Rwandan President Paul Kagame said Sunday that the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film had returned home of his own accord, where he was arrested, denying his family’s claims he was kidnapped abroad.
Paul Rusesabagina, who became the most famous Rwandan in the world after the Hollywood blockbuster, had been living in exile until he surfaced in Kigali last week under arrest and accused of financing rebels.
His family argued he had been kidnapped and forced to return to the country where his image is more complex than in the famed movie, where he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people during the country’s 1994 genocide.
In a speech to the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, Kagame said Rusesabagina had himself returned to Rwanda, where he now stands accused of murder, arson, kidnapping and terrorism.
“Let me eliminate the word kidnap because that was not the case. Rusesabagina will attest to that himself. There was no kidnap, there was no wrongdoing in the process of his getting here,” said Kagame.
“He got here on the basis of what he believed he wanted to do and he found himself here.”
His niece and adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba, told AFP Rusesabagina was in Dubai for meetings before suddenly being paraded handcuffed in Kigali. Police in Dubai have declined to comment.
“I don’t know how he got to Rwanda. I read reports that he got on a private plane… however he would never have done that by his own free will because he knows that in Rwanda they want him dead,” she said.
Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, became disillusioned with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) after its troops flushed out the genocidal regime and ended the slaughter that left some 800,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus — dead.
He accused Kagame and his ruling RPF of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment as the new regime violently consolidated its power in the aftermath of the genocide.
He left Rwanda in 1996 along with other moderates who believed the space for political opposition was fast shrinking.
But the release of the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004 gave him a new global platform to thunder against Kigali, where efforts rose to tarnish his image as a hero.
Survivors groups accused him of profiting from their misery and embellishing his heroics. They pointed out that he charged guests for rooms as they sought refuge, and suggested he wasn’t the altruistic saviour portrayed by American actor Don Cheadle.
Rusesabagina’s rhetoric hardened, and he railed against Hutu oppression and called for the overthrow of Kagame at all costs, including through armed struggle.
“The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed,” Rusesabagina said in a 2018 video pledging support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda, and urging others to join.