Workshop on Land use and Villagisation


Rwanda was faced with a settlement crisis after the 1994 war and genocide. The population was internally displaced, majority fled to neighbouring countries especially the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Tanzania and there was an influx of old case returnees from different parts of the world. The settlement crisis intensified in 1996 at the return of over 1.5 million refugees from the DRC. In 1994 the government had an uphill task to resettle the old case and recent returnees under a fragile security situation. Subsequently government announced the undertaking of the villagisation kind of settlement. Since then factors including access to land, distance between home and farmland and availability of grazing land have caused concern. Land is the backbone of society; it is the principle source of livelihood and security. Making changes in how it is owned, used and sold, without people’s inputs is an issue of great concern. As Pottier quotes Larbi, “Before the war and genocide many aspects of land ownership were not regulated by statute. Where regulations did exist, there was confusion either because of the provisional character of the law or because of non-implementation” (Pottier 1997:5). Land occupied by natives is governed by custom: As Gasasira puts it, “According to custom, land is owned by the person who was the first to occupy it.” However, “ lands acquisition through occupation has now been relegated to history as vacant lands belong to the state’’.

Customary ownership has undergone significant change: originally ownership was collective. The family owned Land but to date individuals can possess land and use it as they want. The decree of 4th March 1976 acknowledges customary rights or land occupation rights and the rightful transfer of those rights to the land by sale. One can only sell the rights to the land/assets/property on the land but not the land. It is against this background that in case of expropriation by state approval, the holder of land occupation rights is indemnified for the property situated on the land. It follows that, “ Except in case of state-approved expropriation, the holder of customary land ownership rights cannot be forced to abandon them.” (Gasasira ,1994:1 )

Villagisation has been going on since 1995 and social, economic, cultural and environmental implications have raised concerns among individuals, groups, organisations and leaders without drawing much attention from actors towards the issue despite its great importance. RISD and OXFAM believe that an evaluative and participatory process should be integrated into the implementation of policies and programmes. We advocate that the development and implementation of policies should be linked to people’s clear understanding, acceptance and participation. The will and knowledge of the people is invaluable in making it work in a particular context.

RISD in partnership with OXFAM conducted a survey on land use and villagisation to be able to contribute to the land policy development and villagisation process with an informed position so as to ultimately realise maximum benefits for Rwandese. The general objective was to collect a body of information which can help show the key concerns, ideas, positive and negative factors among stakeholders in the land use and villagisation process. Specific objectives include stimulating discussion and dialogue among stakeholders and disseminating information to government that will influence the policy and implementation process for successful villagisation in Rwanda.

The survey was carried out in the prefectures of Kigali Rural, Ruhengeri, Gikongoro and Butare. Umutara prefecture had also been selected for the survey but it was not possible to make it. These eprefectures were selected mainly because they experienced constraints and unique experiences in land use and villagisation. However, in general these prefectures have experienced internal displacement of people and repatriation of Rwandese from neighbouring countries. The information was gathered through personal interviewing and focus group discussions. These techniques enabled the survey team to obtain in-depth information and the community to discuss villagisation and land use among themselves. The people who were targeted in information gathering include community members, leaders, policy and decision-makers, executors of government policies and decisions and Non Government Organisations. These were targeted because they experience and /or participate in the policy processes and are quite knowledgeable about the issues at stake.

Evolution of Imidugudu Policy

Most of the people interviwed during the survey, thought that the policy of settling all the rural population in villages or « Imidugudu » was established by the government as an answer to the pressing settlement needs brought about by the 1994 war and genocide. There was need to find shelter for the survivors of genocide who had been left homeless and for the old case returnees who had no homes to return to. At the same time, the government wanted to introduce a better land redistribution and management system. However further analysis shows that the Imidugudu policy was conceived much earlier.

