Childhood & Early Life
Paul was born on June 15, 1954. While his father belonged to the ethnic group Hutu, his mother belonged to the Tutsi group. Hutu and Tutsi are two of the three largest ethnic groups that reside around the regions of the Great African Lakes.
He was one of the nine children of his parents.
He attended a school managed by the 'Seventh-day Adventist Church' in a town close to Gitwe, Kenya.
In his childhood, he was determined to become a priest.
Before he turned 13, he had mastered the French and English languages.
On September 8, 1967, at the age of 13, Paul married Esther Sembeba, his first wife.
He attended the ‘Kenya Utalii College.'
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To fulfill his childhood desire to become a minister, he, along with his wife, shifted to Cameroon to study in a seminary.
Later, in December 1978, he moved to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, along with his wife and two children.
Upon the advice of his childhood friend, he took up a job at the 'Hotel des Mille Collines,' a reputed hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
He was sent to Belgium and Switzerland to learn hotel management and acquire the skills of the hospitality industry.
After completing his hotel management studies abroad, he returned to work with 'Mille Collines.'
He was promoted to the post of the assistant general manager of 'Hotel Diplomates,' a sister-concern of 'Mille Collines,' in 1992.
During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, he successfully convinced the then-corporate management of 'Mille Collines,’ the 'Societé Anonyme Belge d'Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne’ (better known in the international circuit as 'Sabena,' or 'SABENA’), to officially appoint him as the assistant general manager of the hotel.
Protecting the Refugees
During the Rwandan genocide orchestrated by the 'Interahamwe (Hutu militia) against the Tutsi, between April 7, 1994, and July 15, 1994, Paul managed to save the lives of the 1,268 refugees holed up in 'Mille Collines' and also those of his wife and children.
When the militia arrived at the hotel and threatened to kill the refugees, he sent away his wife and children, hiding them in a truck, to a safe location, while he himself stayed back to ensure the protection of the refugees.
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However, the militia tracked his wife down and attacked her. She then came back to hotel.
Paul's diplomatic skills helped him when he negotiated a deal with the militia to spare the lives of the refugees hiding in the hotel. He also bribed the decision-makers to keep the militia away from the hotel.
Paul's controversial comments, especially against the ‘RPF,’ have landed him in trouble with the current administration of Rwanda.
Paul and the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, have often accused each other of misleading people.
Awards & Honors
In 2000, he was awarded the 'Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity.'
In 2005, he was honored with three recognitions: the 'Wallenberg Medal’ of the ‘University of Michigan,' the 'National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award,' and the 'Presidential Medal of Freedom.'
He received three honorary degrees: the 'Honorary Doctorate of Law’ from the ‘University of Guelph’ (2007), an honorary degree from the ‘Gustavus Adolphus College’ in 2008, and another honorary degree, from the ‘Loyola University Chicago’ at the ‘Bachelor of Arts Commencement' in 2009.
‘The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice' awarded him the 'Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize’ in 2011.
Family & Personal Life
He has three children from his marriage to Esther: two daughters, Diane and Lys, and a son, Roger.
While studying in Switzerland and Brussels, he was away from his family. His long-distance relationship with his wife suffered due to his dedication to work and eventually led to their divorce. However, he gained the custody of his three children.
In 1987, while attending a wedding, he was smitten by the maid of honor, his future wife, Tatiana Mukangamije. Back then, she was working in a hospital in Ruhengeri, the capital city of Musanze District, in the Northern Province of Rwanda.
His desire to court her was so strong that he impressed an influential politician to get her transferred from Ruhengeri to the 'Central Hospital' in Kigali.
In 1989, after dating for 2 years, they tied the knot. Tatiana adopted his children from his previous marriage.
Later, the couple had two children: a son named Tresor and a daughter who survived only for a few days.
As a consequence of the genocide, the Rusesabaginas lost most of their kith and kin. While Paul lost four siblings, Tatiana lost her parents, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, and nephews. However, her two siblings remained alive.
Paul has claimed that his father-in-law had paid the Hutu militia to be executed so that he could avoid a gruesome death.
After saving himself, his family, and the refugees in the hotel, Paul left for a refugee camp with his family.
At the camp, they searched for their relatives and stumbled upon the two surviving nieces of Tatiana, Anais and Karine, who were in a miserable condition. The Rusesabaginas adopted them.
With the help of the 'Rwandan Patriotic Front,' he and his extended family escaped and crossed the borders to go to Tanzania.
Even when he was in Tanzania, death threats still loomed large. Hence he successfully sought asylum in Belgium. He moved to the country along with his family in 1996.
As they continued to receive threats to their lives, the family moved to Texas. They continue to stay there but also own and maintain their house in Belgium.