It is known as the ‘Hill of Resistance’ while serving as a Genocide Memorial Site.The resistance which the Genocide victims who are buried at Bisesero Memorial demonstrated remains fresh in the minds of survivors and even with some of the preserved remains of the tragedy.
Perhaps to drive this point home is a writing carved on a stone, “Bisesro National Resistance Monument’. The stone carving is enmeshed by nine modern spears.
Emelence Uwitije, a guide at the site, says the spears are some of the weapons which the victims used to repel their attackers.
The site was built in memory of the those who died from the former Kibuye Communes of Gitesi, Rutsiro, Gisovu, Gishyita, Mwendo, Rwamatamu, Mabanza, Kivumu and Bwakira.
The place is very cold and quiet not even the sound of the birds is heard. It is one of the beautiful hills that my grand father, in the early 80’s, used to call ‘a home of cattle keepers’.
The memorial site is composed of three buildings, each with nine rooms containing remains of those who perished during the Genocide.
The site was constructed atop one of the ‘resistance’ hills, where according to Uwitije, the victims wielding stones tried to drive away the attackers.
Moving along with her, Uwitije leads me to cemeteries where over 50,000 victims were given a decent burial. Visiting this ‘resistance monument’ needs some extra amount of energy due in part to the steep climb.
“This is a story of heroic resistance by our fathers. They resisted forces which were far more superior, fighting off genocidaires with stones and spears was a heroic act,” Uwitije says.
This story just like others related to the genocide inspired me to reach top of the hill. With difficulty I finally reached the cemetery where I met an old man named Kayigamba.
He was so welcoming. After a brief introduction, Kayigamba describes how they mounted their resistance against the genocidaires.
Kayigamba believes that a far greater number could have survived had it not been for the French troops who were called to reinforce the militias.
“We fought for some days and drove away the killers. But we lost courage when the French troops arrived here,” he says.
Prior to the mass killings in Bisesero, Kayigamba recalled that whenever Interahamwe militias attacked, residents could repel them using whatever weapons they could lay their hands on such as stones.
“We would drive them back and no one attempted to climb this hill and find us here,” he says, pointing at the cemetery.
Kayigamba says that a man he only remembers as Musemakweri, the then Gisovu Bourgomastre(Mayor), appealed for reinforcement from Kigali after several attempts had failed to kill the Bisesero Tutsi.
“I remember on 14th April 1994, after a week-long resistance, our wives and daughters who had remained home alerted us that they had seen trucks carrying white soldiers. We immediately descended downhill thinking that help was on its way. We were terribly wrong,” he explains.
Kayigamba further added that when they approached the French troops, they chose one of their group members, Eric Nzabihimana, to lead them and explain their fate to the French troops who ignored them leaving them in the hands of Republican Guard troops had been deployed from Kigali.
“We chose him [Nzabihimana] since he was the only one who knew French,” Kayigamba said.
“They were heavily armed. They started killing us because crude weapons could not match their powerful weapons. However, I still contend that there is a strong possibility that few of us could have been killed had it not been for the betrayal of the French troops,” he adds while shaking his head sadly.
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