The man who helped save 12-hundred refugees in Rwanda from slaughter — and became the inspiration for the movie “Hotel Rwanda” — spoke in Ames last night. The Iowa State University Memorial Union was overflowing with over 18-hundred people who gathered to hear hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina tell his story. For two-and-a-half months in 1994, Rusesabagina bargained with generals and rebel leaders to save the lives of the 12-hundred Rwandans who had sought refuge in his hotel. They cooked with the water from the hotel’s swimming pool, a scene captured in the movie, and witnessed the genocide taking place — sometimes as close as the church next door to the hotel. He said it was “a kind of hell.”
“There were so many dead bodies,” Rusesabagina said. “Some of them, heads (were) cut off.” Experts estimate about eight-hundred-thousand Rwandans, most of them ethnic Tutsis were killed in 1994. Rusesabagina told the Ames audience he does not believe in military intervention, but hopes the international community would work to help warring factions in African countries like Chad and the Congo and Burundi peacefully resolve their differences. “What we need in Africa, what we need is to help Africans to come around the table through what I can call truth…to help them to reconcile so that justice can be made done,” he said. “After doing justice, we can rebuild…What Africans need, I think, is not…to be given fish eaten every day, but to be taught how to fish.”
Rusesabagina urged the crowd to pressure the U.S. government and world leaders to act in Africa. “To help is not to donate money,” Rusesabagina said. “If you stand up in a united voice (and) raise awareness, you’ll be doing much more than one who would bring us $100,000.”
Rusesabagina spoke with Radio Iowa just before his speech, and said he’s taking the story behind the movie around the world in hopes of getting audiences interested in what’s happening today in Africa.
“As a kind of wake up call, as a message to the international community, to let them know that what happened in Rwanda is happening all over Africa,” he told Radio Iowa. “I want to raise awareness.” Rusesabagina will speak tonight (Thursday) at Luther College. He has written a book about his experiences which will be released in April of next year.