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Paul Rusesabagina Versus the Genocide


By Sydney Wight| Elementary Education Major

The radio rang through the streets of Rwanda, the Hutu President spoke of hatred of the Tutsis and the necessity of them being destroyed. This propaganda soon led to bodies lying slaughtered on the road and the 100 day genocide was only the beginning (Oprah). Former manager of Hotel Mille Llines, Paul Rusesabagina, awoke abruptly to two Hutu soldiers pressing guns to his head. The bloody Rwandan genocide had turned people he had once known as loving neighbors into heartless murderers overnight. Seventy-eight excruciating days passed as he kept 1,268 people alive in the Hotel Mille Collines (Oprah).
 The Rwandan genocide was one of the most gruesome in history. Rusesabagina witnessed as friends and neighbors he’d once known were killed. He acted bravely while knowing him or his family could have their lives taken any moment as he protected thousands of people, some he barely knew (Kohen, Ari). The country of Rwanda had gone into a madness full of violence and death.
 Rusesabagina easily could be seen as a ‘David’ or an underdog and the genocide as the “Goliath”. Typically people think it is impossible for a mere David to tackle an overwhelming Goliath. However, well acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book “David and Goliath” that the “Davids” in the world surprisingly have the advantage. He further presses this topic in his book “Outliers” where he emphasizes the idea of turning disadvantages into advantages. Paul Rusesabagina did exactly this as he used his family legacy and 10,000 hours to aid in keeping 1,268 people safe while others turned their backs.

Paul Rusesabagina did exactly this as he used his family legacy and 10,000 hours to aid in keeping 1,268 people safe while others turned their backs.

Paul Rusesabagina’s family legacy played a key role in the successful saving of 1,268 people in a hotel built to hold 200. The biggest impact was ‘the greatest hero in his life’, his father. Thomas Rupfure was a well-respected member of the community. (Kohen, Ari 72–73). He taught Rusesabagina to be conscious of his own morality. Rusesabagina states “he taught me most of what I know about patience, tolerance, and bravery” (Rusesabagina 2006: 12). Rusesabagina came from a large family of mixed Tutsi and Hutu heritage. His family undoubtedly taught him that there can be harmony and peace amongst Hutus and Tutsis. Without the upbringing he received Paul Rusesabagina would not have had the morals he did regarding Hutus and Tutsis living as one and he wouldn’t have saved the lives he did. Malcolm Gladwell further proves this theory of family legacy through his stories of his grandmother’s and mother’s struggles of racism that came from being Jamaican. History gives gifts to people that would not be suspected as advantages; they are critical to who we are (Gladwell, Malcolm, Outliers 284–285). The family legacy of Paul Rusesabagina heavily impacted why he risked his and his family’s lives for thousands of people during the treacherous genocide, he was given the advantage of having the opportunity of being raised in a family where harmony was preached and discrimination was intolerable.

Rusesabagina put his 10,000 hours in and had opportunities that others did not. Neither of his parents had learned to read or write so they sent him to school to learn. When he had reached the end of his education he knew his native languages of Kinyarwanda, French, and English (Kohen, Ari 72). These opportunities opened his ability to communicate and have success later on in life. He put his hours in through his schooling and has continued to put his hours to the present day. “…a few dedicated people can work tirelessly to change the futures of people–many of whom they will never meet, whose lives have been devastated by poverty, illness, conflict, genocide and war” (Paul Rusesabagina). When he and his family left Rwanda, he began to look for work, but his heart was with people struggling with genocides. He put in the hours and started his own foundation designed for these people. The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation works to prevent future genocides and raise awareness of the need for a new truth and reconciliation process in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa (Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation). Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes this idea in Outliers as he dedicates a chapter to the concept that in order to be successful we must put in our 10,000 hours.
This theory is supported by the story of “one of the most influential people in modern history of computing”, Bill Joy. Bill Joy did not become a genius overnight, he programmed whenever he could at the Computer Center, then he enrolled into the University of California Berkley where he would find himself deeper into his work. He would soon cofound the Silicon Valley firm Sun Microsystems (Outliers 36–37). Similarly to Bill Joy, Paul Rusesabagina wouldn’t have found success with saving the many lives without his education because without his education he would not have become employed. Without his employment in the management program at Hotel Mille Llines, he wouldn’t have had access to the keys to open the hotel to more than a thousand people to keep them out of the chaos of the genocide. Without the experience he had during the genocide there would be no passion to found the Hotel Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina Foundation. Paul Rusesabagina worked hard, but as Gladwell proves there is much more to success than hard work. Rusesabagina put his 10,000 hours in and his family legacy gave him advantages in his success during the toxic genocide and with his Hotel Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina Foundation. Without either of these factors Rusesabagina would not have had the same experience as he did, he or his family may not even have their lives.

