7 February 2018

Rwanda: Govt to Re-Claim Homes Bought From the Vulnerable

Scores of vulnerable families receive houses through different social protection schemes, annually, as part of efforts to ensure every citizen has decent shelter.

Unfortunately, for years, there have been reports that some of the beneficiaries sold the houses given to them, in most cases at giveaway prices, a practice the Ministry of Local Government has condemned.

Some of the vulnerable people who are selling off houses and land given to them for free include those who were expelled from Tanzania a few years ago.

The ministry's spokesperson, Ladislas Ngendahimana, told The New Times that the government will repossess the houses from those that bought them.

"The same families come back to the government to ask for shelter after they have sold their homes," Ngendahimana said.

However, those who bought the houses oppose the move, questioning how they could have known that buying the houses was illegal, with some saying they had been facilitated by local authorities and met all legal requirements.

The New Times visited one of the villages built by the government for returnees from Tanzania, located in Nemba Village, Nemba Cell, Rweru Sector in Bugesera District.

One of the residents, Jonas Sikubwabo, paid Rwf900,000 to buy a 554 square meter plot of land from Epiphanie Mukamusana, on May 24, 2016, as indicated in the transfer of ownership documents.

Sikubwabo's wife, Marceline Mukashema, said: "People bought the houses innocently with the belief they were not in violation of the law since local authorities would bless it.

"Unfortunately, officials are now telling us to find other dwellings when we are the real owners," she added, presenting to the journalist their land title in her and her husband's names.

Mukeshimana said district officials last month came to the village with policemen, and told them to be ready to relocate anytime.

"We don't have anywhere to go!" exclaimed another woman who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity.

"I don't have any other direction; I can't imagine myself out of this house".

Apart from people who came from other parts of Rwanda to buy houses in this village, there are even some returnees from Tanzania who bought from their neigbours who wanted to change residence.

Thérèse Uwimanimpaye had an adult son when they arrived in Nemba village.

The parents decided to buy a separate house worth Rwf550,000 for him to begin his own independent life.

"We bought the house for him and after a short period of time he got married. He now lives with his wife in that house, and officials are telling them to move out," she said.

But the Mayor of Bugesera District, Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire, was categorical on the idea of selling a government-allocated house to relocate to another part of the country, saying it was unacceptable.

He said allowing beneficiaries to do so would derail government's poverty alleviation policy, saying that these same people, after relocating, end up being a burden to the government.

"When you sell that land, your offspring will suffer. A husband and wife may decide to sell their house for beer, maybe it's what they want, but where will their grandchildren live?" the mayor posed.

While some say those who sold land to them bought houses in Ngoma District and elsewhere in the country, Ngendahimana said the ministry will embark on a verification exercise to know if that's true.

"If they really bought houses where they relocated, then those who bought the government's houses are safe. But if they turned out to be homeless, government will have to get back its houses and give them to those in need," he said.

He added that after some of the returnees were given houses in 2006-2007, sold them and went back to Tanzania only to be expelled from that country again in 2013.

"That cycle is unacceptable," Ngendahimana added, saying cases of local authorities and public notaries who facilitated the sale of government-built houses will also be investigated.

Ngendahimana said that it was also illegal to sell homes built by the government for vulnerable survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

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