Will Church surrender its land to the landless?

The government has increased resolve to support landless citizens by engaging private individuals with more land to share or taking from some State property and redistributing it to people of various categories who have no place to call home.
<p>Butare Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is among the oldest centres of worship in the country and has several activities on land acquired over the years. Beside is its GSOB Buta....

Butare Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is among the oldest centres of worship in the country and has several activities on land acquired over the years. Beside is its GSOB Buta....

The government has increased resolve to support landless citizens by engaging private individuals with more land to share or taking from some State property and redistributing it to people of various categories who have no place to call home.

Currently, a seven-person team is carrying out a land redistribution exercise that targets more than 6,000 hectares of Gishwati Forest in Western Province to be given to people without land, mainly for cultivation.

This is on top of other initiatives that have been implemented as part of the efforts to ensure that land in the country is used optimally.

And several consultations have been undertaken in that line.

The first dialogue on land, held in June 2010, was organised by the Office of the Ombudsman and Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), a local NGO that promotes equitable access to land resources for social justice and economic stability.

In a declaration issued after the meeting, the two partners commended the effort of land redistribution which helps the landless acquire plots for small scale farming.  

Reference was made to Eastern Province where, back in 2008, at least 1,000 families benefited from redistribution of land taken from various individuals who had dozens of hectares of pastures.

The declaration, however, petitioned government to conduct dialogues with the Church, so that religious institutions can also surrender.  

Ann Kairaba, the RISD director said the number of landless people in Rwanda is yet to be established, but given the influx of refugees following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, there is no doubt, the number of the landless is on the rise.

“If individual Rwandans surrendered some of their land in Eastern Province and the country is doing so in Gishwati, why wouldn’t the Church also give some land?”

Kairaba acknowledges that the Church has social activities such as schools and hospitals, but she is concerned by “chunks of land being utilised selfishly.”

“The Church, especially the Catholic Church, have the land they either underutilise or they utilise for commercial purposes, which is not fair. We encourage dialogue to see whether they can buy our idea.” 

History shows that the Catholic Church was the first Western religion in Rwanda in the 1900s. It kept acquiring land for infrastructures, which include hospitals, schools, congregation centres and social activities.

Kairaba said the Church should surrender some land, especially on the plots they plan for their businesses.

Apart from the landless, Kairaba said, the government lacks where to establish villages (umudugudu) because the State-owned land has dwindled due to development.

Despite admitting the RISD-Ombudsman declaration was not seriously followed up, James Musoni, the Minister of Local Government, commended the initiative.

“This would be a good deed, especially if it comes from their [churches] own initiative before we even go to them,” Musoni said. 

‘Not a good idea’


However, Roman Catholic and Anglican Church—believed to own more land in the country than any other institution—leaders say the idea is not good, arguing that their land already belongs to the public.

Bishop Alex Birindabagabo of the Anglican Church in Gahini Diocese, Eastern Province, said; “Our activities benefit the public. We have in Muvumba, Nyagatare district, 30 hectares of land where cooperatives are exploiting our land with farming activities. We’re planning to turn the site into an irrigation training field. Who will benefit? The citizens.”

The spokesman of the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda and Bishop of Kabygayi Diocese, Smaragde Mbonyintege, said the Church has been acquiring land for a clear purpose.

“Hospitals, schools, homes for the vulnerable, etc, are social activities we establish in our land,” he said.

“People should be a bit reasonable; what if we need to expand these social activities? We would need more land for these activities benefiting the whole community.”

The bishop referred to the celibacy of the clerics and said, “We don’t have children; we are keeping all these for you sons and daughters of Rwanda since you are our only children.”

Minister Musoni said they are working on land dependency reduction, while creating off-farm jobs, especially among the youth.

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