The abduction, trial, and conviction of Paul Rusesabagina, the central figure in the Hotel Rwanda story, is a reminder that what we often call the Rwandan Genocide was actually a complicated tribal conflict with interlocking genocides. The story was never simple but rather sequences of a brutal tribal conflict that was never one-sided and which was never truly remedied.
The Hotel Rwanda narrative appealed to our desire for conventional heroism and a happy ending. There was never a happy ending on the table in Rwanda where one genocide was succeeded by another genocide, and one set of tribal persecutions by more of the same.
Who was on top and who was on the bottom changed, as it had throughout the last century, but there could be no happy ending.
The Hutu and the Tutsi had spent a good deal of time killing each other over tribal conflicts. A situation far from unusual in Africa.
The Tutsis had massacred the Hutus, before the Hutus massacred the Tutsis, in what we tend to call the Rwandan Genocide, followed by the Tutsis massacring the Hutus.
Rusesabagina was kidnapped, tried and convicted by the Tutsi regime, which arguably had conducted its own genocide after the official genocide, after being accused of links to a pro-Hutu opposition party.
Where the truth lies is a complicated question. And one that we don’t really need to answer.
When dealing with other countries and cultures, Americans often want to know who the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys are. The depressing answer, whether it’s in Rwanda or Afghanistan and Iraq, is that often there are no good guys, at least not as any major force, but successions of bad guys, some less bad or more justified than others.
Coping with a world in which we have national, but not always moral interests, can be dispiriting. But it’s a healthy counter to the conviction that our values can just be exported abroad.