17 February 2013

Rwanda: Land-Related Conflicts Persist Even After Registration

The parliament committee on economic development and finance of the senate last week discussed with the Minister of Natural Resources Stanislas Kamanzi issues and problems left behind by the land registration mechanism which ended recently.

The committee is planning to visit chosen sectors countrywide and wanted to gather some information to get an overview of the status of the problems before it goes to the field. The sectors in question are those where the local land committees have signaled many problems in the registration process.

The land registration program started in 2009 and was planned to end in June 2012 though it ended late last year. The program's first purpose was to help solve land-related disputes by registering and tracing clear boundaries between people's plots. A goal which, apparently, was not entirely achieved because various reports are highlighting land issues as the main source of conflicts mainly at the sector level.

However, according to Minister Kamanzi, the aim of the exercise was achieved though there are a lot of related processes still going on like providing legal documents to the plot owners. "We are also still gathering information on plots which were registered and later on resulted in conflicts concerning ownership or boundaries," he said.

Kamanzi admitted that though there have been some mistakes, the program has been a success. "Other countries have spent more than 20 years on a similar exercise without completing it due to issues like poor planning." He recognized, though, that there have been cases of mismanagement of plots registration and carelessness in providing official documents.

"Local leaders have to explain that in the land law it's clearly explained that when someone doesn't make good use of his land, the government can take it back."

The Minister also pointed out that some of the conflicts might be the result of the registration itself. In the past, he explained, Rwandans often did not make sufficient use of their land - you could find people with lots of hectares yet they remain poor. With land registration and consolidation programs, as well as sensitization by Minirena in collaboration with local leaders for more productive land use, people have started to understand that their land can be the source of their wealth.

"That is where many conflicts originate; they now know the real importance of land," Kamanzi remarked.

The Minister said that in order to prevent or solve future conflicts, local leaders have a major role to play in explaining the relevant regulations. "They have to help the people who now have rights to their land and its exploitation. Local leaders have to explain them that in the land law it's clearly explained that when someone doesn't make good use of his land, the government can take it back," he said.

In April last year, the office of the ombudsman reported that land disputes dominated the cases it received - out of a total of 3,662 in 2010 and 2011, 525 were land-related.

Sarafin Rumazimisi, the officer in charge of prevention and fighting injustice at the Ombudsman's Office, said that since the start of the land registration process, many cases had erupted with different people laying claim to certain plots. "When one registers a piece of land, others come out to claim that same plot and this is because many people are waking up to the reality brought about by the ongoing reforms like land registration."

An MP who required anonymity told this paper that most of the land wrangles are attributable to negligence by local authorities. He observed that some officials fail to solve land disputes and that this was sometimes due to corruption.

Different surveys have shown that the majority of land disputes are both inter- and intra-family, mainly arising from unequal inheritance of land, polygamy and illegal children.

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