Paul Rusesabagina, credited for having saved hundreds of Tutsi lives as the manager of a hotel during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, was released from a Rwandan prison last week and landed back in the US state of Texas, where he is a permanent resident.
The Rwandan genocide began in April 2004 and lasted 100 days. Extremists from the Hutu ethnic community killed some 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group. Rusesabagina, a hotel manager at the time, born from a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother, sheltered 1,200 Tutsis, saving them from persecution.
Rusesabagina’s courage inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” with Don Cheadle playing his character. Having left Rwanda in 1996, he was a taxi driver in Brussels where he lived in anonymity until the Hollywood blockbuster propelled him to fame.
Having become a vocal critic of President Kagame in recent years, Rusesabagina was deemed an “enemy of the state” by the Kagame administration, after joining an opposition group with an armed faction.
In August 2020, his private plane from Dubai, destined for Burundi, landed in the Rwandan capital of Kigali instead.
In September 2021, Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years in prison for allegedly being a member of a terror group and “participating in terror activities” read the court in Kigali. The trial was denounced as a sham by his supporters and Washington alike.
Qatar acted as a mediator between the governments of Rwanda and the U.S. in talks that began at the end of 2022. Following months of negotiations, Rusesabagina was released last week, coinciding with the end of the 5th Global Security Conference in Qatar, that convened President Kagame and US government officials and diplomats among other high-level officials from across the globe.
Kagame commuted Rusesabagina’s sentence, issuing a court order to release the “Hotel Rwanda” hero on Wednesday 24th March. Rusesabagina had spent over 900 days in a Rwandan prison.
Upon landing back in the U.S. on Wednesday March 29th, via Qatar, White House security advisor, Jake Sullivan, tweeted, “I’m pleased to welcome Paul Rusesabagina back to the United States. We’re glad to have him back on U.S. soil & reunited with his family and friends who’ve long waited for this day to come…”.
According to Reuters, “Washington’s historically close ties with Rwanda had been strained by Rusesabagina’s detention and by U.S. allegations, denied by Kigali, that Rwanda has sent troops into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and supports rebels there”.
Rwanda’s release of Rusesabagina is said to represent a mutual desire to improve Rwanda-U.S. relations.