21 January 2013

Rwanda: Civil Society Wants Land Law That Curbs Conflict

As the debate on the new land use draft law continues in Parliament, members of the civil society insist on a new Act that addresses the rights of Rwandans, especially the poor rural farmers. It should also help abate conflict in the society.

After the initial debate on Thursday, on Friday, the Chamber of Deputies' standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment passed the bill repealing the 2005 land use law. Debate on the new bill will continue today.

After the Friday session, Joseph Gafaranga, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda farmers' federation (Imbaraga), in Northern Province, told The New Times that the farmers he is representing wish that the changes in this new law go with the interests of Rwandan farmers. One particular issue, he stressed, is related to the rights of a person whose land is used for a village settlement programme.

"I am talking about a person whose land is now under a Mudugudu. That person deserves the right to be given fitting compensation. This should not be plots that are scattered all over but it could be, perhaps, an amount of money that can allow the farmer to buy an equivalent field elsewhere," Gafaranga said.

Gafaranga said that the new bill has clauses that will be beneficial, particularly on land under agricultural use.

"We wish to see it not being highly taxed because presently, agriculture is not yet a highly profitable venture. What we want is a law that is good for all Rwandans but more especially the farmers."

Another thing that farmers want put right is the issue of the "very important" feeder roads that run through villages, cells and sectors.

"There must be a way of ensuring that the person whose plot is crossed by a road can get an alternative means of surviving. For the big high ways, people are compensated but for the roads in the sectors and elsewhere, there is nothing!" Gafaranga said.

Gafaranga said he appreciates the ongoing debate especially since concerned parties are sharing their views.

"On Thursday, it was clear that some of the questions we asked were due to our lack of reading and understanding certain issues but there were also instances where questions did not get appropriate answers. But we observed that there is a will to include pertinent issues in the bill, which, to me is good."

Aloys Nsengiyumva, a lawyer from the National Commission for Human Rights, who is in charge of legislation and human rights issues, said that the key issues MPs should pay attention to include ensuring that changes do not in any way weigh down on human rights. The Commission has given Parliament a written document containing its views.

Nsengiyumva said: "We pointed out the issue of giving public land to potential investors. In the bill, land will be given out based on competition through open bidding and, making an allowance for the Prime Minister's Order, land can also be given out in some special cases."

"However, we think that reasons that cause public land to be given to investors without open bidding should be clearly explained in the law so that other people who need it but don't get it don't feel segregated or feel that their rights are not equal to the rights of those who got the land, thus creating a problem. Things must be clear."

Representatives of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) and LandNet Rwanda Chapter are participating in the debate. LandNet is an Africa-wide network that brings together policy makers, academics and civil society to work on land related issues.

Annie Kairaba, Director of Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD) and Coordinator for LandNet Rwanda Chapter, is among others concerned about Article 16: Land allocation, acquisition and lease. The clause states that the allocation and acquisition of land for investment, that is in excess of five hectares, shall be based on an approved business plan and authorised by a competent authority.

Kairaba said: "As currently, Rwanda's land is very limited in size and the population continues to grow, it would be important for the ceiling allocation to investors to be determined with restrictions to protect the land rights of the Rwandans especially the poor who depend only on land of their livelihood, and are normally the target by investors."

MPs on Thursday accepted the idea that there is need for a countrywide awareness campaign to change the mindset where Rwandans think they will all own land yet it is impossible.

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