Bisesero is set in the hills of the Kibuye in Karongi district capital province of West Rwanda where some 30,000 people were killed. The region around Bisesero has become known for the acts of resistance from Tutsis who tried to organise themselves against the massacre. This was mostly unsuccessful as they were fighting with sticks against well-armed and trained soldiers.
Bisesero is a mountainous region situated about 31 km from the lakeside town of Kibuye. Historically, the majority of people who lived in Bisesero were Tutsis, whose main activity was cattle breeding. They were called Abasesero, a name from which the region derives its name.
The Bisesero story
During the genocide of 1994, people in other prefectures were all killed because of their small numbers. Here, however, the Tutsi who lived in Bisesero and the surrounding region gathered together to resist the killers—killers which were their neighbors and other Hutus from surrounding area. That’s why this hill is now called the “Hill of Resistance.” They were successful for some days because they chose the top of a hill on which there were many rocks which they threw at the advancing attackers who were armed with clubs and machetes. After many days of resistance, Hutu reinforcements from the Republican Guard in Kigali and Interahamwe militiamen organized a serious attack against the Tutsis at Bisesero. These new attackers came armed with modern powerful weapons. Under this new assault, the people of Bisesero couldn’t resist for very long and thus succumbed to the genocide. According to testimonies of the survivors, only a few Tutsis who lived in Bisesero escaped. During this onslaught, almost 50,000 people from the region were slaughtered and an estimate of 1,000 people survived.
In 1996, soon after the genocide, survivors gathered together and came up with the idea of gathering all the victims’ remains that were scattered over the hills and valleys into one place in order to bury them with dignity. So, they choose Bisesero, the “Hill of Resistance”. Today, a large number of those remains have been buried. However, a small number have been left unburied in order to be placed in the memorial where they will be displayed in order to preserve the memory of what happened in Bisesero.
This memorial is composed of nine small buildings which represent the nine communes that formerly made up the province of Kibuye. Since 1998, with official burial ceremonies, and with collaboration with the Nationa Museum of Rwanda, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has begun the treatment of human bones and skulls. They are now on display, but are still placed in a make-shift building made of wood and corrugated metal sheeting. At some point in the future those unburied remains will be placed inside the nine buildings that compose the Bisesero Memorial.