In 1999, Annah Muhorakeye returned to Rwanda from Uganda where she lived as a refugee for 25 years.
A peasant from Eastern Rwanda, largely dependent on farming, she spent seven years without any land to grow crops for feeding her family.
The mother of five would later, in 2008, be rescued from the misery by President Paul Kagame’s rare visit.
Kagame had been receiving reports about land grabbing in the area.
In 2006, he had assigned then State Minister for Lands, Environment and Forestry, Patricia Hajabakiga, to investigate and solve the matter.
She was threatened by some top army generals who owned massive plots.
Among them was now Rwanda’s Ambassador to Uganda, Gen. Frank Mugambage, Senator Joseph Karemera, Lt. Gen. Fred Ibingira, now Rwanda Defence Reserve Forces chief, and former local government Minister, Protais Musoni, among others.
President Kagame decided to deal with the matter himself. He met hundreds of residents including Muhorakeye.
He forcefully gave out 25 hectares to each resident, including Muhorakeye.
The National Land Office says more than 30,000 hectares were shared in three districts; Nyagatare, Gatsibo and Kayonza.
“Kagame saved us,” says Muhorakeye. Economic improvement The land redistribution exercise has seen big number of farmers, especially in Nyagatare district; acquire land for either cattle farming or cultivation.
Like many other farmers in the region, Muhorakeye is now a happy mother.
She supplies 100 litres of milk daily from the 12 exotic cows on her farm, earning Rwf510, 000 ($728) per month.
“It is paying off. My Children are healthy. They study in good schools,” she says.
There is vivid economic growth in the region as a result. Nyagatare district mayor in charge of economic development, Stanley Muganwa says 90% of district annual revenues worth Rwf84billion come from livestock alone.
Revenues are expected to hit Rwf100billion ($142M) this year, up from Rwf3.5billion in 2005.
The eastern province is now the biggest source of milk supply in thecountry, with 850,000 litres supplied every day worth Rwf7billion ($11M) annually.
Many residents have switched to modern farming in the region. Muhorakeye says the province is turning into a development hub.
Meanwhile, despite Kagame’s tough decision to take the land away from the grabbers, and the subsequent benefits, the practice has been a serious issue for decades, as a result of a broken system and the lack of a land policy.
Until 2005, there was no proper land law in Rwanda, leaving Rwandans in constant squabbles.
Laurent Shyirambere, an 80-year-old man from Karongi district, Western Province, grew up in a family characterized by daily land-related wrangles.
Land related cases were increasingly pilling on local courts during his youthful era.
“I remember my father threatened to kill his nephew over a small portion of land,” says Shyirambere.
While the country was gripped by countless land related conflicts, and the urgent need to rebuild after the bloody 1994 genocide, in 2004, the European Commission and other development partners committed to contribute 75% of the $60 million required funds to establish a land policy.
Eng. Didier Sagashya, Deputy Registrar for the Lands and Mapping Department at Rwanda Natural Resources Authority says after the policy, over six million titles have been issued and conflicts significantly decreased.
Alex Bera, a local businessman says land is now a durable asset. “I acquired a loan against my land tittle as collateral.”
Eng. Sagashya says, “We have responded to the question of who owns what.”
And for Muhorakeye, the 25 hectares land is now her legal property.