EDITORIAL: A speedy and lasting solution needed regarding abandoned property

Immediately after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the issue of absentee landlords was at its highest.

Most parts of the country resembled ghost towns; over a million people had perished while more than triple that number had fled.

When the defeated genocidal regime decided to vote with their feet, fleeing mostly to former Zaire (Now the Democratic Republic of Congo), they herded the population with them to use as human shields in case they were pursued by the Rwanda Patriotic Army.

They left behind empty property that mostly included residential and commercial buildings as well as farms. It was not long before they were put to good use as they accommodated the newly repatriated former exiles.

As time went on, those who had been bundled into the Congo and other neighbouring countries returned and reoccupied their property. For those who had been killed in the Genocide, their next-of-kin inherited their property.

But not everyone returned.  To date, over 1000 properties remain unclaimed, they include over 300 houses, a factory, and land which are being looked after by the government. Unfortunately, only 10 percent are productive and have accumulated over Rwf 2 billion which is lying idle.

It would be fair to say that most of those who fear to return could have played some part in the Genocide and fear the consequences. It would be easy for the government to carry out a background check. Their money should not just sit there, it could be put to better use such as in social protection programmes.

All the government needs to do is set a moratorium beyond which abandoned property is transferred to local governments to help cushion social spending. That issue cannot remain in limbo forever.

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