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Sunday, September 06, 2020


by Elane Gutterman

Paul Rusesabagina at his cell at the Remera Metropolitan Police Station, Kigali, Rwanda on September 3, 2020. Rusesabagina, arrested early this week to face terror, murder, and arson charges, says he is choosing his defence team to prove his innocence. Following his arrest, Mr Rusesabagina, whose heroic actions during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi inspired the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, was paraded before the media by Rwandan authorities on Monday. His deeds are also captured in the 1998 book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families by American journalist and author Philip Gourevitch. It remains unclear how he ended up on Rwandan soil, where had not set foot in almost 20 years. Authorities said he was arrested on an international warrant, and with the cooperation of other countries. He is accused of founding and sponsoring an armed rebellion that claimed multiple attacks on Rwandan territory, leading to deaths and destruction of property. While living in Belgium and the US with his family, he formed the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) in 2018, an opposition party with a military wing—the National Liberation Front (FLN)—that has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks in Rwanda, from its base in eastern DRC. He has also been a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame since the early 2000s, often accusing his government of undermining human rights. —The East African, September 3, 2020

This is why I say that the individual’s most potent weapon is a stubborn belief in the triumph of common decency —Paul Rusesabagina with Tom Zoellner, An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography

Transported to the land of a thousand hills
at the Hotel des Mille Collines,
the Hotel Rwanda of that harrowing film,
we cheered for the manager,
Paul Rusesabagina, who managed to save
more than twelve hundred Hutus and Tutsis,
after they fled the killing streets
during the Never Again days
when neighbors hunted down neighbors
as spies and inyenzi cockroaches.

Years later, I swam in the hotel pool
where refugees once drank the water.
I ate in the hotel café where penniless
refugees once came for free meals.
I rode the City’s gardened main thoroughfares,
I went to its clinics, restaurants
and galleries. My eyes saw a facade
of peace and prosperity in this land
of a thousand hills.

Yet the hills stood without freedom
and the ruling strongman ruthlessly silenced
his critics. Even before the film,
Rusesabagina had to leave his country to champion change,
living as a citizen of Belgium, then a resident of Texas.
And this week the strongman netted
new prey, that hero kidnapped, taken from Dubai
to Rwanda, to face trumped up charges as a terrorist.

Now, I too feel immersed in the sea of lies
created by our wannabe strongman.
How can Rusesabagina be saved --
yes, he who managed to save so many.

Elane Gutterman is a health researcher who has studied breast cancer treatment in Rwanda and other East African countries. She is a trustee and the literary chair at the West Windsor Arts Center. Her poems have been published in Kelsey Review, Patterson Literary Review, U.S.1 Summer Fiction, and TheNewVerse.News.