Two weeks ago our “so-called” Asst. Secty. of State for Africa, Tibor Nagy, effectively gave a nod to executing the hotel manager of the Mille Collines who in 1994 saved more than 1200 people from the Rwandan genocide.
He did this because the Rwandan government wanted him to, Trump wanted no trouble, or he he’d forgotten where Rwanda is. Grab bag.
Why, you would ask, would the current Rwandan government want to charge Paul Rusesabagina with treason?
Rusesabagina is the real Don Cheadle. He protected mostly Tutsis, but also some Hutus, throughout the terrible Rwandan genocide of 1994 by hiding them or otherwise protecting them in his hotel in central Kigali.
When it was all over he was a hero. He received eight human rights awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Prize for Humanity, and awards from a number of universities including the University of Michigan, Loyola and an honorary doctorate of law from University of Guelph.
Rusesabagina and Paul Kagame, who liberated the Tutsis from the genocide, became the best of friends… for a very, very short while. Kagame’s dictatorship grew rapidly. Rusesabagina became more and more critical. Finally Kagame accused him of supporting, arming and funding a resurgent Hutu rebel group.
Shortly thereafter Rusesabagina fled the country and was granted Belgian citizenship. Retaining that citizenship he recently received a U.S. green card and moved to the United States.
Today, Rwanda is a police state. Obama made the very first baby steps at disentangling America’s interests and in my view pitifully slowly. America still gives a disproportionate amount of aid to Rwanda, which is extremely strategically located in east central Africa among lots of trouble spots.
Rusesabagina’s stature, fame and business success has grown steadily since the movie and his layers of awards. On August 27 he flew to Dubai on business. He fell out of the radar for 24 hours and showed up the next day descending from a private jet in Kigali, where he was immediately charged and imprisoned.
Tibor Nagay was a good enough but undistinguished guy in the State Department right until he retired in 1999 to assume a largely ceremonial position at Texas Tech. Two years ago in what’s become routine he was dusted out of deep retirement (at 70 years old) to shove some fingers in the leaking dykes of the State Department.
Nagay tweeted, “The United States expects the Rwandan government to provide humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law, and provide a fair and transparent legal process for Mr. Rusesabagina.”
Human Rights Watch condemned both the “illegal” kidnapping and the U.S. response. “A fair and transparent legal process” has long been impossible in Rwanda.
There is nuance to this. Rusesabagina is a Hutu and Kagame a Tutsi, and there is no question that Rusesabagina has been supporting Hutu-leaning politics. To some he has dared to assume the role of God-Father to the Rwandan opposition.
He’s made some stupid appearances on social media, including a video where he supports a rebel fighting group based in the neighboring Congo that called for Kagame’s overthrow.
But this pivotal figure, a Hutu who married a Tutsi and adopted that Tutsi’s daughter, remains above all a symbol of sanctuary. Accusations that extend from provocative politics and PR missteps to arming a revolution seem a bit crazy. Rusesabagina’s main crime, like most politicians and suppressed intellectuals in Rwanda, may be nothing more than wanting democracy.
Combined with the immorality of supporting one of the most anti-democratic regimes in the history of mankind, it frames Nagy’s tweet as from a pensioner doing as little as need be done for the monthly stipend.
We need so much more. We need a State Department that could once satisfy me with enough unclassified material to make a better determination of Rusesabagina’s innocence. Or: solid evidence that he’s leading a revolution and exactly why the U.S. isn’t supporting him.