Last week, people living in the vicinity of Gisozi marshland (Ruhango cell) in Gasabo were given 90 days by the city authorities to relocate. They were also told that they wouldn't receive compensation because the area is not suited for habitation due to environmental reasons. The concerned citizens, however, claim never to have received a warning before, and say that without money, they have nowhere to go.
"I bought a Frw 450,000 plot here and have been here for more than a year; I got the permit from the local leaders," says Fortunee Nyinawagaga. "I have commercial activities on my plot and I was surviving. I am not against the idea to relocate, but I want to be compensated as someone whose settlement was approved by competent institutions."
Another affected citizen told The Rwanda Focus that he had sold his family land to come and live in Ruhango. "I wanted to settle here because I was planning to do some business," said Phocas Bagirubusa who bought a house for Frw 5.6m.
He too can understand the necessity of the relocation. "I am not against the idea. What is sad though is that the authorities who at the time signed my documents are now telling me to relocate without compensation. I have all the documents, permits and attestations," he laments, adding that he has been paying taxes for his plot for the last five years.
Yet the local authorities deny having given permission for people to settle there. "They won't receive any compensation because we didn't know about them settling here, and no one of us signed any of their documents," the executive secretary of Ruhango cell, Pascal Niyonsaba, said categorically.
He added that the sector issued warnings for them to relocate within 90 days. "Those people don't want to listen. Even now that they have received the notice, you can still find some of them constructing additional buildings. It's for their own benefit to relocate because it's an environmentally risky area," he said.
Yet when we insisted that we had seen permits with the sector and cell's stamps, including his own signature, he refused any further comment.
Officials of Gasabo district recognize that settlement problems are a big headache. Mayor Willy Ndizeye says one of the main problems is unplanned and unauthorized settlement. "They put old iron sheets on their houses to fool the authorities into thinking that they have been there for long," the mayor says.
Ndizeye says that problems often arise when the citizens have to be relocated and seek compensation. "This becomes very costly for the government," he explains, giving the example Kimicanga (also an environmental risk area) from which a big number of people has moved with compensation. "These fees could have served for other developmental needs," the mayor says. "For sure, we won't compensate those who will be found guilty of having settled in areas without proper permits."
However, some observers question how it would be possible for people to construct a house somewhere without the authorities noticing. "Frankly speaking, our administration is very well organized, so how can someone escape attention like that with local leaders monitoring their area day and night? Even the social control by citizens would bring such issues to light," observed a policy analyst. "If this was the case, it would be a failure on the administration's side."
He also doesn't agree with Ndizeye's observation that the compensations constitute a loss for the country. "They are paid according to the value of their properties and other items they are leaving behind. Is that a loss?"