A new progressive policy is a step closer to redress, reduced land conflicts

Thursday September 13 2018

Land

Parcels of land in Burera District. Reforms seek to ease the long-standing restrictions on subdivision of agricultural land of less than two hectares. PHOTO | FILE 

By RWANDA TODAY
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During consultation sessions with citizens, many people complained tothe government that not only are land-related fees and taxes too high, they just cannot afford.

However, now there is optimism that the new policy could see some of the land taxes revised.

Rwanda’s rapidly growing population, means demand for land will continue to increase for habitation and commercial activities. For example, Kigali’s population is expected to almost triple to about 3 million people by 2030.

More importantly, it may trigger legal disputes involving poorer communities who are often asked to leave their land to give way for investment.

As we speak, there is a long standing land dispute with over 500 families in a slum popularly known as Bannyahe (translated loosely to mean “Where are the toilets?” ) who remain reluctant to move, demanding better compensation terms.

The relocation plan has also faced resistance because the landlords want cash compensation instead of being moved into decent housing. The dispute is still going on.

Yet the disputed land has been earmarked for high end real estate project. As land becomes increasingly valuable, tensions among competing interests have become common, heightening the possibility of land disputes.

This is because as land is sought for offices and homes, developers and officials face multiple ownership claims and unclear titles. And the so-called peri-urban spaces have grown in the intersection of urban and rural areas, with lands once earmarked for agriculture being used for homes.

While the government has tried to minimise land disputes with the creation of a digital register that allows one to verify the seller or buyer is the indisputable owner and guarantees that property is free from disputes, this is not sufficient. There are land disputes, such as inheritance, that are linked to family relations.

However, the different stakeholders are seeking a more active role in decisions about community land use. There is no magic bullet to preventing and resolving land conflicts.

The Quick Guide to Land and Conflict Prevention, published by the Initiative on Quiet Diplomacy, outlines a number of approaches, including mediation.

Consensus building techniques such as mediation have been used for almost two decades to help disputants maximise mutual gains and resolve land use disputes.

However, the most sustainable way of addressing land conflicts is to have a progressive land policy that mitigates disputes and provides clear ways to seek redress.

While land reform often addresses historic grievances, it can be a contentious process. Therefore, there is a need for a thorough consultative process to reduce land conflicts.

It calls for more forums around the country where citizens are able to express themselves openly about the proposed amendments.