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Olivier Nyirubugara, June 2005

Olivier Nyirubugara

The film Hotel Rwanda, which was awarded 3 Oscars, has been praised by many observers as one of the most interesting and heartbreaking non-fiction films ever made about modern Africa. This of course confirms the principle that “When it bleeds it leads”.

The film covers one of the most atrocious, cruel events of the 20th century, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This claimed over 800,000 lives among the Tutsi and those termed moderate Hutu. The Hutu are the majority ethnic group with 85 percent of the population and have been in power since independence in 1962 until 1994. Prior to their rule, Tutsi monarchs ruled over Rwanda for 5 centuries.

Far from discussing the controversial history of Rwanda, which has now more than two versions all written and defended by recognised scholars, this short analysis will point out some of the elements that observers- especially ill- or non- informed ones- rarely or never detect. These were perhaps intentionally wrongly presented to push the audience to believe what the film makers want them to believe.

Having been in Rwanda during the genocide and having attempted to run to the Mille Colline Hotel for safety, my analysis will be the one based on experience, on what I saw or heard from first hand source.


To start with, one should immediately point out that the filmmakers failed to find a building resembling more or less the real Hotel des Mille Collines. When the film opened I saw a two-storey villa with a small swimming pool and thought that this was perhaps the residence of the UNAMR (UN Mission for Assistance to Rwanda also called MINUAR in French) commander presented as one of the heroes of the film. It is later that I saw a minibus belonging to Mille Collines that I finally realised that this villa was going to serve as the Mille Collines Hotel.

This failed beginning gave me immediately an idea of what the following steps were to be.


I have a strong impression that the scenes about Rusesabagina meeting General Augustin Bizizmungu, the army chief of staff during the genocide, were intentionally exaggerated. Bizimungu is presented as a drunkard, a non-serious man and a man without character.

According to what the film shows, Bizumungu had no other occupation than drinking and begging for money. This is someone who attended a military academy in Belgium and who spent most of his time on the battle field until the time he was appointed army chief of staff in May 1994. Knowing him personally before, during and after the war and the genocide, I reject categorically the kind of picture drawn of him. Perhaps when he was with Rusesabagina he immediately changed to become a drunkard and beggar.

One should also wonder the kind of relationship that could exist between a general – there were only three generals at that time- and a simple hotel manager. Most of his time, Bizimungu was on the battle field and could not come to the Hotel. Even if he could, his relationships could not go as far as the scene at the Hotel des Diplomates. Here, Rusesabagina threatened Bizimungu of denouncing him to the Americans as if he were the US ambassador or envoy.

It is clear that these scenes with Gen. Bizimungu were made to provide the UN Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania with evidence against the general, who is now detained there.


If the film maker succeeded in imitating the voice of the favourite RTLM animator Kantano, he however failed to present the true image of the radio.

First of all, talking of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines and forgetting to talk of Radio Muhabura, the RPF station, is a common but big mistake that all non-informed people make. The RTLM was a response to the unbalanced and racist programmes broadcasted by the RPF radio. Nobody, even the filmmaker, wants to make any allusion to it as if it never existed.

I remember that on many occasions, Kantano and a Muhabura journalist were exchanging insults on air, and sometimes live.

Those watching the film, should know that the radio was never called Hutu Radio as the filmmaker makes us believe. There were a number of nicknames such as “Radio Sympa, Radio 104, Radio of the Majority ( Radiyo ya Rubanda Nyamwinshi)

However, nobody can deny that this radio played a crucial role in inciting to massacres and denouncing those trying to run away, just as it appears in the film.


Like the Hotel des Mille Collines building, the filmmaker invented a ridiculous national ID card with a terribly big stamp of “HUTU" as if no original card had survived to inspire him. This is nothing for a non-informed foreigner who was told that the cards had ethnic mentions. This is true, but these were very small, hidden some were and in very small characters.


I am not familiar with UN soldiers risking their lives to rescue people in danger. I never heard of the Canadian colonel fighting against the Interahamwe or staying or providing protection to the Hotel. If this happened, it is to be praised even though it violates the UN code of conduct.