On February 2, 2006, US envoy in Kigali at the time Michael Arietti met with Col. Dr Emmanuel Ndahiro, the Director of the National Security Service (NSS). The two met a day after President Paul Kagame’s speech, on Heroes Day, in which he spoke angrily about Paul Rusesabagina.
Then on March 9, the same year, Ambassador Arietti met with Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, Dr Charles Murigande, with whom they also discussed the issue of Paul Rusesabagina.
These two high-level meetings were the first effort by the US government through its Kigali envoy to understand why there was a sudden emergency of a viscous media campaign against Rusesabagina. Following the release of the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ movie in recognition of his effort, Rusesabagina had in 2005 been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Fourteen years later, as Rusesabagina makes his first court appearance today in a Kigali court after being captured, secret cables sent by the US embassy to Washington show the Americans believed the “personal attacks” on Rusesabagina was because Rwandan officials considered him a political threat.
The cables are contained in the massive cache leaked by Wikileaks, currently published online for years.
Amb. Arietti met with NSS Chief Dr Emmanuel Ndahiro on February 2, 2006, but sent his confidential cable on March 8.
It reads in full:
- (C) Summary. There has been an ongoing public campaign to discredit Paul Rusesabagina, the former manager of Hotel des Mille Collines during the 1994 genocide and current hero in the US and Europe due to the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, in Rwanda.
The efforts to damage the reputation of Mr. Rusesabagina have been spearheaded by ‘The New Times’, a pro-government, English language paper but also include the President, senators and other genocide survivors claiming to have been at the Mille Collines during the genocide. Ambassador confirmed with National Security Service Director that this is a GOR-driven effort which will continue. Belgian Embassy had no information on a 2005 car accident that Mr. Rusesabagina has claimed was an attempt on his life by the GOR. End summary.
- (U) The New Times has published a series of highly critical articles and editorials that have called into question Mr. Rusesabagina,s actions during the spring and summer of 1994. Additionally, The New Times has a web page called ‘Facts about Paul Rusesabagina’. Accusations include: — Using his fame from ‘Hotel Rwanda’ to advance an agenda of divisionism and to undermine efforts to improve tolerance and reconciliation among Rwandans. — Deliberately distorting history in order to negate the genocide of the Tutsis and protect those who carried it out. — Lying about his heroic actions during the genocide.
- (U) Articles have included quotes from genocide survivors, including Senators Odette Nyiramirimo and Wellers Gasamagera (Note: Sen. Nyiramiririro, whose story is featured in the book ‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow You Will be Killed With Your Children’, is reportedly a former friend of Mr. Rusesabagina but is now accusing him of charging her over $400 for her time in the hotel. End note). Others have accused him of: forcing those who could not pay out of hotel rooms, associating closely with Interahamwe and Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) leadership, and cutting off all of the phone lines in the hotel except the one in his office (which he then charged people to use).
Rwanda’s Heroes are Not Made in America
- (U) In a public speech in Kigali on February 1, National Heroes Day, President Kagame singled out Rusesabagina out as a ‘manufactured hero’ who, ‘sooner or later …will let his manufacturers down’. Kagame said that ‘Rwanda’s Heroes are not made in America, Europe or Asia’ and ‘Rwanda’s history must be determined by Rwandans not foreigners’. A New Times article described the President as ‘seemingly irritated’ when referring to Rusesabagina during the speech.
- (C) The day after Kagame’s speech, Ambassador Arietti met with National Security Service Director Ndahiro. Ndahiro said that the GOR had conducted an investigation into the events that occurred at the Hotel des Mille Collines during the genocide and determined that much of the story depicted in the movie was inaccurate. According to the GOR’s investigation, Rusesabagina exploited his position to enrich himself at the expense of the Tutsis who were forced to pay him for protection. He dismissed Rusesabagina,s role in preventing attacks on the hotel claiming that the presence of the UN forces was the real deterrent.
- (C) Ndahiro told Ambassador Arietti that the GOR is under pressure from genocide survivors who resent the focus on Rusesabagina who they feel is enriching himself due to the publicity surrounding Hotel Rwanda, while genocide survivors continue to face multiple problems which Rusesabagina ignores. Moreover, the GOR believes he has become a proponent of the theory of a double genocide, which equates the killing of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus with the killings of perhaps tens of thousands of Hutus by the Rwandan Patriotic Army during and after its military campaign to overthrow the previous genocidal government. Ndahiro said President Kagame may well use the April 2006 genocide commemoration ceremonies to further criticize Rusesabagina. According to Ndahiro, the GOR recognizes that Rusesabagina is thought of as a hero in the US and has no intention of criticizing the producers of the film or the USG for its actions. (Note. President Bush awarded Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom. End note).
- (C) In a 7 March meeting with counterpart at the Belgian Embassy, poloff requested information on a car wreck in Belgium on 9 May 2005 that Rusesabagina claims was an attempt on his life by the GOR. Belgian poloff, Sibile Decartier, had no knowledge of said incident but said she would follow up with the Belgian security service. Additionally, Decartier was unaware of any overtly anti-GOR comments made by Rusesabagina or intentions to form an independent political party.
- (C) Comment. It is not clear what impact the GOR’s anti-Rusesabagina campaign will have outside of Rwanda, but inside the country, it is certainly an issue that President Kagame considers important enough to risk some bad press. GOR contacts, including Ndahiro, have alluded to the still unconfirmed political intentions of Rusesabagina. While this may be one of the reasons for this campaign, what is certain is that there are members of the GOR that dismiss Rusesabagina,s status as a hero and do not appreciate his popularity in the U.S. and Europe. As expressed by Ndahiro, the GOR has thought through the arguments and considers it necessary to debunk the ‘self-proclaimed hero’. Thus, despite the possibility of negative attention, the GOR seems set to continue these personal attacks. Post will continue to follow and update, including any development on the 2005 car accident. End comment.
Then Amb Arietti held his meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Murigande on March 9, 2006, and sent his confidential cable to Washington on March 13. It contained other issues, but we are reproducing the section on Rusesabagina.
‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero
- (C) Ambassador shifted discussion to Paul Rusesabagina noting that he was a popular figure in the US and that there is a perception by some people in Washington that there is a GOR campaign to discredit him. (Note. Rusesabagina, the former manager of the Hotel Des Mille Collines in Kigali, is portrayed as a hero who personally saved over 1,200 potential victims during the genocide in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’. End note).
Murigande denied a GOR-organized effort to discredit Rusesabagina, but said that ‘people are saying what they know’ and are ‘not happy’ that he is receiving undeserving status and praise. He said that Rusesabagina has been ‘made into something he is not’, and that the GOR has every right to defend itself against critics.
- (C) Ambassador pointed out that the timing is a problem as the perception could be that the GOR is just now attacking Rusesabagina due to his high profile and outspokenness against the government. Murigande replied that many survivors have the feeling that Rusesabagina’s role was greatly exaggerated in the film and he asked why, if he were a great hero, had he not contributed to a genocide survivors fund.
From the two meetings, the Intelligence Chief Dr Ndahiro confirmed to the American envoy that the campaign against Rusesabagina was a government effort, while the foreign minister seemed to suggest the campaign was a spontaneous reaction by people who survived from Hotel Milles Colline and other genocide survivors.
Today, Dr Ndahiro is a Brigadier General and away from the limelight, while Dr Murigande retired recently from the University of Rwanda. He is also living a quiet life.