Hotel Rwanda: Patricia’s Dream
Patricia Kabuleeta as a finalist of the Sidley-IIEL WTO Moot Court Competition, Washington,DC April 14 - 15, 2003.

Hotel Rwanda: Patricia’s Dream

The media shy person behind Hotel Rwanda's Premiere fundraiser.

By Aretha Frison
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First published: October 7, 2005

Patricia Kabuleeta said she always had a heart for people desperately in need, and always wondered how she could help the needy, the underprivileged, the poor and the ones we pass by everyday on the street, soon to be forgotten as we move along with our daily lives.

Never did she realize that her dream would spark a light for thousands of children living as victims of the 19-year civil war in northern Uganda through a gripping and tragic true story about her neighbors just next door in Rwanda.

The Dream at Harvest
“You have to excuse me. I haven’t slept for days,” Kabuleeta admits. And it shows.

Sitting at a table at the Institute for Information and Computing Technology at Makerere University, she seemed extremely exhausted. Her matted short hair is covered by a baseball cap, and her attire is very casual, but rugged. It is the kind of apparel that one would wear around the house when doing spring-cleaning or rummaging through dusty closets and other boxes of childhood memories on a Saturday morning.

Yet, she says being the originator of the Hotel Rwanda film premiere fundraiser to raise money for educating thousands of children in northern Uganda, in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, through Cineplex Uganda movie theatre in Kampala, Uganda is definitely worth her temporary suffering of fatigue and insomnia.

And since making preparations for the premiere fundraiser (which took place in July) for technically a year, but actually doing the groundwork for it since May, she hasn’t publicly announced the fact that she orchestrated the entire event because she didn’t want any glory.

You can’t find her as the head honcho for this snazzy Hollywood event in East Africa in a single newspaper article, e-article, and news segment for TV or sound bite for radio. Not one of these mediums has given her acknowledgement and due credit for developing and planning an event that brought in thousands of dollars for the Uganda Australian Foundation to provide quality and adequate education for about 4,000 young IDPs in northern Uganda.

But, it’s her fault. She decided to keep it a big secret.

Another one of Kabuleeta’s secrets was that until she actually contacted the movie’s director Terry George and convinced him to give her a personal copy of the movie to be viewed to the Uganda public, Cineplex Uganda would still be waiting for licensing permission from South Africa to show the film that debuted last year worldwide, according to Cineplex officials.

Plus, if it wasn’t for Kabuleeta, Uganda wouldn’t have had its first star-studded movie premiere at Cineplex Uganda at the Garden City shopping mall in July hosting even the movie’s leading actor, American Hollywood actor Don Cheadle, (Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve.)

In just a short amount of time, she has pioneered many historic events for her country.

However, Kabuleeta said she stayed out of the media spotlight because she humbly obliges that the event wasn’t about her.

“My focus is on educating the children. I’m just doing this tiny bit,” she said.

According to Kabuleeta and her friend and marketing manager for the event, Denis Ruharo Musiimenta, they said the event raised more than $25,000 for the children, that was given to Francis Odida, founder of the Uganda Australian Foundation, a Gulu-based charity, who they said has “dedicated his life to the IDPs” in areas like Gulu, Lira and Kitgum to take care and educate over thousands of children.

During the actual week of the event, Kabuleeta heightened her desire to stay incognito. She admits to avoiding all media calls and directing them to her friends like Musiimenta to handle or Cineplex, only being termed in the media as one of the event’s coordinators.

The event, which lured and prompted about 400 Uganda business professionals, Rwanda’s ambassador to Uganda, Ignatius Kamana, local high society, Ugandan celebrities, dignitaries, civil rights activists and East African enthusiasts and people who just wanted to see Cheadle, to purchase Ushs 150,000 movie tickets to view the almost two-year-old movie starring Cheadle who portrays Paul Rusesabagina.

Rusesabagina was the manager of the five-star Hotel De Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda at the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Rusesabagina, through the depths of losing his own life, and attempting to jeopardize the chance of losing his family, saved about 12,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the tragedy.

Hotel De Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda

The Dream Being Sowed
The dream of having the premiere fundraiser all happened unexpectedly when she was just a concerned youngster attending university in Uganda. Kabuleeta, now a trade lawyer by profession, remember the times when she was in law school at Makerere University moonlighting at the local radio station, Sanyu FM as a D.J. where she would candidly speak out about Uganda’s poverty and war-torn northern region, which is still a hostage to the seemingly inevitable civil war.

“On Friday nights and on the weekends when I came out of movies, I would see the people sleeping on the streets,” Kabuleeta said.

She said her heart would bleed at the sight of the homeless lurking on the streets on Kampala who were either sleeping underneath soiled rags on sidewalks or extending a mucky hand - an all too familiar motion for strangers passing by to have mercy on them to give spare change.

