The civilian resistance of Bisesero in audio podcasts
At the launch of Hooza Podcast early February 2021, Hooza Media announced the broadcast of the audio version of the book "Bisesero, le ghetto de Varsovie rwandais" by French writer Serge Farnel: episodes of 15 minutes, broadcasted every 2 days on the platform, will allow French-speakers to listen to this story directly and for free on their phone for several weeks.}
Testimonies from survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and former genocidists, recounting the participation of Whites in the killing of May 13, 1994 in Bisesero [western Rwanda], will also be put online to offer a real immersive experience to listeners, helping them better understand this very sensitive part of contemporary history.
Hooza Podcast is a free application with content in free access, downloadable here: https://hoozapodcast.glideapp.io
Igihe spoke to Serge Farnel about this event.
Igihe: Why offer an audio version of your book?
Serge Farnel: To give as many people as possible access to this essential part of contemporary African history : the ultimate resistance of Tutsi civilians to the last genocide of the 20th century. This incredible act of bravery took place on the high hills of Bisesero, in western Rwanda. This story concerns us all, whether we are Rwandan or not, whether we live in Africa or not. It is our history. However, not everyone can read and concentrate on such a dense story. So, when Victor Nkindi, the founder of Hooza Media, suggested that I record it in his studios, I found his idea great.
When did you make this recording?
In 2014, when I presented this book in Rwanda during the 20th commemoration of the genocide, everyone was then gathered in the capital. I went to Bisesero because I wanted to be with the Basesero [Bisesero inhabitants] that day.
We remember that survivors of the great massacre of May 13 in Bisesero came this year to the Kigali memorial to testify to the active participation of Whites in this massacre.
Yes, the Rwandan television cameras were there too, and Rwandan viewers could see and hear them talk about these May 13 Whites in this symbolic place. The audience was able to ask any questions they wanted. It was an important moment for these survivors.
The particularity of this story is that it is based on many testimonies, right?
Very many, yes. My aim was to build the fullest possible account of the history of the genocide in Bisesero. I am not the only one who has collected these testimonies. I therefore rely on a large pool of sources: African Rights, the Mucyo Commission, journalistic reports, other investigators …
The particularity of the testimonies that you have gathered, however, is that they relate to the direct participation of Whites in the May 13 massacre, which led to nearly 50,000 civilian victims in Bisesero.
Absolutely. But I am not the only one who has collected such testimonies. For instance, there are those collected by a second investigator who has incidentally, as he explains in detail in an article, discovered by himself this participation through a different channel than mine. I have learned that he was finally able to return to Rwanda recently. And then, a third investigator also confirmed the presence of Whites on May 13.
However, I have been informed that since several years, it is forbidden to question survivors of Bisesero, apart from a short list of witnesses who have not seen these Whites of May 13. Two years ago, a French journalist (RFI) alerted the public about this on a French radio station. But I have no doubt that things will evolve peacefully. Rwanda is too attached to the whole truth to omit parts of its history.
The presence of these Whites with heavy weapons on May 13 shows the incredible courage of these extraordinary Tutsi civilians, in that it was the only way to overcome their resistance. Also, laying out their entire history is a tribute that they should not be deprived of. We all owe it to them; it is our duty.
To come back to the witnesses that I interviewed myself, I also included those who do not mention the Whites of May 13, either because their testimony concerns another place, or because they did not see any themselves that day in Bisesero.
So, the story does not concern Bisesero only?
In fact, yes, but we cannot understand what happened there without understanding why so many Tutsis gradually came to this place. To understand this, we must tell what was happening in the town of Kibuye, located below the high hills of Bisesero, a town that some Tutsi fled to avoid being massacred in stadiums or churches.
As far as the Kibuye stadium is concerned, we must understand how the genocidists led them there. This brings us to the commune of Mabanza, where we follow a family forced to walk for about twenty kilometers to reach this stadium. When they arrive, another family, who lived opposite the stadium. is there (or will be there, I can’t remember who got there first) and the listener will follow both families at the same time.
