My story was told in a hotel

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This week, the world will again turn its eyes toward Rwanda.
April 6 marks 30 years since the start of one of the most horrific events in modern history, the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Nearer in time but not unrelated, it has been just over one year since I left Rwanda and returned to the United States, released from prison after 939 days in captivity.
I have not yet spoken at length about what those years in a Rwandan prison were like, or about the daily reality for Rwandan political prisoners who, like me, found themselves behind bars for exercising their freedom of expression.
The experience of being kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned and silenced by those whom I had used my voice to criticize is difficult to describe.
For me and for so many Rwandans, the 1994 genocide remains the focal point of my life.
I am also grateful for the two personal lessons I decided to take from living through this atrocity.
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This week, Rwanda will once more come under international scrutiny. April 6th is the anniversary of the beginning of one of the most horrifying incidents in contemporary history: the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. More recently, but still relevant, it has been a little over a year since I was freed from prison in Rwanda after 939 days of incarceration and returned to the United States.

I haven’t gone into great detail about my years spent incarcerated in Rwanda or the day-to-day struggles faced by political prisoners there who, like me, were imprisoned for exercising their right to free speech. My ability to write has returned after a grueling year of both physical and emotional recuperation, and I anticipate that the healing process will continue for the remainder of my life.

It is impossible to adequately describe the experience of having my voice used to criticize people who then abducted, tortured, imprisoned, and silenced me. Throughout my captivity, I frequently thought that my voice would be permanently silenced and that I would never again see my wife, kids, or grandkids. However, I am a free man now. Along with my fellow Rwandans, I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect on what lessons, if any, can be learned from this tragic chapter in our shared history as we approach this significant and challenging milestone.

The 1994 genocide continues to be the main focus of my life, as it is for many Rwandans. Between April and July of 1994, our lovely nation was plunged into an unfathomable period of terror marked by unspeakable acts of heinous violence and unfathomable numbers of murders. Up to 10,000 people were killed in a single day during certain points of the crisis, mostly with machetes and other primitive weapons. It is impossible to comprehend the depravity and the enormity of the loss, even now, thirty years later, even for those of us who witnessed the killings firsthand.

In addition to trying to keep my own small family safe, as the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the capital city of Rwanda at the time, I also made an effort to safeguard the 1,268 individuals who had taken refuge inside the hotel’s walls. The 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda” used their bravery and our everyday grim dance with death as its backdrop. This movie showed how we would plead, compromise, and beg with our would-be executioners in an effort to deter the militia that is waiting in the wings.

It is still difficult for any of us to relive this experience. I am happy to have made it through. I am also appreciative of the two lessons I chose to learn about myself as a result of going through this horror. The first is to never give up. This is what kept me going after I and other people who were critical of the current government were abducted in August 2020 by a Rwandan intelligence services agent and falsely imprisoned in Rwanda on terrorism and other offense charges. When it comes to combating individuals who aim to subjugate and mistreat others, our most potent tool is language.

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