13 February 2013

Rwanda: Lawmakers Debate Land Rights for Foreigners

Members of the standing committee on agriculture, land and environment, on Tuesday, discussed a section of the land-use bill, which will allow foreigners to land on a contractual basis.

The foreigners will own land under the emphyteutic lease, which, according to the bill, will give them entitlement to land for a renewable period of 49 years.

"With exception to Articles 6 and 7 of this draft law, foreigners shall be entitled to an emphyteutic lease on land, acquired from private persons or the state, up to forty nine (49) years," MP Joseph Désiré Nyandwi, the deputy chair of the committee, read part of the article.

Articles 6 and 7

According to Article 6 of the draft law, any Rwandan citizen is entitled to be granted freehold title to land.

However, for foreigners, a freehold title can only be granted if at least 51 per cent of its stake is owned by Rwandan citizens, except for land designated as Special Economic Zones.

Such land cannot exceed five hectares.However, the minister in charge of land, based on a reasonable case made by the applicant, may authorise freehold rights on an area larger than five hectares.

According to Article 7 [freehold title on land of the state and decentralised entities]; "notwithstanding the provisions of article 6, land belonging to the state, whether in the public or private domain, shall be granted freehold title irrespective of whether it is developed or not."

The MPs also insisted that government will preserve the authority over issues to do with land use development and planning, whether land is owned by private individuals or government.

It was stressed, and generally agreed, that in case the emphyteutic lease is not renewed, land "automatically" falls back into the private State domain, as all land belongs to state.

According to MP Denis Polisi, when the lease ends, and the owner did not wish to renew it, government would reclaim the land, automatically. Like other MPs, Polisi said that government must retain the right to determine land use planning and development even when land was in the hands of private individuals, be they foreigners or Rwandans.

"Of course there can never be any land without an owner. Once any one stopped using the land, it goes back to the state," MP Gabriel Semasaka said.

"In Special Economic Zones, a foreigner shall be treated in the same way as nationals and may be granted a free hold title," reads part of the clause.

Once passed, the legislation will repeal the 2005 land use law.

The bill was tabled before parliament last December by the Minister of Natural Resources, Stanislas Kamanzi.

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