Sharing Scarcity: Land Access and Social Relations in Southeastern Rwanda

Seminar date: 
28 April 2011
15.30 - 17.00u
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Seminar room: 
3A06 (third floor)

More than 90% of Rwanda’s population depends on farming. However many peasants in southeastern Rwanda are having a difficult time feeding their families due to changes in land-tenure arrangements in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. These have impacted on land security and social relations, and survivors and perpetrators of the genocide and returned refugees have had to find a way of living together and sharing the space available despite population pressures. This has led to tensions and suspicions, especially as the population is confronted with increasing land scarcity.

Local access to land and land relations have been influenced by two government policies that were implemented in the late 1990s: (i) the sharing of land by the Hutu population with Tutsi refugees who returned to the region after years in exile; and (ii) the forced resettlement of peasants from dispersed settlements in the hills to living in villages.

The social fabric in the southeastern part of today’s post-conflict Rwanda has not yet been repaired and tensions, fear, mistrust and an overall lack of solidarity are ever present. Ethnicity still plays an important role, with tensions flaring up between Tutsi refugees, the Hutu population and Tutsi genocide survivors who, despite the new village structure, often live in separate communities.

One of Rwanda’s new and far-reaching policies is a law that states that all land must be registered, as of 2010, and formal land titles have to be issued. After registration, the state guarantees occupancy rights to farmland by means of a 99-year lease. While the government argues that the new land law will strengthen land-tenure security and reduce conflicts, recent fieldwork in southeastern Rwanda has shown that land conflicts within families and between neighbours have increased since registration was introduced. By ignoring sensitivities at the local level and rigidly implementing the new policies, the tensions in pre-existing social relations have not decreased. As the social fabric is still very fragile and will weaken even further as land-tenure insecurity and land conflicts increase, there could easily be renewed (ethnic) violence.

Additional speaker information: 

Margot Leegwater is an anthropologist. She is currently working on a PhD on access to land at the local level in relation to land-tenure policies in southeastern Rwanda. She has recently returned from her third fieldwork period there.