Shannon's Reviews > An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
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Jun 02, 09


I couldn’t put this down. After watching Don Cheadle’s brilliant performance of Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda, I fervently wanted to read Rusesabagina’s autobiography. This man has so much integrity; he protected 1,268 Rwandan refugees in the Hotel des Mille Collines during a period in which hundreds of thousands were brutally executed, including Hutu political moderates like him. The book begins examining the possible origins of the ethnic divide between the Tutsi and Hutu. The origin of Rwanda’s class system has little to do with appearance. Tutsis are considered to be taller, to have smaller noses, but evidence suggests they share a recent common origin (e.g., they share the language of Kinyarwanda, the same storytelling traditions, and religions). Rusesabagina believes the ethnicities developed from artificial political distinctions. He is actually considered Hutu in spite of his mother’s Tutsi heritage due to Rwanda’s patriarchal system in which ethnic identity of a child depends on the ethnic identity of the father.

British explorer John Hanning Speke used Bible passages to theorize that the Tutsi were a lost tribe of Christians while the Hutu were the cursed descendants of Noah’s son Ham. Before World War I, Germany was the colonizing power of Rwanda. It was then handed over to Belgium, and the Belgians adopted the race theories of Speke. Subsequently, Rwandans received identity cards specifying their ethnic class. Resentment slowly grew from the doctrine of Tutsi superiority and later, Hutu Power ideology emerged as a response. Due to Belgian influence, Rwanda quickly became one of the most Christian nations on the planet. Interestingly, Rusesabagina chose Paul as his baptismal name after the NT character who described himself as “all things to all people.” I found this to be the most fitting description of Rusesabagina.

This is a fantastic autobiography, exquisitely written. It illustrates the early manifestation of ethnic division, the subtle tension and irrational fear that develop from this division, the dangers of ethnic-stereotyping propaganda, and the international community’s persistent failure to act. The end of the book discusses a phrase popularized in response to the Holocaust: “Never Again.” Rusesabagina poignantly asserts that the words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time if we continue to neglect such atrocities.

This is one of my favorite passages concerning the genocide in Rwanda:

“It started as a failure of the European colonists who exploited trivial differences for the sake of a divide-and-rule strategy. It was the failure of Africa to get beyond its ethnic divisions and form true coalition governments. It was a failure of Western democracies to step in and avert the catastrophe when abundant evidence was available. It was a failure of the United States for not calling a genocide by its right name. It was the failure of the United Nations to live up to its commitments as a peacemaking body.”


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