Making land transfers in areas designated as farmlands is fraught by complications, leaving many residents crying foul.
Many of those who bought or inherited agricultural land say they have failed to get it registered in their names. They blamed loopholes in the land use and management laws for their woes.
Landowners who spoke to Rwanda Today accused the government of delay in addressing the issue despite that it had deprived many of their rights.
Protais Nsabimana, 34, whose has been struggling to have a piece of land that he bought in 2000 and has occupied since then transferred to him, was informed that it was impossible to do so. He was told that his one-acre parcel in Nyarufunzo Cell, Mageragere Sector in Kigali City, is less than a hectare, the minimum that is legally subdivisible.
Article 30 of Law No.08/2005 of July 14, 2005 that spells out the use and management of land in Rwanda prohibits subdivision of land reserved for agriculture and animal resources if such action leads to parcels less than a hectare.
Mr Nsabimana, a father of two, and four of his neighbours who acquired plots from the same landowner — three through inheritance — therefore have no legal rights over their parcels.
“We can’t secure a bank loan with this property or sell it because we have no title to it,” said Mr Nsabimana. “We only have papers indicating that we bought the land that are not legally binding.”
He expressed their fears that should one die quarrels may arise, resulting in loss of property by either party.
These sentiments are shared by many, particularly families that wish to subdivide their land in order to give an inheritance to their offspring or sell it.
Pascal Twubahe, a resident of Burera District in Northern Province, lost hope in ever legally owning his two parcels of land, having bought one and inherited the other from his parents.
“These are issues that fellow residents and I have raised on several occasions at meetings with local leaders,” said Mr Twubahe. “We have done so in the past governance month but we did not get an answer.
“Promises by senior officials that there would be a review of the policy have not been fulfilled.”
Officials say the increasing number of people with such cases has made it difficult to collect tax on taxable lands since split landowners remain in the database as defaulters when the entire land or part of it is acquired by a buyer or a grown-up child who can handle their own obligations.
Besides, land ownership-related domestic conflicts have increased as demography puts pressure on land designated for farming in the suburbs of Kigali as well as other cities and towns across the country.
The law was meant to ensure optimisation of productivity and pave the way for land use consolidation. And although it provides for co-ownership, those affected say it is never applicable since most Rwandan families own far less than a hectare.
Rwanda Natural Resource Authority (RNRA), which co-ordinates land registration, says the issues could take a long time to be addressed because they are based on provisions of a national policy and a law. RNRA director-general Dr Emmanuel Nkurunziza however said talks on possible legal amendments had begun after widespread complaints.
“We are aware of the issue but we are short of options since policy and law change is a process,” he said, adding that a proposal for fees reduction was done.