Paul Rusesabagina is the better-known of the two. He was the hero of the 2004 Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda.” As a manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rusesabagina used his connections to save 1,200 refugees from Hutu militias during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. By using his limited leverage with different groups—businessmen, soldiers, diplomats, etc.—Rusesabagina managed to keep his refugees safe.
In that sense, Rusesabagina serves as a symbolic hero of liberal internationalism: a guy who relies not on force, but on persuasion to save lives. Despite being unarmed, Rusesabagina managed—through negotiations, diplomacy, and even bribery—to prevent his hotel from being overrun. The Western media tends to love such heroes, and the film “Hotel Rwanda” is thus a fitting tribute to Paul Rusesabagina’s courage.
Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, represents a very different sort of hero. While the other Paul’s story forms the basis of “Hotel Rwanda,” Paul Kagame’s story more closely resembles “The Dark Knight,” the Batman blockbuster of this summer.
Consider the analogy. Batman is a flawed, but good man who seeks to deliver quick justice— by force, if necessary. He is a vigilante who doesn’t hesitate to break a few laws (or legs) as long as the bad guys get punished. He embodies the idea that when fighting evil, good people sometimes need to get their hands dirty.
In that sense, Paul Kagame is a Dark Knight par excellence.
Consider the events of the Rwandan Genocide. Although 800,000 people were killed within 100 days of violence by Hutu militias, the international community’s response was indifferent at best. The United Nations failed to do more than send a small token force that was too weak to halt the genocide. Other Western nations sent troops, but only to evacuate European nationals. The West had no vital interest at stake in Rwanda and thus had little reason to intervene.
With international law having failed, it took an African hero to stop the genocide. In an act of vigilante justice, General Paul Kagame led his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) army into Rwanda during the summer of 1994. His troops crushed the Hutu militias, overthrew their genocidal government, and forcibly restored peace and order. Since then, the strong arm of Rwanda’s military has been crucial to maintaining order in a nation of ten million Hutus, Tutsis, and Batwa peoples.
Since 2000, Kagame has served as President of a Rwanda, a nation that has remained relatively democratic despite several authoritarian hiccups. In a 2003 election, Kagame faced weak opposition and won re-election with 95% of the votes. He has remained critical of the U.N.’s weak response to the Rwandan Genocide, but has contributed Rwandan peacekeepers to places like Darfur.
Given the differences between Paul Rusesabagina and Paul Kagame, it is no wonder that the men don’t like each other— their worldviews are simply too different. Rusesabagina sees Kagame as a war criminal with blood on his hands, while Kagame sees Rusesabagina as an idealistic Hollywood celebrity who fails to see that justice must sometimes be rooted in force.
Given that Rwanda is a small, landlocked nation with a fragile peace, it is imperative that the country continue to move towards greater political and economic freedom. In a sense, Rwanda’s future depends on reconciling the visions that Paul Rusesabagina and Paul Kagame represent—i.e. whether Hotel Rwanda can accommodate the Dark Knight.
Perhaps capitalism can provide a common ground for both visions. On September 18, 2008, Paul Kagame delivered a speech to students and staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as part of the university’s prestigious Compton Lecture. Speaking on the twin topics of technology and economics, President Paul Kagame was quoted by Rwanda’s New Times: “Our vision of becoming a middle-income country by the year 2020—an objective we firmly believe we will achieve—requires that we think and act innovatively, boldly and creatively.”
Perhaps Paul Rusesabagina would agree: the key to Rwandan prosperity in the 21st century lies in looking ahead to future progress, not past transgressions.