Article 28 of the Arusha protocol signed in June 1993 between the Rwanda government and the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), on the return of refugees and the resettlement of displaced people states that, the returnees would not claim back their property (if they have been away for more than 10 years). Instead the government would assist them settle in "villages" with basic socio-economic infrustructures such as schools, health centres, water, access roads etc. Though the idea was conceived and ratified before the 1994 events, the destruction of houses that left many people homeless, the displacement of people and the repatriation of old and new case load returnees blew the problem out of proportion thus assuming an emergency nature. Although government officials kept saying that the accepted way of resettlement in rural areas was Imidugudu, it was not until the 13th December 1996, that the cabinet meeting resolution to make Imidugudu the only way for rural settlement was passed. Subsequently a ministerial directive, N° MINITRAPE /01/97 of 9th January 1997 was published giving instructions on the procedures to be followed in both urban and rural housing construction. The instructions explicitly stated that « The agreed settlement policy in the countryside is IMIDUGUDU. Building on a plot other than a MUDUGUDU is hereby prohibited » (Art.11). At various fora as well as through the media, government has been sensitizing the population on the advantages of living in the Imidugudu and trying to explain why this policy was adopted. What became apparent to the survey team, however, is that the Imidugudu policy is still shrouded in controversy.

Villagisation in Ruhengeri prefecture was a special case and came about as a result of insecurity which prevailed in that part of the country. Unlike in other prefectures, shelter construction in Imidugudu was minimal in Ruhengeri. People were asked to move rapidly into villages and construct their houses. Security improved tremendously as the security organs could maintain security and the enemy was deprived of hideouts among the population. However, the International Community did not show much interest in assisting residents in building their houses.

Implementation of the Imidugudu Policy

MINITRAPE had issued guidelines and procedures to be followed in the construction of Imidugudu ; so had UNHCR which provided most of the funding for the shelter construction programme. Both these guidelines came out in January 1997, to coincide with the massive return of the 1994 refugees from the Congo and Tanzania camps. By this time however, a good number of Imidugudu had been constructed, some as far back as 1995, and construction was still going on. Little wonder then if the guidelines were hardly followed in implementing the policy. It was widely acknowledged that Imidugudu were, by and large constructed in a hurry and therefore, in a rather disorderly manner. The major factor to which this is attributed is the urgent need to find shelter for all those who did not have a home of their own and those whose homes had been destroyed.

Site Selection

There were guidelines in selection and construction of houses by both MINITRAPE and the UNHCR which were quite similar. The instructions from MINITRAPE give the following criteria for site selection :- • Easy proximity to basic facilities • Landscape conducive to easy construction of Umudugudu • Easy proximity to farm land to ease farming and fertilizing activities.

The instructions also set up a communal committe to organise and implement the settlement of people in Imidugudu as well as the procedures to be followed including the fact that « Houses in IMIDUGUDU shall be built in accordance with plans approved by MINITRAPE which shall put into consideration the nature of the land. « (Art.13). The criteria were by and large understood and supported by most of the stakeholders. However, in the great majority of cases, these instructions and guidelines were not followed. What finally determined the way Imidugudu sites were selected were two important factors, none of which was provided for in the instructions or guidelines : the mounting pressure on the authorities to resettle the homeless and the availability of land for resettlement. By contrast, where there was no pressure to resettle people, like in some parts of Gikongoro, one would expect a more orderly planning of Imidugudu, including a more rational site selection, but this is not so either.

House Construction

The quality and size of houses built in Imidugudu varied according to the agency(intervening actor) involved. UNHCR, which funded most of these projects had issued guidelines including size and design of houses and sizes of residential plots and location plan. Apparently MINIREISO had also provided a standard house design. Although UNHCR’s assistance package of materials was aimed at meeting the needs of 42m2 of floor area only, it had also adopted and developed different optimized designs of house models from which beneficiaries were supposed to choose. Beneficiaries had also the options of expanding their houses if they had the means to do so ; thus a minimum of 15m x 20m plot size was recommended to also provide space for service quarters (Kitchen, Latrines, Bathroom, Store).

Agencies showed vastly differing levels of integrity in building Imidugudu. Some agencies displayed a lot of concern in ensuring that, not only good quality work was achieved, but also the wellbeing of the future accupants was considered. This is evidenced by houses with strong stone foundations, cement plastered outside walls to protect them from the rain and firmly anchored roofs. These same agencies also insisted on providing latrines and kichens or at least assisted the beneficiaries in constructing them. Some other agencies on the other hand did rather shoddy work. There are houses with foundations of the same mud bricks of which the walls are made, unplastered walls, blown off roofs even before they are occupied and with no latrines let alone kitchens. Such houses are not built to last and the occupants are in constant fear that the house will fall on them any time.