This is the idea of the story: to have your eyes everywhere and be able all the time to construct these events in their finest details, both in space and time.
You were also saying, regarding the May 13 testimonies, that you included those who have not seen white people?
Yes. Even if a significant number of survivors testified to the presence of these Whites on May 13, they probably represent a very low percentage of all survivors of Bisesero. Even if their presence was decisive, these Whites may have been between twenty and forty, amid a crowd of thousands of Rwandan genocidists, soldiers, Interahamwe militias or even Hutu peasants. The Tutsi were running to escape the fire of heavy weapons and machine guns, grenades and machetes. Not all of them were thus able to see them.
If you do not try to meet those likely to testify of their presence, you will only come across this type of testimony by chance, especially since a survivor who saw them will not necessarily spontaneously give you information that he does not know is important to you. But fortunately, there are enough of them to attest to their presence, and who have already done so.
How did the public react to the active participation of Whites in this great massacre?
If we take the time to listen to these testimonies, there is not much we can do other than accept what they tell us. However, there was probably, for some people, a phase of inability to cope with such information, especially if they were influenced by the attempt to disqualify the witnesses, which have been slandered!
However, when I learned about the slander campaign, I published on the investigation’s website [www.bisesero.net] the evidence to stop it. We will consider that this has been a part of the path that facts must take in their march towards History, summed up nicely by this Rwandan proverb: "The truth goes through the ordeal of fire without being consumed. "
On the other hand, we can wonder why the presence of Whites at the May 13 massacre has been recorded in history so long after the events, particularly after the Mucyo commission [Rwandan commission responsible for gathering evidence of France’s involvement in the genocide].
As a journalist, I accompanied this commission in December 2006 in Bisesero. It focused its investigation on the three days from June 27 to 30, 1994 of Operation Turquoise [official French mission that began on June 22, 1994 in Rwanda], which is understandable since its mission was to gather evidence of France’s involvement in the genocide.
It had thus to concentrate on the dates of the official French missions. So, it did exactly what it had to do, and in an admirable way. On this point, the work that this commission has done is historically exceptional. My investigation began a year after the publication of its report, and I immediately informed Mr. Mucyo of what I had just found out.
When exactly did you inform him?
Just after recording the first testimonies of the presence of Whites on May 12 and 13 in Bisesero. Back in Kigali, the first thing I did was to call one of the commissioners of the Mucyo commission, and then its President, in other words Jean de Dieu Mucyo himself. He was then the Executive Secretary of the CNLG [National Commission against Genocide]. He immediately requested to meet me. Mr. Mucyo and I then discussed a long time to try to understand who these Whites could have been.
I gave him a copy of my rushes for the sake of total transparency. After analysing them, he asked me to come back and go on with my investigation. He participated in its funding with Tharcisse Karugarama, then Rwandan Minister of Justice. When he asked me that, I didn’t feel that he was embarrassed in any way. During the two previous years, he had investigated with his team the part of the story entrusted to him. As for me, I was just bringing an additional element relating to a period outside of the French official missions. Indeed, the great massacre of Bisesero took place on May 13, in other words after the end of the French operation Amaryllis to evacuate Westerners (April 15) and before the start of the French operation Turquoise (June 22), a mission presented as humanitarian.
What are you expecting from this event?
May it help to make this part of history known to my contemporaries. I am also hoping that Rwanda will do what is necessary, before it is too late, to pursue the white genocidists of May 13, whatever their nationality, whatever they were then, active soldiers in the army or mercenaries. Whatever! But let’s stop wasting time.
The men of mercenary Paul Barril were probably part of this group of genocidists. A number of factual elements suggest this. And these men are identifiable. We are talking about fifty thousand civilians massacred in one day! Let’s not forget that. Should we choose not to act, our responsibility would be historically enormous.