Communication Concepts We Learn from the Hotel Rwanda Story
All human beings usually communicate with each other. Communication is passing information from one person to another through a medium. One can articulate verbally or nonverbally. Thus, through the story of Hotel Rwanda, we learn various concepts that affect communication. Hotel Rwanda is a historical story that depicts how ethnicity can destroy a whole nation (Hotel Rwanda 2004). Thus, the paper shall look at various communication concepts in the story.
The story began after the Rwandan president, a Hutu, was killed in a plane crash. Hutu politicians blamed the Tutsis for the president’s death, and within hours, a loosely organized Hutu militia group known as the Interahamwe began mobilizing Hutus across Rwanda. The Hutus were revenging for what the Tutsis had done to them when they had mastery over them (Hotel Rwanda 2004). The Hutus began to kill many Tutsis, and this was primarily due to ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is a feeling of superiority in one’s tribal group. The interpersonal conflict between the two tribes was caused by ethnocentrism, which led to civil wars.
Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the luxurious Hotel des Milles Collineas, in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, was a Hutu. He was married to Tatiana, a Tutsi, and their children were viewed as mixed. Their marriage was a source of high friction for the Hutu extremists like General George Rutaganda, Interahamwe’s leader. Thus, this created an interpersonal conflict between Paul’s family and the General. Paul also later differed with the General, and he had to use threats toward him.
As the political situation in the country continued to worsen, Paul and his family observed their neighbors being dragged from their homes and beaten in the streets. This political situation shaped their perception of the events. Paul knew that they would get the same treatment if he did not do anything to help his family. Thus, with the self-fulfilling prophecy where, one’s expectations of seeing a particular outcome eventually change their behavior. Consequently, he was propelled to execute everything he could to save his family.
Subsequently, when Paul was driving home, he heard gunfires, shootings, and glass breaking into buildings. When he arrived home, his family and neighbors hid in the dark. There were no lights. There was also a rumor from the press that the president’s death had caused all this chaos in the country. All these issues produced a particular perception in his brain, and he knew what was happening in the state. In fact, individuals usually form perceptions under a given communication setup, which refers to how they understand or see a particular situation (Maund 50).
People hold different opinions, and this can produce distortions. Tatiana’s sister and brother-in-law visit Paul at the Hotel des Milles Collineas. They were worried about the danger and wanted to depart from the state. They also wanted to take Tatiana and her children with them. They felt that Paul was not in danger because he was a Hutu, while Tatiana and the children were Tutsis. Thus, they were letting the events affect their thinking. So this brought about the attribution theory. Through observing the events in the country, her sister had fears about Tatiana and the children. Their fear and choice to help Tatiana were attributed to the happenings in the country.
Communication can also be affected by stereotypes (Fiedler 12). Stereotypes occur when individuals use generalized statements that are inaccurate to judge people. In Rwanda, the civil war affected the Hutus and the Tutsis. The politicians assumed that the Tutsis had killed him just because the president, a Hutu, was killed in a plane crash. Therefore, they encouraged the citizen to rise against the Tutsis. Tatiana’s sister also generalized that Paul was not in danger because he was a Hutu, while her sister was a Tutsi.
As the inter-group conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis continued, Paul found it necessary to formulate a plan to save the people. He intended to keep the guests and the staff in his hotel. Paul devised a plan of getting favors from the people with influence. He did this by bribing them with money and alcohol, and in return, he was assured of the safety of the hotel and his family. He used the social exchange theory, which states that human relationships are formed using cost-benefit analysis and comparing alternatives.
In fact, people will be friends if they are assured they will benefit from the relationships. The people will lose the relationships when they cease to benefit them. Thus, he maintained a good relationship with people of influence like General Bizimungu as he was assured of his safety. After he had achieved his objectives, he stopped the friendship.
The relationship between Paul and Bizimungu also highlighted the social penetration theory. The theory states that when people interact, they penetrate deeper into their relationship and thus become good friends; the fact that Paul and Bizimungu were all Hutus created an excellent base for their friendship. The theory had various stages, including the orientation phase and the exploratory affective stage, where people become casual friends. In addition, there is the emotional stage, where communicators begin to disclose personal information, and the stable stage, where one can easily predict another person’s behavior.
Lastly, there is the depenetration stage which occurs when the communication ceases and the relationship begins to end. Paul befriended General Bizimungu by giving him bribes and cigars. He even trained people to consider the Hotel des Milles Collineas an oasis of sophistication and decorum. Thus, this meant that General Bizimungu often visited the hotel. When Paul realized that he could no longer bribe the General, he resorted to blackmail, which brought an end to their friendship.
After hiding in the hotel for some time, many people began receiving their visas to exit the state. The fact that people chose to hide rather than confront the situation meant they used the avoiding strategy for managing conflicts. Avoidance was also depicted when Tatiana and the children were moved up into the truck, but Paul refused to travel with them. Paul could not get into the truck because his conscience could not let him leave the other people. Paul experienced an intrapersonal conflict.
An intergroup conflict occurred between UN peacekeeping official Nick Nolte, who chose to disobey his superiors. The UN did not want to interfere in the chaos, but Colonel Nick intervened and helped evacuate the Tutsi refugees from the hotel. Bizimungu also experienced this type of conflict when he gave in to Paul’s demands. He had to go against the demands of his group.
Paul also brings out the skills of persuasion. In this context, persuasion is the ability to convince people with words. Paul was able to persuade Bizimungu to do what he wanted him to do. He was also able to convince influential people to assist him. Furthermore, he was able to convince Colonel Nick Nolte to look for assistance. In addition, he could persuade the hotel guests to seek help from the people with influence by pleas on the telephones. Moreover, Paul needed to convince the General to help them before the Interharamwe arrived at the hotel.
The first warning given to Bizimungu was that the Americans were watching everything happening in Rwanda with their satellites. The second threat was that the General would be convicted as a war criminal. He went on to say, “You are a marked man, sir. You are on their wanted list. Furthermore, the Americans have you on the list as the most wanted war criminal.” From the above speech, it is apparent that Paul was using a competing method of resolving disputes. This usually occurs when an aggressive individual in a conflict aims to pressure the other victim to achieve a particular goal. General Bizimungu reluctantly agreed to help Paul, but they found it under attack when they reached the hotel.
Eventually, the story ended when the Interharamwe stopped the attack on the Tutsis, and Paul found his family hiding in the bathroom. Paul’s family and the refugees finally left the hotel in a UN convoy.
The Rwandan story gives us various communication concepts that are still applied in the modern world. In any communication, there will always be conflicts and strategies for managing these conflicts, like avoidance, completion, compromising, and accommodating techniques. Communication is also affected by various factors, such as perception, stereotypes, and attribution. In my opinion, communication concepts should be greatly appreciated.
Fiedler, Klaus. Social Communication. New York: Psychology, 2007. Print.
Hotel Rwanda. Dir. Terry George. Perf. Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, and Nick Nolte. MGM,
Maund, Barry. Perception. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2003. Print.