Selection of Beneficiaries/Dwellers

Because of the pressure put on local authorities to resettle all the people who did not have any homes of their own, various procedures were adopted by different authorities to identify the beneficiaries of the shelter construction programme of MINIREISO and UNHCR. During the survey, it was found that, except for some common rules, there were no systematic procedures set to ensure a uniform and fair selection. Selection followed more or less the following broad criteria :- • Those who did not have homes of their own, for example old case returnees and genocide survivors whose homes had been destroyed. • Those who were afraid to go back to their homes after the 1994 war and genocide. • Those on whose land the Mudugudu was constructed • Young people who wished to set up homes apart from their parents

Since the number of housing units was more often than not much smaller than the number of people who wanted them, those responsible had to find some method of identifying the most deserving cases. Those who were more conscientious tried to give priority to the more vulnerable like widows, orphans, the elderly and other poor people with large families. In other areas, lists of people without homes were made through registration and houses were allocated on a « first registered first served basis ». Still in other instances, a lotery system was used to select beneficiaries or participants paid some amount of money.

Many of the initial target groups for shelter construction like old case returnees are still unhoused, when some people who had no shelter problem got a house. In fact, some unscrupulous people managed to get several houses in different Midugudu which are either put on sale or rented out, and some of these people are local leaders.


Most of the settlements visited during the survey with the exception of most of the sites in Ruhengeri, had been constructed with assistance from an outside agency. In this case , however, beneficiaries’ participation was as varied as the style and quality of housing largely depending on the implementing agency. Some beneficiaries were not required to participate at all, they simply moved into already constructed houses. Others were required to provide some form of contribution which varied according to the agency. This contribution could include any or all of the following :- Site levelling,Brick making, Aiding the mason, Building of kitchen and Latrines and work supevision. Implementing agencies were ambivalent about community participation. While appreciating the need for it, some felt it slowed down the work and in order to meet deadlines, they prefered to do most of the work themselves.

This style of working gave mixed signals to the beneficiaries, especially since the majority of them did not differentiate between agencies. Some thought it was unfair to be asked to contribute when there were others who did not require it. Others suspected foul play because they believed that the implementing agencies had the money to do all the work and that site managers wanted to pocket some of it. Despite these feelings however, quite a number of beneficiaries participated as the donor agency required mainly out of an urgent need to get a house of their own, although there were others who could not genuinely give any contribution and sometimes went without a house. One is left to wonder though, whether better quality houses and faster implementation of the shelter programe would have resulted from a more participatory approach whereby the beneficiaries would be involved in all the stages of the project.


The Imidugudu Dwellers

By the time the survey was carried out, all the completed Imidugudu were more or less fully occupied. This was a complete turn around from earlier reports about the low rate of occupancy in Imidugudu. The old case returnees, survivors and other people whose houses were destroyed were living either in other people’s properties or staying with friends and relatives or simply camping in makeshift huts. Getting a house they could call their own in Umudugudu was a great relief.

The Implementing NGOs

For most of the NGOs involved in shelter construction, Imidugudu were seen as an emergency response to a critical need for shelter that existed in the country. The fact that it was a government policy was really secondary. The Imidugudu seem to have been taken to be an emergency intervention rather than a long term government strategy to reform the rural resettlement pattern in the country. However, a few NGOs have tried to show more interest in the development of Imidugudu. They recognise that though the programme may have been conceived in a hurry and there is a lot to criticise about its implementation, the Imidugudu are there to stay and therefore, something has to be done to assist the people in their struggle to achieve a viable livelihood.


Shelter versus Livelihood

It was apparent during the survey that the question of shelter took precedence over anything else. Little attention was paid to provision of social infrastructures and access to farmland. In its promotional campaign to convince the people to settle in Imidugudu, the government tended to paint a rosy picture of villages with running water, schools, health centres etc. if not within, at least near the village. In all the Imidugudu visited, only one: ‘‘Peace Village Nelson Mandela,’’ in Kanzenze Commune could boast of all these infrastructures. It is more than likely that the government does not have the necessary funds to make those promises come true. While the intention was that the people who settled in Imidugudu would resume a normal life in the shortest time possible, many of these settlements do not have the facilities to make this possible. Very many people do not have any land to grow food or graze animals and those who have it have to walk long distances to work on their land. There are no off-farm activities because the people either lack capital to invest or necessary skills or both. The youth are redundant while they are the energetic group of the population.

Peace and Reconciliation

Most people agree that Imidugudu has enhanced security for them, however, there is an ethnic concern. Majority of the dwellers are those who did not have houses- the survivors and old case returnees leading automatically to a preponderance of one ethnic group(Tutsi)living in these settlements. The situation may hinder reconciliation.

