Rwandan landowners demand better terms for their properties

Friday May 16 2014

Workers demolish old semi-permanent houses in Muhima Sector after the owners concluded an expropriation deal with investors. Some landowners have complained that the expropriation is not fair to them. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

Property owners in areas where the government has expressed interest for investment are raising concern over the current expropriation guidelines.

They are accusing the government of creating a legal controversy in land management, particularly in Kigali City. Of particular concern are the land prices, which were set through a ministerial decree several years ago but have remained unchanged despite the value of land having appreciated.

Now the landlords are increasingly resisting attempts to shift them for either public or private investment, insisting that the law should first be reviewed to reflect the existing market forces.

While the Expropriation in Public Interest Act 2007 guarantees fair compensation for expropriated persons, a subsequent ministerial order put caps on city land prices that property owners and valuers say are far below the market value.

For instance, the government recommended that a square metre of land would not exceed Rwf2,297 in Kiyovu, Rwf1,355 in Nyarutarama, Rwf1,470 in Kibagabaga and Rwf1,240 in Gaculiro.

Yet, valuers told Rwanda Today that a square metre in the upscale city suburbs fluctuates between Rwf100,000 and Rwf150,000 when floated on the market.


The reference prices were supposed to be reviewed after every two years but an investigation by this newspaper found that this was yet to happen.

A senior private property valuer registered with the central bank said the process of compensation is unfair in comparison to the proposed projects on the same piece of land.

The expert argued that the set prices for prime areas around Kigali – including Gaculiro, Kanombe and Gahanga – were unreasonable in comparison to the planned investments on the land, such as real estate projects.

Perpetuated land injustice

“This provision has perpetuated land injustice of great magnitude, particularly in Kigali City,” said the land valuer on condition of anonymity.

A case in point is when, with the help of Gasabo District, the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) relocated many households from a huge chunk of prime land in Gaculiro to develop a real estate. District officials told the residents that they were being relocated in public interest because the project was in line with the city master plan.

“Real estate business cannot be a public interest affair,” said Odette Sebasore, who owns some 5,200 square metres of land in Gaculiro. “These are apartments, not hospitals.

“Since the land is for commercial purposes, we should be given room to negotiate the price of land on that basis.”

Ms Sebasore added that she had turned down offers by RSSB despite urging from city council officials.

Melanie Uwitaweho of the Kigali City Council’s land department, said her office refers to prices provided by the government.

“Short of an alternative, these are the prices we have been applying,” Ms Uwitaweho said. “They [prices] applied in the expropriation of residents in Kanombe and Gahanga.”

The government is locked in negotiations with residents of Gahanga, where it plans to construct a state-of-the-art 40,000-seater stadium for the continental football championships due in 2016.

READ: Compensate the displaced quickly, now MPs urge government

Some 80 families said they had not been compensated for their land following their disagreement with government over the rates it offered.

Esperance Uwanyiligira, 70, a resident who has lived on her family land in Gahanga since childhood, termed the money displaced people were being offered as “too little.”

Money is too little

“The money that we are supposed to be given is too little money,” Ms Uwanyiligira told Rwanda Today recently. “Some families received it but others have not.
“For the past 10 months, we have not been allowed to farm our land or do anything on it. Our livelihoods have come to a standstill.”

However, Dr Daniel Ufitikerezi, the director-general of RSSB, refuted the allegations, maintaining that his institution was following the law.

“What we do is in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that if the prices of land are increased by law it will have a negative effect on its plans to provide affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the pensions body has been faulted for its plans to use workers’ savings to invest in high-end housing, a market which is already saturated. In the critics’ crosshairs is the multibillion-dollar Vision City Housing Project, whose construction is ongoing.

RSSB will invest Rwf71 billion in 504 new housing units on a 158-hectare tract of land in Gaculiro, Kinyinya Sector, Gasabo District. The units will cost prospective homeowners upwards of Rwf124 million for a two-bedroom apartment and Rwf389 million for a luxury five-bedroom one.

The terms are paying a deposit of 30 per cent of the sale price and then 10 per cent every three months.

“When we advertised the contractors preferred the high-end segment; it is not a policy,” said Mr Ufitikerezi. “We shall soon provide houses for middle- and low-income segments, and people will be happy.”

However, legal experts say residents who moved out before they were compensated acted out of ignorance, adding that a ministerial order cannot take precedent over an Act of Parliament and the Constitution.

Andrew Kananga of Legal Aid said his organisation has in the recent years been swamped with requests for assistance on matters of land justice issues pitting corporations against city residents who are seeking protection and fair compensation.

“Citizens ought to be advised on their rights,” Mr Kananga said. “These relocations are disturbing people.”

Article 5 of the amended expropriation law scrapped activities related to implementation of master plans of the organisation and management of cities and the national land in general from the list of items that fall under the public interest category during expropriation.

Point of contention

Previously, this was a point of contention between city authorities and land owners with the later accusing the former of colluding with private investors to deprive them of their constitutional property rights.

READ: Our cash or our homes, families tell Kigali city fathers

There has been much anxiety on the side of government to attract investment and modernise Kigali, which has resulted in demand for big chunks of land in prime suburbs.

For instance, the contractor has deployed materials at the site where the government recently moved about 400 households in Gahanga to gain access to 63 hectares of land for the sports complex despite the yet-to-be-compensated families staying put.

Article 29 of the supreme law provides that every person has a right to private property, either as an individual or in co-ownership. The private property is inviolable, it adds.

It cannot be interfered with except in case of public interest, in circumstances and procedures provided by the law and subject to fair and prior compensation.