How does an ordinary man save 1,268 during one of the most merciless genocides in Rwandan history? Compared to the size of the genocide and the power behind it Rusesabagina definitely was the underdog. However that may be how he was successful. He had many advantages over the Hutu government. The biblical story of ‘David and Goliath’ tells the tale of a small boy going up against a towering giant in battle. It is one of the most profound underdog stories of all time. Gladwell, in his best-selling book David and Goliath, breaks down the story by featuring the advantages that David truly possessed. David carried a sling shot and rocks as his weapon of choice, it may seem small, but in reality this weapon can do real damage. Goliath on the other hand was a huge giant with a sword. What Gladwell dives into is the fact that Goliath was expecting close proximity battling and research has shown that he qualified for having health conditions that hindered his sight which explains why he called out “come to me” because he was unable to go to David. David kept his distance and slung rocks at Goliath knocking him off his feet and quickly running to kill him. Gladwell proves that underdog stories are really not that unbelievable. By not fighting the way Goliath specialized in fighting, David strategically defeated him (David and Goliath).
Similarly, Paul Rusesabagina used these same strategies when negotiating with the Hutu forces. Instead of resorting to the drastic of giving the forces what they desired, Rusesabagina used words to convince them otherwise. He would calmly sit down with the soldiers or generals give them a glass of alcohol and talk with them for hours until they left peacefully. He saved the majority of the lives doing this simple action. “In Rwandan culture, we say that two men can never sit down and deal without a drink. So I’d always bring a drink to sit and talk. And certainly, any person who came to talk with me arrived at a positive conclusion” (Rusesabagina Interview Oprah). Obviously this is not the typical way any person would handle a violent force during the genocide, especially when you are opposing it. Rusesabagina fought this battle the way he knew best, which evidently was his advantage. 
“I’ve noticed that any person who can open his or her mouth and talk to you can also listen to you.” (Rusesabagina Interview Oprah).
This strategy saved the 1,268 lives in that hotel for seventy-eight days. He wasn’t successful because he was more powerful than the militant forces or because he was partially Hutu, he was successful because he used his advantages in a way the Hutu forces were not accustomed to, they were ready to fight while Rusesabagina was ready to talk.
“It was complicated. If you want to control someone, you’ve got to keep him close, talk to him. That’s what I did [with the armed men constantly threatening to take over the hotel]. The people inside were frightened.”(Rusesabagina Interview Oprah)
If he had not combated in this way, none of those people in the Hotel Mille Llines would have survived this genocide, including Paul Rusesabagina and his family. In his interview with Oprah, Rusesabagina talks of when they first arrived at the hotel for shelter. An army captain sent by the new government stiffly stood guard at the front of the hotel. He put the gun to Rusesabagina’s face and ordered him to shoot his family as bodies lied cut open and decapitated around them with the blood stained ground. Rusesabagina attempted to pretend that he did not know how to operate a gun. He stood speechless with his family as he contemplated what to say to this aggressive general. He showed understanding to the man as he said
““You’re tired,” I said. “You’re thirsty. You’re stressed by the war. I don’t blame you for this. But we can find other solutions. Your enemy isn’t the old man driving my car or this baby over here.”” (Rusesabagina Interview Oprah).
These words allowed them to enter into the hotel and begin the seventy-eight days. Rusesabagina played the role of David and fought Goliath. He is further proof to the Gladwellian theory that underdogs have the advantage and it truly isn’t as implausible for them to be successful when put up against the Goliaths of the world.

Paul Rusesabagina used his family legacy as a key factor in saving many people from the devastating genocide. He put in 10,000 hours while using his opportunities to defeat his Goliath. He rescued 1,268 people by fending off the violent forces with his calm persuasive words. Paul Rusesabagina an ‘ordinary man’, is the face of bravery and courage.


Kohen, Ari. “A Case Of Moral Heroism: Sympathy, Personal Identification, And Mortality In Rwanda.” Human Rights Review 11.1 (2010): 65–82. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Akpome, Aghogho. “The Narrative Construction Of Identity In Contemporary Rwanda: A Study Of An Ordinary Man By Paul Rusesabagina (With Tom Zoellner).” African lStudies 73.2 (2014): 192–210. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

“Oprah Talks To Paul Rusesabagina.” O, The Oprah Magazine 7.3 (2006): 222–279. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
“The My Hero Project — Paul Rusesabagina.” Myhero.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.

NPR Staff. “’Hotel Rwanda’ Manager: We’ve Failed To Learn From History.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
 — Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown, 2008. Print.

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Photo by Conrad Engstrom


Sydney Wight, a freshman from Mahtomedi, MN., is pursuing a major in Elementary Education with a minor in Spanish. Wight likes chocolate peanut butter ice cream from Nelson’s, dogs and kids, and outdoor activities on sunny days.


I’ve learned that everybody can be a great writer when they “name dogs.”

The best papers aren’t the ones with the biggest words, they’re the ones that keep you wanting more.

Having a college writing class in a choir classroom would have been horrible.

Where you come from matters.

Do not stress over reading your writing out-loud to the class, be proud.

Start papers the way no one else would. Be original.

A class with snacks and music is awesome.

If you get to class early Scott will make you either write something on the board or rearrange the desks.

Being an underdog is an advantage, take it.

Scott likes to make big circles with the desks.

If you desire success, put in your 10,000 hours.

Never dedicate your writing about a topic with no personal meaning to you.

When Scott Winter says “it’s a good day for a quiz” then follows by telling you to close your eyes, prepare to be told you’re wrong about all of your answers to Scott’s questions.

Don’t ever say “sorry” to Scott because he will charge you a quarter.