Environmental Concerns

There are environmental issues. One of the biggest problems facing Imidugudu dwellers is firewood for cooking. The building of Imidugudu involved substantial tree cutting for site clearing and timber for actual house construction. Those Imidugudu dwellers who do not have land are forced to buy or use forage for firewood in other people’s land. Those who have land which is far (and they are the majority among Imidugudu dwellers with land) are a little better off but the long distances are a great bother. The issue of firewood is only an indication of the environmental impact of Imidugudu.

Community Organisation

Finally, a word about community organisation at the Imidugudu levels. In a few instances, community based organisations (CBOs) can be found in some Imidugudu, especially those which are near a town or big market centres. However, in the majority of cases, the seeming disinterest of development agencies to work in Imidugudu has discouraged the formation of CBOs in the settlements. At the administration level, one would have expected that the Imidugudu would have formed the basic units of authority during the recent grassroots elections. This was not the case. While some Imidugudu have elected informal leaders to assist in resolving internal disputes, most of them have only "nyumbakumi" (heads of 10 houses). The cellule officials may or, in most cases, may not reside in the Imidugudu. There are even cases where different Umudugudu residents owe allegiance to different cellules because they originate from there or have a piece of land there-a most ridiculous situation. .


Though the villagisation policy was characterised by numerous shortcomings, it has significant strong points to acknowledge. First, through villagisation the government, agencies and NGOs managed to respond somewhat effectively to the shelter crisis after the 1994 war and genocide. Second, shelter programmes went hand in hand with land distribution which enabled people sustain themselves after a short period at the end of the war. Third, government was able to maintain security of the people living together in villages which allayed peoples fears after the war. This went a long way to facilitate reintegration of communities. Fourth, villagisation facilitated unity and reconciliation following the atrocities in 1994.


The villagisation policy had among other intentions to improve land use and distribution so that all people can have access to land and increase production. However, many people in villages do not have land; the landowners are also far away from their land such that they cannot exploit it as they would have intended to. It is therefore feared that production might diminish. In some areas sites were allocated in farmland thus reducing the land available for cultivation.

Currently there is no law governing land thus land distribution is not free of victimisation against some people. Sometimes land is expropriated and distributed or shared if the individual is not very resistant to the leaders decisions. The resistant citizens at times manage to withstand leaders decisions since leaders do not have a law that vindicate their decisions. The people are insecure over land ownership. Those who have been given land are clearly told that they can temporarily use it until they will be allocated land permanently. People who previously owned land are also conscious that they can be dispossessed of that land as it has happened to fellow citizens on land selected for settlement sites. As a result, there are increasing disputes between leaders and communities and among communities over land. To date in all circles from the grassroots to the central decision-makers, people are watchfully and eagerly awaiting the land policy. It is believed that complex issues on land will be resolutely and adequately resolved by a clear land policy. The responsible actors and central government decision-makers should therefore address the issue cognisant of its gravity, expectations and fears among the population and possible consequences on whatever deliberations.


House Construction

The people in the Imidugudu called on the involved actors to rectify the mistakes made during construction of houses. Rehabilitation and/or refurbishment of existing houses in Imidugudu was called for to ensure a long lifespan.

Style of settlement

Many of the people who were interviewed thought the best way of building the Imidugudu was to put the houses in a line along the road and close to the farm lands. This is due to the fact that currently, their farms are very far, making it difficult or impossible to apply manure.

The Imidugudu should not be built in one style all over the country but should instead be designed to suit the topography and other landscape features of the region. A hilly region like Gikongoro for instance is not suitable for the construction of large Imidugudu as in other flatter areas. Social Infrastructures and Services Establishing social infrastructures and the services that are meant to be offered in the Imidugudu was expressed as an urgently needed intervention to go together with villagisation. These include schools, health facilities, water and sanitation facilities.


The leaders, NGOs and the community recommended the initiation of a programme to cater for the vulnerable poor in Imidugudu. Support for local groups/associations is viewed as one of the most appropriate ways of building the capacity of the communities so that they can develop themselves. An integrated programme to support both farm and off-farm activities in Imidugudu as well as the improvement of the transport services sector were considered necessary interventions to improve the living conditions of the communities by enabling people to engage more effectively in productive activities.