In the recent past, some people living close to certain roads have had the nasty surprise of being expropriated without compensation. This is due to the Road Act, which came into force in 2012 and classifies roads in different categories which entail different conditions for construction in their vicinity.
Yet Alexis Nzahabwanimana, the State Minister in charge of Transport, admits that the law is still not well known by the general public. Even local officials in charge of issuing construction permits are often ignorant of the regulation.
According to law, roads are divided into the following categories: international roads that link Rwanda with neighboring countries; roads that link districts and the city of Kigali; and those that link areas of tourist significance and facilities of national or international importance such as ports and airports.
"There are also roads in districts, the city of Kigali and other urban areas that fall into category 1. These are the ones that link headquarters within the same district or those roads that are used within the same sector. The ones in category 2 are arterial roads that connect district roads to rural community centers that are inhabited as an agglomeration," Nzahabwanimana clarified.
National roads are managed by the Rwanda Transport Development Authority (RTDA), while the others are the responsibility of districts and the city of Kigali. So-called 'specific roads' (those specifically constructed to connect national roads or District roads to Kigali City and other urban areas to the centers for private sector's activities such as agricultural production, natural resources processing or to tourist sites) shall be under the jurisdiction of those who are in charge of their management.
According to the director of planning at RTDA, Eric Ntagengerwa, the width of national roads, districts and City of Kigali roads and those in other urban areas (category 1) should be at least 3.5 meters, not including drainage ditches and embankments. Roadways in districts and City of Kigali roads and other urban areas (class 2) should be at least 6 meters wide. In suburbs and at the entrances of towns, grouped settlements and agglomeration, the width of a road may be increased when it is deemed necessary.
In addition to such width, each road must have sufficient space for drainage ditches, embankments, dumps and sidewalks, all integral parts of the road.
All of this has repercussions on construction. For instance, article 22 of the road act stipulates that the road reserve for Class 1 roads shall be demarcated by two parallel lines at 22 meters on both sides of the road from the median line while for Class 2 it is 12 meters.
In these road reserves, no construction is allowed nor installation of equipment for telecommunication, transportation of persons and goods or power distribution. Facilities designed for the distribution of fuel and related products as well as kiosks attached to such facilities may be erected near road passage where they do not exist but not near other distribution facilities in order to ease traffic.
Article 33 of the Road act stipulates that if the construction, modification, or widening of a Class 1 road requires the expropriation of a built-up or bare land, it shall be carried out in accordance with the law relating to the expropriation in the public interest.
"This is what had happened on the Kigali-Rubavu road, where people had settled in the road reserve provided in the then applicable law of 1987; when we rehabilitated the road, the affected people wanted to be compensated but that didn't apply to some of them because they had violated the law," Nzahabwanimana says, adding that this shows that the road act is still insufficiently known. "Even some local leaders offer construction permits carelessly without taking into account what kind of road it is and how wide its reserve is supposed to be."
Yet he stressed that such ignorance will not be condoned. "The law is very clear: if a property is within less than 22m from a national road, the owner will remove it himself or the authorities will do it at the owner's cost."
However, some citizens, especially in Musanze and Rubavu on the Kigali-Rubavu highway, argue that the compensation is subject to unfairness and delays. "We were given permits by local authorities," complains one of them.
Nzahabwanimana however counters that there is a lot of cheating by people seeking compensation they are not entitled to by law. "Any local leader who gives a construction permit without taking into account the law shall be held responsible. People eligible for compensation are those who had activities at least 15 meters from a highway (as the old law stipulated, ed.), and within 22 meters before the new Road Act, which was gazetted in January last year."