New study shows rise in land disputes, efficiency of Abunzi

The number of land related conflicts in the communities across the country is increasing, according to a study conducted by Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD).

The number of land related conflicts in the communities across the country is increasing, according to a study conducted by Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD).

The study themed ‘Securing Land Rights through Effective Land Reforms’ was conducted by a consortium of researches and in partnership with the University of Rwanda.

The study was conducted in two phases. The first between 2012 and 2014 and the second between 2016 and 2017.

In phase one, 6,767 land related disputes were registered while in phase two, the number went up to 8,582.

The study was carried out across 11 districts covering a total of 144 sectors.

Rwanda has 30 districts and 416 sectors.

“We want the government to know that land related disputes are increasing, so it may come up with efficient mechanisms that can make impact in solving such disputes in the communities,” said Annie Kairaba, the Director General of RISD.

71 per cent of the complaints were addressed through mediation by Abunzi while the rest were forwarded to courts.

Abunzi is a grassroots based conflict resolution mechanism drawn from ancient Rwandan traditions.

“I believe the Abunzi performance has been tremendous so far because they have a very tough task of not only solving communities’ conflict but also making sure they live in harmony,” said a participant.

Disputes related land transactions increased by about 30% between 2014 and 2017. Another crucial indicator reported in the study is that 55 per cent of cases filed at primary courts between 2014 and 2017 were land related cases.

“We wanted to show the government that the implemented Land Reform Policy does not totally mean conflict-free land legalization. It should identify the trends on how to manage the disputes once they arise,” Kairaba said.

The study also indicated that most of the disputes are related to gender issues, inheritance, urbanization policies and land boundaries.

Women at risk

The study further indicated that 64 per cent of the land related complaints were filed by women, the majority of whom were not legally married.

“Women find it difficult to access land rights and other properties because they are not legally married. That is why there should be realistic modalities of sharing properties in case such disputes arise to make sure women’s rights are protected,” said Martine Urujeni, a lecturer at University of Rwanda.

Kairaba supported the idea saying, “We realized that women living on an informal marriage basis are not protected and their numbers are increasing and risk losing rights to land and other properties and see themselves left behind during the land registration. They have no rights because all policies from constitution only recognizes formally married couples”

“We are not asking for this to change but we are asking if disputes happen in families in informal settings, it should not be oly the man to benefit. There is always the assumption that the property belongs to the man but both of them should be protected and there should be a law that actually protects women during such disputes,” she suggests.

Different participants also said the legal framework should also be revised to protect women’s rights not only on land property but to general properties.

For instance, they questioned the legal impact of article 39 on GBV which was put in place to legalize unlawful marriages and common assets distribution, claiming that, when it comes to its implementation the man still benefits from it because women have no proof of marriage.

Augustin Rugundana a participant said: “Regardless of the findings, land related issues have always been around communities. I think stronger partnership between civil society organizations, government’s policy makers and other development partners would address the issue, through advocacy.”