Born in 1954 of agricultural parents in Murama, in the former prefecture of Gitarama in the center of Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina followed the Adventist religion since his childhood. He did his primary and secondary school in the Mission adventiste of Gitwe, the oldest of the country. At the end of his secondary studies, he left his parents and his country to go to Cameroun, where he studied theology. Back in Rwanda, in addition to his intellectual education as regards to religion, he speaks English and French fluently. These assets allowed him to get hired as a receptionist at the Hôtel des Milles Collines, the most luxurious hotel in the country belonging to the Belgian firm, SABENA. Then he was promoted chief receptionist at the Akagera Hotel, at that time coveted by foreign tourists who visited the national park of Akegera, in the east of the country.
From 1980 to 1984, Rusesabagina stayed in Kenya and Switzerland, where he studied hotel management. Back in Rwanda, he became the assistant general manager at the Hôtel des Milles Collines. Eight years later, he was appointed general manager of the Hôtel des Diplomates in Kigali, belonging to the Rwandan government and managed by SABENA.
The 6th of April 1994, the assassination of president Juvénal Habyarimana triggered the Tutsi genocide and the massacres of Hutu opponents. Rusesabagina, born of a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, himself married to a Tutsi, stayed blocked at his home, in Kabeza, in the outskirts of Kigali. The 9th of April, soldiers heavily armed showed up at his home and ordered him to follow them to the Hôtel des Diplomates, already requisitioned by the interim government1. Having no choice and fearing for his own life and those of more than thirty people staying at his home (his relatives and several neighbours), he obeyed. He negotiated with the chief military, so that he could leave with all these people making them believe they were all his relatives. The soldier accepted, but after having travelled a few hundreds of meters, he stops the convoy and gets everybody out. He orders them to gather around in a field, next to a primary school. He hands the gun to Rusesabagina and orders him to shoot “those cockroaches”2. Distressed, the hotelier answered that he can’t use a gun and begs the soldier to spare them. He then demands an exorbitant ransom per person. Rusesabagina explains to him that these people don’t have any money, but that he has some in the safe of the Hotel. After having agreed on the amount with Rusesabagina, the military chief allows everyone to go back in the vehicles, towards the Hotel. The interim government needs Rusesabagina because he owns all the keys of the Hotel and can therefore open all the closed doors and the reserves.
1 The interim government was created the 9th of April 1994, 3 days after the attack that killed President Juvénal Habyarimana, and the assassination of the Prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana’s presidential guard. This government was created under the leadership of the Ministerial of defence principal private Secretary, the colonel Théoneste Bagosora. It’s this government that led to the genocide.
2 Insulting and dehumanizing term used during the genocide to designate the Tutsi.