City of Kigali vows to repossess unexploited prime land property

The expropriated land in Lower Kiyovu near downtown Kigali. City authorities say land that has been lying idle for over three years risks being repossessed. Sam Ngendahimana.

The City of Kigali has insisted that it will go ahead with a controversial plan to confiscate plots of land in the Central Business District and along strategic corridors it says have been lying idle for more than three years despite several warnings to the owners.

The decision, first announced Monday by the City vice Mayor for Urbanisation and Infrastructure, Ernest Nsabimana, has been reiterated by other City Hall officials who spoke to The New Times on Wednesday.

According to the Director of Kigali Construction and Urban Planning One Stop Centre, Fred Mugisha, the planned repossession will – for now – affect some 60 landowners who have repeatedly ignored formal notices to the effect that failure to develop the land property in question could lead to confiscation.

Twenty of these, he said, had hitherto been served with final formal notices and were thus in the red zone.

Most of the plots of land had been earmarked for apartments, office space complexes, hotels, and general commercial purposes. 

“Those to be affected by the decision know themselves,” he said Wednesday.

“They have all received five or more notices since 2015,” he said, adding that those who will lose their property will receive no compensation.

Mugisha pointed out that most of the properties in question are located in CBD, especially in the Lower Kiyovu neighbourhood from where hundreds of households were expropriated over a decade ago to make way for planned developments in line with the City Master Plan.

“Some of the CBD buildings that have come up in recent years were constructed after the owners received notices and acted accordingly, but others have remained adamant,” he noted. 

The other properties in question, he said, lie along the Kigali International Airport Road (Airport-CBD), and Gishushu-Nyarutarama – roads which Mugisha described as “major corridors of the city.”

The owners of the properties in question are individuals who have expressed little, if any, interest in developing the property in question, he said.

Land speculation

“It’s not a question of funds because some of them have since acquired more plots of land in the same prime areas, and have all been lying unutilised for well over three years, which is against the law,” he said, adding that some owners had received more than five formal notices.

He suggested that some of the landowners were probably engaged in speculation, which explains why they have accumulated unexploited properties.

“We have many investors who are looking for land to invest and cannot easily get it anywhere near because some people have been buying plot after plot of land in prime zones, without developing them,” he added.

Asked whether such repossessions might not be illegal and therefore likely to be successfully challenged in courts of law, Mugisha rejected this suggestion, insisting that articles 58, 59 and 60 of the 2013 land law gives local government authorities powers to ask the Minister in charge of land matters to sanction confiscation.

Article 58 of law no. 43/2013 OF 16/06/2013 Governing Land in Rwanda reads in part, “Any land in the following categories may be confiscated:… the land within urban areas where a detailed physical plan was approved by competent authorities and it is clear that it has spent (3) consecutive years unexploited;

“…the land with approved physical plan, that is designated for rural settlement or land designated for fast development by competent authority, that has spent three (3) consecutive years unexploited.”

According to article 60 of the same law, “the decision to confiscate the land from the land right owner cannot be taken before he/she has been given formal notice of ninety (90) days as of the date of receipt by the concerned person.”

City officials say that the Government has since played its part as it extended all the basic infrastructure necessary for investors to develop their plots of land, citing paved roads, electricity and water supply lines.

As speculation surrounding the controversial move and how far authorities could go in seizing unexploited land in the city spread on Wednesday, City of Kigali took to Twitter to shed light on the decision.

“This specific exercise will begin in commercial zones & main corridors. The City of Kigali will follow procedures as required by the law which include issuing warning letters and informing the landowners about the confiscation if the land is not utilized,” CoK wrote on its handle.

But the move has caused disquiet, including among lawyers, with some warning that the decision is unconstitutional since land property is an inviolable right according to the country’s supreme law.

‘An inviolable right’

Private property – whether individually or collectively owned – is inviolable, several lawyers who spoke to The New Times on Wednesday said, quoting the constitution.

Confiscation of one’s land is unconstitutional, warned Collin Gatete, an advocate with Rukangira Law Chambers. “The constitution supersedes any other law.”

Gatete said that the only circumstance under which the constitution provides for any sort of interference with one’s property is when the underlying reason is putting in place works of public interest, such as infrastructure development.

Even then, he added, the State, or a prospective investor, would need to compensate the landowner – and fairly.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the landowners likely to be affected by the City’s decision, also noted that any confiscation would be illegal.

“The constitution is the mother of all laws in the land and, according to it, such repossession would be unconstitutional,” he said.

Possibly aware of the complexities of the issue, City Hall says it is still open to engagement with the landowners in question, but warned there was no much time left especially for those classified in the red zone.

The controversy has emerged at a time the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a petition challenging the constitutionality of provisions for new taxes on immovable property under a new law establishing the sources of revenue and property of decentralised entities.

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