Rural poor folk who were in the past referred to as "abagererwa", a local terminology nearly comparable to serfdom as was the status of peasants under feudalism in medieval Europe, will lawfully own the land they used to till and live on, lawmakers said on Monday.
This was after a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment entered what appears to be the final stage in its scrutiny and debate on the revised Land Use Bill.
Lawmakers insist on a new Act that addresses the rights of all Rwandans, especially the poor rural farmers, helps abate conflict in society, among other considerations.
MP Joseph Désiré Nyandwi, the committee's Deputy Chairperson, noted that in the past, this practice was, especially, prevalent in the former territories of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri - now Rubavu and Musanze, respectively.
Lawmakers agreed that Article 61 [Abagererwa land rights] state that all people who acquired land as "abagererwa", according to the 1961 law on land tenure in the former territories of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri, who were authorised to occupy the land by "umukonde owner," are considered like any other customary land occupants as of September 15, 2005.
MP Adolphe Bazatoha, the Chairperson of the Committee, explained that in 1961, the practice was eradicated but it persisted, as well as in other successive laws.
"Even recently, in 2005, it was removed but it persists because owners of such lands did not abide by the law of the day but continue the culture in their areas," Bazatoha said.
Bazatoha then suggested that: "What will resolve this issue is by allowing those people the right to claim land as any other customary land occupants. These maybe people who were given land by leaders or any other person, as per the customs then."
Potin Muvara, an official with the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA), told the session that the 2005 law abolished the practice of ubukonde and this new Bill "simply consolidates" what was achieved under the previous law so as to safeguard the rights of the poor.