Splainer

Tuesday, September 21 2021


Dive In

In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success—do not be afraid to disappear. From it. From us. For a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.

That’s from the Emmy acceptance speech made by ‘I May Destroy You’ creator Michaela Coel. It is a powerful reminder of that neverending rat race to become someone who is “seen,” someone who “matters.” We recommend watching her deliver the speech here.


Coming up soon: Our next Ask Me Anything session with Aditi Mittal—one of the funniest women in India. Just check out her ‘Girl Meets Mic’ special on Netflix or this clip from ‘Mother of Invention’ (sadly not available on Amazon Prime India). Time/Date: 6 pm on Thursday, September 23, via Zoom. Sign up here for one of the limited slots.

 
Big Story

‘Hotel Rwanda’: A very bizarre backstory

The TLDR: When the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ released in 2005, the man who inspired its story—Paul Rusesabagina—instantly became a humanitarian hero. Sixteen years later, he has been convicted in a Rwandan court of a dozen charges including terrorism, financing and founding armed groups, murder and arson. What happened here?

 

First, some superquick background

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. The movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is set in the midst of this genocide. Here’s a brief history of what happened:

 

  • Rwandan history is characterised by ongoing ethnic hostility between Hutus and Tutsis.
  • It all began when the Belgians arrived in 1916 and divided the population based on ethnic identities—and proceeded to heavily favour the Tutsis. 
  • This sparked great resentment among the Hutus—which culminated in a series of riots in which 20,000 Tutsis were killed.
  • When the Belgians left in 1962, Hutus took their place—and proceeded to reverse decades of discrimination… with a vengeance.
  • Flash forward to 1994. The country was in the midst of an armed conflict between the government run by a Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana and the current president Paul Kagame—who at the time was the Tutsi leader of a rebel group.
  • President Habyarimana signed a peace accord to end the bloodshed—but his plane was shot down soon after. Tutsis were blamed, and months of gory violence ensued as Hutu soldiers and civilians went on a rampage.

 

The aftermath: In the end, the Kagame-led Tutsi forces prevailed, and he eventually became President—and has remained so to this day. But ethnic violence continues, especially on the borders with Democratic Republic of Congo—where Hutu militias still operate.

 

Hotel Rwanda: The original story

This is the first version of Paul Rusesabagina’s story that was turned into an Oscar-nominated film. Here’s how it goes.

 

Paul, the hotel manager: Rusesabagina is Hutu, but his mother is Tutsi—and so is his wife. At the time of the genocide, he was running luxury hotel called Hotel des Diplomates. After President Habyarimana’s assassination, the Dutch manager of its sister property Mille Collines fled the country—and asked Rusesabagina to take over. Mille Collines is now known to most of us as ‘Hotel Rwanda’.  

 

Paul, the hero: As the massacre unfolded, hundreds of desperate Tutsis sought refuge in the hotel. Armed militias—carrying spears, machetes and clubs—swarmed outside, trying to enter the hotel. For 76 days, Rusesabagina kept them at bay—using his considerable contacts in the Tutsi government and military. And he faxed the United Nations, Peace Corps, even the White House asking for help. His main tools: flattery, bribery and diplomatic pressure. Eventually, residents of the hotel were evacuated by the Rwandan military, the United Nations and Tutsi rebel forces. Total number of people saved: 1,248. One of the residents later said:

 

“Nobody had been killed, injured, beaten, tortured, expelled or retrieved from the hotel during the whole time we were refugees. Paul Rusesabagina managed to do the impossible to save our lives at the moment when others were massacring their own children, their own wives.”

 

Paul the global icon: Rusesabagina’s story first made an international appearance in Philip Gourevitch's 1998 book titled ‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families’. But he became an international figure after the wildly popular movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ was released in 2005. Until then, he was working as a taxi driver in Belgium—having fled Rwanda after the genocide. Soon paid speeches at universities, think tanks and corporate gatherings followed. And in 2005, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 

Hotel Rwanda: Revised edition

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In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A shooting tragedy in Russia
  • The #EmmysSoWhite problem
  • India is mad at UK’s Covid rules
  • A ‘magic’ room for devices

 

A list of intriguing things

  • Say hello to the 'mooning' Mona Lisa
  • The latest nail fashion trend: ‘stiletto nails’
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