Securing land rights for all in Rwanda
April 29, 2015
Anthony Hategekimana was able to clear a boundary dispute on his land and obtain a new land title in seven days.
Anthony Hategekimana, a local businessman in Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, is an enterprising man. A father of three, he runs a flour mill, a woodwork shop and cultivates fruits that he sells locally in his District, in the country's capital city Kigali, and in a major market at the Rwanda border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. To expand his businesses, Anthony approached one of the local banks for a loan, using his land as collateral. Thanks to the new Land Administration Information System (LAIS), the bank was able to determine that the land had a boundary dispute and advised Anthony to first resolve this before proceeding with his loan request.
Funded by the Government of Rwanda and the Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF), LAIS is an electronic system that enables the Government of Rwanda to manage its land resources effectively. Until 2005, less than one percent of land in Rwanda was registered under freehold or leasehold titles. Then the Government embarked on an exercise to demarcate and register all parcels of land. By February 2015, 10.6 million parcels of land had been demarcated, 8.6 million of which had been registered and titles issued. All this land information is now stored and managed by LAIS.
LAIS enables the Government to determine, record, and disseminate information about who owns which piece of land, what its value is, and the usage of that piece of land. It is a great tool in assisting the Government to implement its land management policies because, among other things, it informs decision making.
"LAIS enables us to manage all the information and transactions affecting the owner, the land parcel, and the owner's rights," said Didier Sagashya, Deputy Director General at the Department of Lands and Mapping in the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA). Any land transactions, be it sale, merger, transfer of rights or correction of boundaries, is processed through LAIS. Over 35 different types of transaction can be processed through the system, including restrictions, such as disputes, mortgage or court seizures.
A Land Officer at Nyagatare District processes a land transfer request using the Land Administration Information System.
Land transactions in Rwanda are administered at the district level and, to enable districts across the country to access the LAIS system, RNRA has connected all the 30 districts in Rwanda to a fibre optic network. This gives them a more reliable internet connection and reduces system downtime at district level. All 30 districts are now connected to LAIS, and 10 districts have started process applications through the system, including Nyagatare District. The roll out of the remaining districts is being done progressively.
Mugisha David Livingstone, the District Land Officer at the Nyagatare District Land Bureau, is happy to have the new land administration system. "When we process land transactions they have to be approved by the Deputy Registrar's office at the provincial level. Before we had this system, the approval took up to three weeks as all documents had to be physically sent to the Deputy Registrar's office. Now we just upload them into the system and within 24 hours we have the approval,” he said.
Boundary disputes are easier to handle too, thanks to the Geographical Information System (GIS) that has been incorporated into LAIS. "People are happy that a platform exists to handle boundary disputes,” Mugisha said, as this enables them to get their land titles much faster.
All banks in Rwanda have been given access to the information contained in LAIS to enable them to verify land ownership, and therefore the authenticity of the land titles they accept as collateral for the loans they give. This is how Anthony's local bank caught the restriction that had been placed on his land.
Anthony went to the Nyagatare District Land Bureau and within seven days, the correct boundary between Anthony's land and his neighbour's land had been determined, the restriction in the LAIS system had been removed allowing him to apply for a bank loan, and he was issued with a new land title valid for 20 years. The new title enabled him to apply for a loan that covered a longer time period compared to his previous title which was valid for only 3 years. As a result, Anthony was granted a loan of RWF 48 million (about US$ 68,000) by his local bank, payable in seven years, which he used to expand his businesses.
"I'm happy I managed to resolve the dispute with my neighbour quickly and get the loan," Anthony said. "The new land titles are good because the banks recognize them. I took a bank loan in the past using my old land title and because the bank could not easily validate the old titles, they required me to get the title notarized by the Rwanda Development Board Notary in Kigali which is two and a half hours away. It was a long and costly process."
LAIS is a vital tool for many different players in Rwanda. It provides property owners with guarantee of ownership and security of tenure; it gives banks and other lending institutions security of their credit; and it enables Government to sustainably manage land resources, facilitate land reforms and reduce land disputes.
According to the World Bank's 2015 Doing Business Report, Rwanda is ranked as the 15th easiest country in the world to transfer property and the 1st in Africa. This is partly due to the implementation of LAIS which enables people to process land transactions quickly and in a transparent manner. Not only does this efficiency boost investor confidence, it also gives the country a powerful tool for stimulating economic growth.
"If you give people the right to land, you are giving them capital because they can use their land as collateral to access finances. Then if you enable that process to be faster, you accelerate everything," Didier Sagashya said. "Rwanda is trying to become a middle income country by 2020 and what we can do is to fast-track and expedite business activities and bring investments in the country. We want investors to feel secure to come and invest in Rwanda because they know there are systems that are ready to accommodate their needs and protect their rights."