A “bad law” has barred many Rwandans from exercising full rights over their land while potentially igniting conflicts as many people fail to register parcels in their names, according to a recent survey.
The study jointly conducted by Search for Common Ground and Landessa, both United States-founded non-governmental organisations, found cases of land-related issues rampant, having started fomenting disputes and grievances that threatened the stability of households and families across the country.
The survey blamed the issues partly on gaps in Rwanda’s legal and policy framework regarding land use. It cites ambiguity in provisions on restriction on subdivision of agricultural land, which results in parcels of less than a hectare.
Although the law provides for co-ownership, most land owners reject the notion for it compels people to live in undivided parcels.
But two concerned ministries — Natural Resources (Minirena) and Local Government (Minaloc) — differed over the law.
“I don’t see any gap in the law because, as regulators, we have not received any formal complaint to inform changes in the policy,” said Emmanuel Uwizeye, director for lands, water, environment and forests at Minirena.
He said changes would undermine land consolidation programmes, hence slowing productivity.
“Those raising the concerns are mostly people who intend to use the land for purposes other than agriculture,” said Mr Uwizeye.
But while Minirena insists that amendment in the law would only be effected after a thorough assessment, Minaloc said the issue should be discussed by the two ministries.
“I think the law can change if found necessary,” said Dr Alivera Mukabaramba, State Minister for Social Affairs at the Local Government Ministry. “We shall sit with Minirena and discuss all issues regarding land.
“The only problem we had heard about was concerns about the increased taxes on land in rural areas.”
Faced with a fast pace of urbanisation and demography, Rwanda’s large amount of agricultural land is being converted into residential estates in various cities and towns.
Meanwhile, land owners in agricultural zones who have encountered complications in registering their parcels after acquiring them through inheritance, succession, sale or otherwise live in fear of losing their property.
As a result, land-related disputes are severely affecting communities, particularly in the eastern part of the country, which have become popular destinations for a mass influx of populations from the highly populous areas of the country in search of inhabitable and arable land.
“There is an urgent need to address these issues because some result in some people killing others,” said Dismas Rurangangabo, social affairs officer at Tabagwe Sector in Nyagatare Distrrict. “People are buying farmlands and decide to sell them to others, who also sell after finding out that the law doesn’t allow subdivision; it gets complex.”
The survey, done in Eastern Province districts of Kayonza and Nyagatare, shows land sale disputes rank tops with 25 per cent, followed by succession and inheritance issues, which account for 21 per cent. Land boundary disputes and harvest sharing make up 13 per cent.
This is despite Rwanda’s achievement in regularisation of land tenure.
“Because of the successful regularisation, many land disputes between households were resolved as boundaries and rights were clarified and recorded,” said Margi McClung, head of Landessa’s land disputes management project.
“However, disputes within households and families, particularly those centred on women’s land rights, claim to inheritance and succession, persisted.”
Rwandan law only recognises monogamous marriages despite the survey having found that 7.5 per cent of the couples interviewed living in polygamous relationships.
Land-related wrangles have always dominated the list of most contentious and hard-to-resolve issues handled at the local government level.