persist. Civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents of the government often fear organizing peacefully and speaking out,” Rice said.
“Some have been harassed. Some have been intimidated by late night callers. Some have simply disappeared,” she added.
Rusesabagina said: “Once you don’t want to swallow what they feed you, you become the enemy.”
Despite receiving human rights awards for his bravery during the genocide, Rusesabagina had to flee Rwanda in 1996 after a soldier working for Rwanda’s Directorate of Military Intelligence barged into his home and pulled out a pistol.
“I was increasingly scared and threatened. Finally I said: ‘Enough is enough,’ and went into exile.”
He and his family live in Belgium and the United States where he heads the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation.
Rusesabagina said even Britain — once Kagame’s staunchest defender — is now said to have frosty relations with the strongman. In June 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron embarked on a tour of Africa but tactfully avoided Rwanda.
Spain has repeatedly snubbed Kagame and has lobbied governments for many of his top generals to be extradited and face charges of war crimes in a Madrid court. In 2008, 40 of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front officers were indicted on counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and terrorism, in a case of universal jurisdiction before the court. Kagame himself cannot be indicted because he enjoys immunity as head of state.
Rusesabagina is currently trying to persuade western governments to support the creation of an internationally sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission outside of Kagame’s control.
“For more than 50 years we Rwandans have tried to solve our conflict using guns and other weapons. We have never given dialogue a chance. In my lifetime, I have come to believe that the best weapons are words.”
Rwanda needs “to bring the whole truth of what has happened and know who’s responsible for what,” he said.
“Forgiveness in the end might be the last solution. But we must first have the courage to look at each other face to face.”
But he does not believe such a commission, styled after South Africa’s, would be possible in Rwanda today.
“It is not possible today to sit down in Rwanda with Kagame and talk about the truth,” he lamented.
Rusesabagina said he has close ties with US lawmakers. He said before Republican Congressman Jack Kingston left on a trip last week to Rwanda, the lawmaker called him.
“He said: Paul what is new in your country? What do we need to know?”
Repeated calls to Kingston’s office in Washington confirming the Rwandan visit were not returned.
Edited by Francis Rwema