Aware of the ordeals he faced 12 years ago, I attended Paul Rusesabaginas lecture anticipating harrowing accounts of affliction and suffering. But Rusesabagina remained charismatic yet stoic, impassioned yet unruffled, as he explained how tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic tribes had escalated to result in massacre.
Despite his fame being partly derived from accounts detailing his own life, such as Hotel Rwanda and his autobiography An Ordinary Man, 40 minutes of Rusesabaginas speech explained the origin of the centuries-old conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. Rusesabagina then segued into a personal narration of the role he played in the Rwandan genocide, which, save a few exceptions, closely mirrored the movie of his life.
Having first watched Hotel Rwanda a mere three months ago, the images of despondent Tutsi refugees, strife and slaughter were freshly burnt in my mind. Therefore, I unconsciously arrived at Boe Chapel expecting to hear the speech of a man who would radiate the indelible melancholy of unseen horrors, a speaker who would draw upon his own tragedy to poignantly affect the emotions of others in an effort to inspire activism and change. However, Rusesabagina did not employ ethos-evoking detail and imagery to manipulate the audiences emotions, and chose instead to keep his speech informative.
At times, Rusesabagina referenced the terror he and his family had felt amidst east Rwandas collective chaos. Nevertheless, despite the recollection of these traumatic past events, his mannerisms were devoid of stray tears and furrowed brows.
Throughout Rusesabaginas speech, I tried to detect a sense of mourning for the past. Rusesbagina, however, seemed more intent on using his experiences to hinder present and future genocides in Africa, as opposed to merely memorializing the murdered. He made it clear that his new purpose in life was not to be a walking testimonial of history, but instead, to use his experience to spur transformative activism. In an effort to make this mission clear, Rusesabagina concluded his speech by instructing the audience, Tomorrow is yours. You are tomorrows leaders. Shape tomorrow like you want it to be.
Rusesabaginas theme of preventive activism carried over into the subsequent question and answer session, in which various students asked how they could change the current situation in Darfur or make a positive difference in a seemingly uncaring world. Rusesabagina urged the student body to raise awareness amongst their peers, as well as to push government leaders to play a more active role in enforcing international peace-keeping policy.
As Rusesabagina talked with the audience, he shared his belief that conditions in Africa would never be alleviated as long as combat replaced conversation, stating that [Africa] did not learn a lesson. There is no negotiation without dialogue, and there is no dialogue going on. However, Rusesabagina claimed, the international community had learned from the Rwandan genocide that global dialogue was imperative for the peace process. Now, it was up to todays future generations to set such dialogue in motion, but with words instead of guns.
Most of Rusesabaginas contemporaries and admirers, including myself, unintentionally focus mostly on the brave actions of his past. However, the Paul Rusesabagina of today, the man who tours college campuses to prevent the repetition of history, proves to be just as admirable as Hotel Rwandas award-winning portrayal of a certain determined and valiant hotel manager.