Conflict and Land Tenure in Rwanda
The purpose of this paper is to shed light on the historical relation between conflict and land tenure in Rwanda, a country that experienced a harsh civil war and genocide in the mid-1990s. The victory of the Tutsi-led rebel, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at that time triggered a massive return of refugees and a drastic change in land tenure policy. These were refugees who had fled the country at around the time of independence, in 1962, due to the political turmoil and persecution (the “social revolution”) and who shared the background of the core RPF members. The social revolution had dismantled the existent Tutsi-led political order, compelling many Tutsi families to seek refuge outside their homeland. Under the post-independence rule of a Hutu-led government, the Tutsi refugees were not allowed to return and the lands they left behind were often arbitrarily distributed by local authorities among Hutu peasants. After victory in the mid-1990s civil war, the newly established RPF-led government ordered the current inhabitants of the lands to divide the properties in order to allocate portions to the Tutsi returnees. Different patterns of land holding and land division will be explained in the paper from data gathered through the authors’ fieldworks in the southern and eastern parts of Rwanda. Although overt resistance to land division has not been observed to date, the land rights of the Tutsi returnees must be considered unstable because their legitimacy depends primarily on the strength and political stability of the RPF-led government. If the authority of RPF were to weaken, the land rights will be jeopardized. Throughout Rwandan history, in which political exclusion has often led to serious conflict, macro-level politics have repeatedly influenced land holding. Promotion of an inclusive democracy, therefore, is indispensable to escape the vicious circle between political instability and land rights.
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