Hotel Rwanda 2010

Its real name is the Hotel des Milles Collines. Moviegoers know it as the “Hotel Rwanda,” from the 2004 movie of the same name. The hotel’s sad claim to fame is as a refuge for 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 inter-tribal massacre that killed 800,000 Tutsis. The manager of the Milles Collines, Paul Rusesabagina, is credited with the clever strategy that saved the refugees. The film has become a central image in what Americans know about the Rwandan genocide.

But the story of the Milles Collines and Rwanda didn’t end with the film’s final credits. Sixteen years later, the hotel in Kigali has been extensively renovated, and its comeback offers a parallel to the revitalization and struggle of the Rwandan nation as well.

In an April 18 article in Global Post, special correspondent Jon Rosen recounts the more recent history of the Hotel des Milles Collines and brings us up to date on political, social and economic changes in a country that many of us still think of as the tribal disaster area depicted in “Hotel Rwanda.”  It’s far from a democratic paradise, says Rosen, but much has changed for the better:

In a sense, the Mille Collines’ rebirth is one that parallels the rise of Rwanda — a country that is now safe, orderly and home to one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Yet Rwanda is also a nation where many freedoms deemed sacred in the west are compromised. The country under President Paul Kagame is a tight-lipped place — an Orwellian-tinged society where ethnic labels are ultimate taboos, except when referring to the “Genocide against the Tutsi,” the official refrain that fails to acknowledge any reciprocal killings of ethnic Hutu.

Rosen also brings us fast forward on the hero of “Hotel Rwanda,” Paul Rusesabagina:

A 2005 recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero is now a prominent Rwandan dissident, whose foundation works to “prevent future genocides and raise awareness of the need for a new truth and reconciliation process in Rwanda.” Rusesabagina accused [Rwanda’s President] Kagame of covering up the killings of Hutu and of escalating a climate of fear and political violence.

Now based in Texas, Rusesabagina is persona non grata on his home turf — decried by critics as a swindler and opportunist, who extorted money from those he’s credited with saving and who has profited shamefully from his manufactured-in-Hollywood status.

Rosen’s article offers an enlightening, inside look at the Rwanda we didn’t see in the movie. But the story of Rwanda in 2010 is far from complete. National elections scheduled for August 2010 will present another test for Rwanda’s democracy.  Already this year, Human Rights Watch has cited Rwanda’s ruling administration for intimidation of opposition parties. In addition, the 1994 mass killings still cast a shadow, as “genocide ideology” has become a major issue in the 2010 elections. And Rusesabagina’s work to prevent future genocides anywhere in the world is an apparently unending task, as “never again” continues to happen again and again. Clearly, the full sequel to “Hotel Rwanda” is yet to be written.

[Note: Occasional Planet is offering a random drawing for a free copy of U.N. Force Commander Romeo Dallaire’s book, “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.” To enter the drawing, click here. Offer good through May 22, 2010.]

Photo: Paul Rusesabagina by Simon J. Hollington