The Government of Rwanda has temporarily taken ownership of unregistered land in the country after the owners failed to meet the deadline of registering it.
According to Jean Baptiste Mukarage, the interim Director of Land Management at Rwanda Land Management and Use Authority (RLMUA), the decision to take ownership of the land took effect on December 31, 2020 which was the deadline for registration.
Mukarage attributed the failure to registered land to fear by people who suspect that they will be accused of accumulating a lot of property or avoid paying tax on the property.
The official made the revelation during an appearance on a Radio Rwanda talk show ‘Kubaza Bitera kumenya’ on Sunday, pointing out that some people are still reluctant to register their land despite the land reforms which started in 2004.
“We have implemented a number of reforms since then and from 2009 to 2013, the government launched a land registration exercise but until now, we have many plots of land which are yet to be registered by the supposed owners,” Mukarage said.
He estimates 11,539,974 acres of land across the country all of which are supposed to be registered on their respective owners. The government has over the years been extending the deadline for registration, the latest being December 31, 2020. He said there are over 1.5 million plots that are yet to be registered.
“It came to our notice that there are over 1.5 million parcels that are yet to be registered. On October 15, 2019, a three-month period was given for people to register and the period was to June 30, 2020, but due to COVID-19, more time was given for people to do the needful until December 31, 2020 but still most people didn’t meet the deadline,” Mukarage said.
Mukarage says land registration is aimed at reducing family disputes, land conflicts and other land-related issues.
As of December 30, 2020, there were 1,499,845 unregistered plots in the country, accounting for 13 percent of the total land, said Muvara Pothin, the registrar of land titles in Eastern Province.
He says land census is mostly done in urban areas rather than in rural areas with Kigali having the least number of unregistered plots with just 423 plots or 7 percent of 310,000 total plots not registered.
In the Southern Province which has more than 3,200,000 plots of land, 503,000 or 15 percent, are not registered, while in the Western Province, the number of over 399, 000 plots of 3, 190, 000 total plots are not registered, accounting for 12 percent.
The Northern Province which has over 2.6 million plots of land has over 303, 000 unregistered land parcels, equivalent to 11 percent, while the Eastern Province has over 261, 000 unregistered plots of 2.18 million plots of land, equivalent to 13 percent.
According to Muvara, unregistered land countrywide is estimated to be at 13 percent of the total land in the country, which he said is very high.
It is assumed that either the owners of the land which is yet to be registered are absent or that land has no particular owners, hence the government taking its ownership.
“The 13 percent figure is very high. The government taking over its ownership is to ensure that people benefit from it. It is for economic reasons and for security purposes. This land can be used for different purposes especially in regard to ensuring food security and self-sufficiency,”
“At this point we can’t know if the owners of this land are there or if they are not available. Once the government repossesses it, maybe the owners will show up,” Muvara said.
Officials say tax evasion and fear for equitable land distribution are the main reasons people don’t come forward to register their land, while others probably stole it and don’t want to come forward. Until the owners’ surface, the government will take over ownership of such land.
It is also thought that some land is owned by people who are either outside of the country or live far from the said land.
Article 20 of the law governing land in Rwanda which was enacted in June 2013 states that registering land is mandatory for anyone (who owns it).