The Basesero story: From the horse’s mouth

Basesero are a people living far into the interior of what is today called Karongi district- former Kibuye. They have a long hard history, emanating from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that a good reader may have heard of, at least vaguely.
Two old men tell Bisesero sad story.
Two old men tell Bisesero sad story.

Basesero are a people living far into the interior of what is today called Karongi district- former Kibuye. They have a long hard history, emanating from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that a good reader may have heard of, at least vaguely.

They fought the Interahamwe militia single handedly until they were tricked to succumb to death, by the very people they expected to save them. These were government soldiers and ‘presumably’ the French.

It is this story that compelled The New Times Rwembeho Stephen, to take the venture into one of the remotest part of the Western province-Bisesero. The place was called so because it was initially an impenetrable bush.

A few days before the 15th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi I arrived in Karongi town only to find the place virtually disserted. It was Gacaca Day and on such a day, every Rwandan is supposed to attend the sessions in person.

So, understandably business had come to a halt, yet I wanted to find my way to Bisesero. When I was growing nervous and running short of options, I saw a young man at a petrol station parking a motor bike.

I approached him and we agreed that he takes me to Bisesero after paying ten thousand Francs. I did not bargain since there was no alternative.

We started of the long journey down a rough road-filled with stones and rocks. We drew ‘contours’ as we rode a long Lake Kivu as if we were in a ‘Movie play’.

The two hours of travel was so tiresome that sometimes, I had to call my friend to stop in disguise that I wanted to take photos.

I was feeling real pain, and whenever I tried stretching my legs to relax a bit, I touched the ground which was more dangerous.

No sooner had he told me that we were left with about ten kilometres to reach our final destination, than our motor bike got a puncture.

Fortunately, my friend had all it takes to fix it again. But of course the stop over was a blessing in disguise. I took time to capture some good pictures of the scene, talked to some boys looking after cows and stretched my paralyzed muscles.

We were back on our bike and in some minutes we were in Bisesro. It is a two hours drive from Karongi town. This time you could not tell the difference between our skin colour and that of the soil. The road was so dusty.

We had however become accustomed to it and it was more of a fun than fatigue. The first sight was of the memorial site located at the top of a mountain-inside you get to know the horrible story of the Basesero’s resistance and death.

Time was not my best ally since I had to find my way back to Karongi town, where I could lodge until next day.

In Bisesero, it was a different day compared to Karongi. People were involved in Umuganda (community work) - I however managed to continue with my work as planned.
I met two old men aged between 60 and 70.

We sat down and had a long chat. This was of course after getting permission from the Mudugudu leader, since it was time to work. Kazimiri Jean and Rutinduka Nipomscene had a lot to say about the genocide and how they survived.

Here is the story: “(Kazimiri) We had very difficult time during the genocide. As you can see, this place is predominantly inhabited by the Basesero Tutsi.

This kind of isolation was both the background of our resistance to the enemies (interahamwe), and also our undoing since it was easy to target an isolated group.

Attacks could come from down the hills (points the direction) towards us here. We only had traditional weapons to fight with- that is spears, machetes, arrows and bows, etc.

The Interahamwe could come in thousands to attack us, but we repelled them several times using the same weapons and rolling down stones towards their positions.

We could send some of boys to join them down the mountains so that we get to know what they planned for the following day- you know spying on them. We hand instinctively acquired military skills of survival.

If it was not for the White military men  who tricked us, we would who have given them bloody nose, until probably the Inkotanyi came to save us (Intervenes Rustinduka).

There came some white soldiers and we naively assumed they had come to save us. You know we could hear that they were some United Nations soldiers here to assist the troubled.

Little did we know that they had come to trick us to hell! The next day after their arrival, we were attacked by all sorts of armed men, with heavy machine guns and other weapons. Our resistance was reduced to zero since we could not fight back such a big force.

You can see this place is surrounded by mountains and very remote- we had no escape route. Women and children were the first to be butchered and then men followed. In fact we almost have no women survivors; they were all killed because they could not manage to run away.

It was as bad as that. Indeed, we had no women to marry after the genocide and we were forced to those down the valleys. They marry are the ones you see here with us today-only a handful lucky men have Basesero women.

We are however undergoing a complete change, which is why we do not see any problem with such marriages. Our community was reduced to ashes; it can’t just come back over  night. We also live with the people that killed our wives and children.

They are here (he points at one former Interahamwe). After Gacaca trials, most of them returned into the community and hopefully they won’t misbehave again.”

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