We need a land policy that promotes co-existence and respects rights of everyone

Saturday August 31 2019


Annie Kairaba, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD). PHOTO | Cyril NDEGEYA 

More by this Author

Chief executive of Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local non-government organisation that has been working on land and property rights issues spoke to Rwanda Today’s JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE about the on-going relocations in Kigali.

Below is the slightly edited interview excerpts


You have been active in land reforms. What has been your experience?

From 2008 to around 2013, most of issues registered largely included inheritance issues within the family.

From 2015 until now, the trend is changing, in fact between 2013 and 2015, we had reported that issues to do with boundaries had been addressed fully by the land tenure regularisation.


If you look at our recent reports boundary related disputes are increasing spurred by a rise in land transactions due to land use changes considering urbanisation in Kigali and across secondary cities. This is changing the dynamics in land rights as people become unable to use land as per the master plan provisions.

As the government encourages people to give way for investment, there are disputes related to land transactions or investment and expropriation. At first, it was first registration, and now it is the second registration because of transactions, and this is distorting the land reform systems.

For instance, the law provides that less than one hectare agriculture land cannot be subdivided. But because of the tradition, there is still demand as parents want to subdivide land for inheritance even after laws in 2013 ruled that it is not a must for parents to offer inheritance.

But even they would still want to sell a little bit and keep the rest. So all these transactions are not getting registered, and are not reflected in the system.

How are these issues being addressed?

In fact, authorities agree that if the system was to be reversed, they would put up the dispute management component as a priority.

On issues of second registration, we are now in discussion to see whether the policy should be changed to address the current situations and to avoid more informal transactions because this system is linked to investment and land use.

The decision is not yet made but probably there could be a change on these restrictions to regulate minimum land for transaction.

This year, the external evaluation for 2018/19 showed that there are many successes with the land reforms, but the land dispute component should continue to be monitored.

Rwanda has a law on expropriation but why is the process still largely disputed, for example, the Bannyahe case?

This is another challenge. While urbanisation itself is not a problem, small people are not able to participate and we are able to monitor that. For example in Kigali, they have identified 10 sites of unplanned settlements also called informal settlements.

Unfortunately it is not informal because these people who are living in these settlements have land leases. In other countries when people live in informal settlement they don’t register them. Here there was a mistake that was made of regularising the land in informal settlements.

Particularly for Bannyahe I think there was an oversight on the rights of these people; but luckily enough things are slowing down and the case is before courts.

The reason the people have is because they have leases, second its land needed by investor for own use and he should negotiate with land owners as per the expropriation law.

If it is for public use then the government or the municipality will come in and negotiate. I think that there was a mixture of public-private interests which was not clearly defined.

What would have been the best approach?

The model we are proposing is that the policy promotes co-existence and limited move of people who are living in these unplanned settlements and that is international standards endorsed by World Bank and UN Habitat.

In view of urbanization for all, we are proposing that in unplanned settlements the existing dwellers should not be moved but rather could be equity; existence of both investors and the existing land owners, because we should also consider the tenants. It’s a big population of tenants and where would they go?

We are saying that let an investor come in an informal settlement, build moderate or affordable houses for the people there in terms of like apartments and then the investor will have free land. That what we call equity.

For the Bannyahe case, we are saying that the government re-examine the approach, and were are trying to come up with a mitigation mechanism so that it does not happen again. And this is why out of other ten identified sites we are trying to intervene to bring in proposals of how we can employ better alternatives.

It may not address all the issues but the biggest issues that we see in urbanization, and the whole myth that urbanisation means expropriation.