To meet the increasing demand for land, the government has been reforming land tenure and property rights for over a decade.
Positive legal reforms are providing stronger rights for women, orphans, and other marginalised groups. In recent years, the reforms have advanced to digitisation of land parcels following demarcation done with aerial photography and satellite images.
Now, the Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority and the Rwanda Information Society Authority announced plans in a partnership with the Medici Land Governance, the US-based technology company specialised in blockchain and other technologies, to make land transfer paperless in three months under a pilot phase.
While at least 22 land services can be processed online, applicants are still required to submit hard copies to support their application which not only leads to delays but also land title duplications, data errors, document misplacement, land document forgery, fraud, error and the alteration of records among others.
As the government continues to advance digitalization of the land process, the expectation is that such issues will be addressed and perhaps more importantly reduce transaction costs.
It is important that the pilot phase attempts to solve outstanding issues related to land ownership. Despite comprehensive land reforms, competing claims are still common creating endless land disputes especially among families with the most common types of disputes typically involving inheritance, gifts of land, informal marriage unions and land transactions.
According to the World Bank, land related disputes are prevalent and increasing in the country. Land pressure is extremely high due to the country’s high population density, land-related conflicts comprise 70 to 90 percent of disputes being heard by the courts.
For many ordinary citizens the process of transferring land is ineffective and costly as many have to make several trips to the district offices before their land documents are processed.
For instance, Jean Aime Ngabitsinze, a resident of Mugina sector in Rwamagana district, expressed his frustration to Rwanda Today, saying the current process is both cumbersome and costly. “ It can even go over one year to reach the final stage of the process for instance, if one of the titleholders is dead,” Mr Ngabitsinze said, urging the government to address the existing gaps.
Since 2009 as the Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority embarked on digitisation of all land services, the system is not functioning well because it is using outdated software. As such, this leads to delays because some processes are still done manually. There is also the risk of forgery. As the pilot phase of this project takes off , there is a need to create public awareness of the programme processes and benefits so that ordinary citizens are able to use it when it is officially launched.