Standoff at Vision City project site ends with demolition of homes

Friday July 12 2013

The project site in Gasibo district, Kigali. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

The Vision City project site in Gasibo district, Kigali. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya 

By Edmund Kagire Rwanda Today

The Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), the country’s pension fund and land owners in Gaculiro in Gasabo district are embroiled in a row at the site where the $150 million Vision City estate is set to be built.

About 35 families whose land has been expropriated, including some who have declined to give up their land, are contesting the amount of money the district valuers attached to their property and land. Some of the cases are in court after the parties failed to agree.

On June 27, bulldozers descended on a household owned by Celestin Mugunga, 63, demolishing it in a matter of minutes, leaving him and his family of eight homeless. Local leaders were on site to witness the demolition.

Mr Mugunga is one of the land owners who disagreed with the district authorities on the amount of money he was to receive in a compensation battle that goes back to 2007.

On the fateful evening, Mr Mugunga was informed that the standoff was over and local authorities would forcefully evict him in order to pave way for the proposed project. The project will see the building of high end houses and blocks of condominiums.

There was little Mr Mugunga could do to stop the demolition. He watched on helplessly as what was once his home come down in one heap of rubble.

“I was supposed to receive compensation worth Rwf18 million according to district valuers, which I turned down. An independent valuer, BAZ Company Ltd, did an assessment and put the value of my property and land at Rwf53 million. We disagreed on the amount due to me and I decided not to vacate my land until we reached a new agreement and that I am rightly paid the amount that fits what I am going to lose,” Mr Mugunga, told Rwanda Today.

Even after his home was demolished, Mr Mugunga said he would not leave until he gets justice.

Defiant families

The mayor of Gasabo, Willy Ndizeye, says that the families that are still opposing expropriation orders have been defiant, some of them “stubbornly” refusing to co-operate with district authorities in resolving the compensation issue.

Among other things, the mayor says the land owners were urged to carry out a counter-evaluation and then sit down with government valuers and do an assessment. But this offer has been rejected too.

“There were about 3,000 people on that land and throughout this period from 2007, most of them were compensated and they left. We have tried to talk to the less than 40 families that were not satisfied and urged them to do an independent evaluation, but most of them refused.”

“Some just overpriced their land and property and are not ready to negotiate. They have sort of set ultimatums yet we tell them, ‘look, this what the valuers say.’ They are not willing to talk. I have personally intervened in their case with no success,” mayor Ndizeye told Rwanda Today.

On the case of Mr Mugunga in particular, the mayor says he tried to convince him to work out an agreement with the district team but he remained defiant and a time had reached when the project had to start, prompting Gaculiro sector authorities to evict him forcefully to pave way for ground works.

We have tried all options available, including the district offering to rent for him and his family a house, until a settlement is reached, but he has turned them down. As a district, we cannot allow an individual to stand in the way of a big project like this one, which is of national priority,” he said.

Undervalued properties

However Mr Mugunga is not alone. Christine Asaba-Odette is another resident who is being forced off her land despite maintaining that she was ready to develop it to the standards of Kigali City Master plan.

Ms Asaba-Odette owns two pieces of land in the area, a developed one with a residential house and the other that she plans to develop for commercial purposes.

She says her land was undervalued which is one of the issues she disagreed with, with RSSB and Gasabo district authorities, prompting her to engage lawyers to act on her behalf in court.

“We are legitimate land owners with land titles issued by the government and some of us have the capacity to develop our land but we are not being given the opportunity to do so. Personally I had a business plan for my two plots. We were not properly expropriated and we said since we are not satisfied, we can go ahead and develop our own land. We had plans to develop the land before the Vision City estate was planned,” she says.

Ms Asaba-Odette says one of her plots, which has a residential house on it, was valued at Rwf1.6 million and the house at Rwf5.4 million, bringing the total to Rwf7 million yet a different government valuer put everything at Rwf71 million.

Another plot where she wants to construct a hotel and a kindergarten was valued at Rwf1.5 million, an offer which she turned down.

“They just estimated. They did not take time to give our properties the real value they deserve,” she says, adding that she is ready to do whatever the city requires her to do, even if it means constructing highrise buildings, but she will not give away her land.

While Mr Mugunga has appealed to the president, Ms Asaba-Odette’s case is in the courts of law which will decide the way forward.

The mayor of Gasabo says that the other option is for those who don’t want to move to wait for the estate to come up and take some of the homes which will be available to public buyers upon completion. He adds that the district does not want to force out anyone who is not satisfied.

RSSB keeps a distance

Since 2007, the land expropriation exercise for the 140-hectares where RSSB wants to build over 500 modern apartments, a school and a mall, has been riddled with controversy, mainly with residents claiming that their properties were undervalued.

They claimed the pension body paid bought them out based on 2005 market prices. While one cubic meter of concrete was valued at Rwf48,000, they were offered Rwf32,000.

While a big number of the former residents accepted the offer and have since moved on, others have rejected the offer.

The RSSB deputy director-general in-charge of Fund Management Dr Daniel Ufitikirezi, told Rwanda Today that the pension body had nothing to do with the expropriation and compensation process.

“The district of Gasabo was responsible for carrying out the expropriation process and determining the rates using land experts who submitted a report, which was forwarded to us, asking us to pay this amount to these residents. After receiving the report with what we are supposed to pay, we transferred the money to district accounts office which then paid the expropriated residents. We were not in direct contact with the land owners,” Dr Ufitikirezi said.

He says however that the board is aware of the unsatisfied families which were actually asked to do a counter-evaluation even though some of them refused while others have inflated the prices.

“This is one of the reasons that have delayed our project but we cannot force people to part with their properties when they are not satisfied. They have laws to fall back to or even petition the national land office but some of them have been reluctant,” Dr Ufitikirezi said.

The $150 million Vision City project is expected to help bridge the country’s accommodation and commercial housing gap. It will include luxurious condominiums, houses and detached units for medium and low income earners.

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