She also had a heart for Ugandans living with HIV and AIDS, especially if they feared losing their jobs because of the controversial disease.

“I had a show on the radio where I spoke to people who lost their jobs to AIDS.”

Sometimes, Kabuleeta said she had anonymous guests on the show talking about their children who are dying from the disease, or people who can’t afford anti-viral treatment for HIV/AIDS.

“I mean, children are dying,” she explained. “It’s a different story when looking at a statistic and looking at a person. One man called in on the show and said ‘I’m John. I can’t get medicine. I’m dying,” she said.

The program, which was sponsored by a local non-government organization, or NGO, supported her radio program that wanted to get help for HIV/AIDS by having guests on the show share their stories.

But, Kabuleeta’s radio show was only the beginning of her dream to be fulfilled to help her country by rallying prestigious Ugandans to donate to a her relief effort for northern Uganda through the film Hotel Rwanda.

A Dream Deferred
As a young, twenty-something Ugandan attending Georgetown University in the heart of Washington, D.C., Kabuleeta said she seemed to put her images of her poverty-stricken country out of the limelight for awhile as she studied trade law and the World Trade Organization and how it is being neglected within its global community.

Eventually, Kabuleeta said she worked for former U.S. president Bill Clinton under his administration, conducting and implementing a variety of projects, until she returned home continuing her work in trade law. But, she still said she wanted to come back home to make a difference one day.

And that day came last year in Europe.

“I watched Hotel Rwanda at the premiere in London. I was so moved by what had been done by Paul, (Rusesabagina)” she said. “After that, I didn’t think about it, and let it go. Then five months later in D.C., I met John Prendegrast, (special advisor to the U.S. President for the International Crisis Group) who set up Paul and his wife Dawn for an ABC News interview. Then, I watched it again. In a way it was God.”

She said seeing how Cheadle depicted Rusesabagina on the screen gave her an epiphany.

“If Paul can do this…if Don can do this, I can do this. I can do something—there’s hope for Uganda,” Kabuleeta said.

Even though Rwanda is next door to Uganda and the genocide being almost 12 years old now, Kabuleeta said she didn’t feel the effects of the massacre—or believed she could make a change—until she watched the film. That’s when she started hounding down Prendegrast to get in touch with George about making the Hotel Rwanda film premiere fundraiser for northern Uganda into a reality.

“In February, John (Prendergast) gave in and introduced me to Terry George,” Kabuleeta said. “I explained to him that I really wanted to do it for the children.”

After that, the plans were moving steadily as Hotel Rwanda opened last April in Kigali for the public viewing at the country’s memorial stadium. While visiting Kigali, she stayed at Hotel De Milles Collines and also met the Rusesabaginas. And, she used her international connections to get Cheadle and his family to not only be at the fundraiser, but to stay in Uganda for a few days to tour northern Uganda.

According to media reports, Cheadle visited IDP camps in the war-ravaged northern region, which was organized by the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International. In addition, it was reported that former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Jimmy Kolker was one of Cheadle’s guide’s on his country tour.

During the film’s premiere fundraiser in Uganda, the African-American actor encouraged the guests to collectively find a solution to the war.

“There’s a great need to help the children in northern Uganda,” according to an article in Uganda’s The Daily Monitor in July. “I hope this (the premiere fundraiser) will make an inspiration to the people back home in the United States to do something to make a change.”

According to local reports, Cheadle, his wife and two daughters also visited President Paul Kagame in Rwanda after leaving Uganda. And since making the film, he has continued to work with Prendergast and the International Crisis Group. According to an article in Uganda’s New Vision, Cheadle said he was in Sudan last year, and returned home to the United States petitioning the government and other interest groups for aid. He has also visited the refugee camps and the survivors in the Darfur region of Sudan because he is now an activist involved in a documentary film about the region’s genocide.

Cineplex officials say that even though Kabuleeta has recently moved to London, they still plan to make a collaborative attempt to bring more special opportunities like the Hotel Rwanda film premiere fundraiser to Uganda. Kabuleeta said she truly believes that knowledge is the ultimate power for these children in northern Uganda that will shine a bright light into their bleak future by providing a ray of hope for freedom and a new, stable and better life for them.

“My mother has given her soul to educate me,” she said. "No one can take way your education.”

Patricia Kabuleeta at the Sidley-IIEL WTO Moot Court Competition April, 2003: Click Here

By Aretha Frison
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First published: October 7, 2005
Aretha Frison, a native of Detroit, Michigan, and a graduate of Florida A&M University, is currently living in Kampala, Uganda as an independant media consultant for media houses and publishing companies.

She has written, edited and been featured in the Detroit Free Press, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, the East African, New Vision, The Daily Monitor, Vibe, and other trade magazines and newspapers.

Living in Uganda as a resident, she is actively involved in the Uganda writing arena, local church activities, and volunteer organizations. She can be reached at