Paul Rusesabagina’s visit to a Martin Luther King memorial in the Dutch town of Wassenaar on Sunday has been met with shock and anger by some members of the Rwandan Diaspora in the Netherlands. Letters of protest have been sent to the event organisers, saying the Dutch Rwandan community strongly condemns the invitation. A protest is also planned at the site of the memorial.
“They did the same thing in 2008,” says Rusesabagina, the hotel manager whose story was the basis for the film Hotel Rwanda (2004). “These people are employed by the Rwandan government to stop people with different thoughts about Rwanda.”
Insult to King
Rusesabagina is widely known and internationally celebrated for his heroic actions during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. But his story and statements are controversial at home in Rwanda. This is reflected in the letter sent by RDN (Rwanda Diaspora Nederland) and Ibuka to the American Democrats Abroad society.
“We are against it,” says Emmanuel Rurema, chairman of RDN. “This is demotivating for every honest and hardworking Rwandan who is doing his best to rebuild a nation that was devastated in 1994 and is actively working for national reconciliation. I believe Mr Rusesabagina doesn’t match even part of this profile. At the demonstration we want to take the opportunity to tell the truth to any well-intentioned visitor of the Martin Luther King tribute and avoid anybody going home misinformed.”
Despite their name, RDN doesn’t speak for the whole Diaspora, says Charles Ndereyehe, a Rwandan exile who lives in the Netherlands: "These people call themselves representatives of the Rwandan Diaspora, but they are just a small group within the Rwandan-Dutch community, and everything they say is pro-Kagame."
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is highly critical of Rusesabagina. In 2006 Kagame said: “He should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it's totally false.” Abroad, Rusesabagina has been honoured with awards - including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom which he received from then-President George W Bush in 2005.
Immaculee Uwanyiligira, the Rwandan ambassador to the Netherlands, says the embassy fully agrees with RDN and Ibuka's view: "In our view, Rusesabagina is a Hollywood-made, glamourised non-hero. Among those who dispute his heroism are survivors who took refuge at the hotel, as well as hotel staff who were present during the genocide. They have all contested Rusesabagina's purported heroism and their testimonies are on record."
Uwanyiligira claims that Rusesabagina is a genocide denier and that “there is a far more sinister connection that warrants exposing. Rusesabagina is also accused of sponsoring militia, military and para-military forces who committed the genocide in Rwanda. These days, they operate in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo under their new name Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)”.
Rwandan media agree that Rusesabagina is a genocide denier and claim he made money from many people who stayed at the hotel where he was manager at the time of the 1994 massacre. Rusesabagina denies this claim. “I refer them to my autobiography. It is clear that the main reason for writing this book is the genocide. I cannot be the messenger of the genocide and deny it at the same time, can I?” However, Rurema of the RDN insists that Rusesabagina is an open supporter of the perpetrators of the Tutsi genocide.
Rusebagina says he's not deterred by the protest, although he is cautious. “I wish I could to talk to them, but I probably won’t. They can be a bit aggressive sometimes.” The organisers of the memorial ceremony have beefed up security, as has the Catholic church where Rusesabagina will speak earlier on Sunday.
“I am appalled,” says an agitated member of Democrats Abroad. “We are not going to be told what to do while we live in a free country. We won’t change the programme one bit, but we did make some adjustments for security reasons.”
However, Rurema says there is no reason to worry: “We will hold a peaceful demonstration. We are ready to stand for a few hours in the cold in the light of the truth and condemn a history distorter who is sitting in a comfortable place telling lies”.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide will publish a report and photos of the demonstration on Monday morning.