By Carine I. Kanimba
Love and duty. Those are the core tenants that my father taught me about my family and about what we must value in the world. These are the values that have inspired me to write this now.
My father is my hero like yours probably might be too. His gentle strength and constant wisdom guided me every year growing into womanhood. Growing up, he never let me forget where we came from. He expected me to be fluent in our home country’s history, culture, and language — and constantly emphasized the importance of living a life serving as a voice for the voiceless. His courage, his love for our people, and his dream of human rights experienced for all people across the globe were shining values I got to absorb. I am young, in my 20s, and still figuring things out — but I have been raised to exemplify courage and dedication because that’s what my hero lives and breathes.
My father is a father to many people who are not his children. His bravery and advocacy are otherworldly. Not only is my father my hero, but he is also the hero of many. Paul Rusesabagina is the internationally recognized humanitarian hero whose story you have likely seen portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda. His actions were depicted by Don Cheadle in the film, showing how my father saved the lives of more than 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He served as manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali and bravely risked his life to shelter Hutus and Tutsis who were seeking refuge from the ruthless violence that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 people.
One month ago, he was kidnapped and taken against his will to Rwanda. I have been unable to speak to my father freely since his kidnapping and detention. Imagine the waking nightmare that you and your family would face if your father traveled overseas, went missing and surfaced days later in a country he would never travel back willingly to, accused on false charges by a brutal authoritarian government he has routinely criticized. I am terrified, devastated, and confused, and he must be as well.
I desperately wanted to write a letter to my father. But since the Rwandan government has made even that gesture impossible, I am unable to write these words directly to him and I will instead share my thoughts and words with you — words to my father, words to all of our fathers, and words that may humbly inspire my sisters in humanity to advocate for compassion and justice for Paul Rusesabagina.
I have been weeping too much. Even when I do, I sit upright and prepare to face another day fearlessly, just as my father would want. He is a man of resilience, of belief and faith, and of hope in goodness. I try to embody those characteristics right now, because that’s how he raised me.
He is an honorable man. He has inspired hundreds of thousands of people and has been renowned for years as a global champion of peace, freedom of speech, and human rights. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and has since continued to tirelessly stand against injustice across the world. He uses his power and light to lift others up, and he does not run from hardship. A student of theology and a dedicated servant of God, he has time and time again stood for the right thing, no matter its scope or its pain. From risking his life to save the lives of 1200 people that he did not know during a genocide, to embracing his young children to coming for me and my sister and raising us as his own — he has constantly displayed his selflessness, his morality, and his fierce devotion to doing the right thing.
And that devotion has come at a cost. People who work to spread light often draw the ire of those who aim to suppress it. Death threats, hatred, attempts to come for him — these were constants that I knew my father dealt with, but now, it is all too real. In most places in the world, we know that freedom of speech shouldn’t lead to kidnapping, improper treatment, denial of an attorney and speaking to your family. But he has been seized while traveling internationally and taken to today’s Rwanda as a political prisoner. Because he dares to speak for the voiceless and advocate for human rights, he was kidnapped taken into custody, charged with unthinkable false crimes and denied a personal attorney.
My father could never stay silent. That’s his best quality. And since he has not stayed silent in his love for us as humankind, we must not stay silent now and demand his safe return home. I could not write this letter to my father, so instead, I direct my plea to all daughters and ask you all to stand in solidarity with me. Read about my father — not about the false allegations spread by an authoritarian dictator who committed an international crime to drag a dissident to Rwanda, but the place in history that Paul Rusesabagina occupies. When you do, I promise you will understand the man he is — and you will stand beside me.
I’m with my father, and I ask daughters everywhere to be with him too. Let us exercise our freedom of speech, raise our voices, and bring him home safe. I love my father. I miss my father. And I will not stop speaking out until he is home with me — it is my duty and it is born out of my love for him, for our world, and for our rights. I beg my sisters across humanity to join me.
Carine I. Kanimba