Nelly Bassily | March 1, 2010
In rural Rwanda, trees and hedges commonly grow along farmers’ fields. They are used to indicate property boundaries. But these boundaries can change. By moving trees, a farmer can try to extend his or her property at the expense of a neighbour. This is one of the problems that the Rwandan government hopes to fix through a national land registry.
Conflict over land is an ongoing problem in Rwanda. Population density is high. In southern Rwanda, there are as many as 1,000 people per square kilometre. In the village of Ruhango in southern Rwanda, a man killed his neighbour last year in a bid to take over his land.
Through the process of officially demarcating and registering land, land disputes are being settled. It’s not always easy to determine boundaries. So each owner is invited to show the borders of their plot. When the neighbours agree, the plots are officially measured and land certificates are granted.
To date, more than 20,000 plots of land have been registered. Evode Ngombwa is a spokesperson for the National Land Centre. He says the need to solve disputes has slowed the registration process. The government expects the process will take at least three years.
Mr. Ngombwa believes that land registration will help people greatly. With documents to confirm land ownership, farmers will be able to use their land as collateral for bank loans.
The land registration process is also a chance for women to assert their land rights. A local organization for the defense of genocide survivors is calling for its members, especially widows and children, to receive special protection through the process.
But not everyone is confident that land registration will resolve their conflicts. Tensions have been brewing since the return of refugees from the 1994 genocide. A resident of Ngoma in eastern Rwanda complained that authorities forced villagers to share land with returning refugees. But, over time, some returnees have been able to purchase more land. The resident argues that those refugees who have acquired more land should return the land they were originally given.