Monday, March 19, 2012

Rwandan NGO empowering communities to solve disputes at local level

You can also find this article in the printed March-May edition and on the website of "The Eye Magazine".

By Christian Schulze

Rwanda faces various challenges related to land, but the key ones are the issues of land scarcity, combined with the high population growth, the patriarchal structures that remain strong due to the cultural setting and disputes over land rights emanating from multiple claims due to different waves of refugees caused by conflicts that have characterized the country for decades.

According to Mrs. Annie Kairaba, the director of the Rwanda Initiative for Sustainable Development (RISD), strikingly 90% of community disputes are related to land, with the insecurity of land rights out of competing claims, where by one piece of land is claimed by different parties, as the main source of conflict: “The majority of these disputes are both inter and intra family which arise from unequal inheritance of land, polygamy and children born out of these illegal marriages”, Mrs. Kairaba said. Regarding the conflict potential of insecure land rights, resolution of competing land claims is central towards the achievement of sustainable peace in the country.

Therefore RISD, a Rwandan NGO focusing on building the capacities of the grassroots through effective policy research and advocacy, is implementing its Land Dispute Management Program (LDMP) to contribute towards sustainable management of land related disputes and support the ongoing land reform process in Rwanda. Since the project started in 2008, over 14,280 participants in 22 Cells benefited directly from the training and functioned as multipliers in their respective communities.

Targeting Local leaders, especially ‘Abunzi’

RISD Director Annie Kairaba handing out LDMP certificates to trained local leaders
Mrs. Kairaba said that the LDMP aims to bring information to the grassroots and therefore focuses on building the capacity of local leaders to identify, manage and resolve land related disputes promptly, fairly and peacefully: “Local leaders are addressed for making the community understand their land rights, through knowing and understanding the relevant legal provisions, because they are closely involved in the communities, understand local issues and hence can handle them quicker and better than courts”. Especial attention is therefore given to mediation as a means of dispute resolution and the ‘Abunzi’ (mediators) who face many land disputes in their daily work.

Focus on women’s land rights

For Justin Mimi, the Executive Secretary of Rwaza Sector in Musanze District who first got in contact with the LDMP when RISD was carrying out the LDMP pilot project in 2008, it is important that all residents know their land rights and subsequent land laws, but especially for women he considers it vital: “Over 90% of land disputes are related to inheritance leaving women as the prime victims”. Thus RISD specially focus on women’s land rights during training and in its public awareness campaigns and can announce that so far 48% of the trainees have been women.

LDMP design

The LDMP targets the Cell and Sector levels and is structured in 4 parts: Assessment of capacity needs of local leaders, training, public information and awareness and mentoring. During the program participants get trained in dispute management, mediation and legal provisions such as the Organic Land Law, Expropriation Law, Abunzi (Mediators), Law or Law on Matrimonial Regimes, Liberalities and Succession. Meanwhile both mass media and community based channels like drama, songs, poems and art work are used as outreach tools to inform and sensitize the communities. To provide continued support to trainees, working groups are selected form and by trainees to document disputes and how they are resolved. RISD trainers then follow up and collect data from these working groups quarterly for comparable analysis and monitoring of the ongoing land reform process.
Trainees learning about legal provisions during a LDMP training session

Testimonies from the ground

Mr. Mimi, who attended the RISD training courses given to local leaders in dispute management and land related legal provisions tells about his personal experience with the LDMP: “Through the specific approach of strengthening the capacity of local leaders, especially mediators and village leaders, in preventing and resolving land related disputes, RISD helped us a lot in reducing land related disputes in our Sector, which were actually very many”.

Justin Mimi in front of local leaders during the LDMP training in Rwaza Sector
People in Rwaza can now spend most of their time in agricultural activities rather than being concerned with land related disputes and going to court, which was not the case before the LDMP training. But not to forget, the LDMP has also significantly increased the awareness within the community towards vulnerable group’s land rights, especially women’s, Mr. Mimi adds: “The awareness campaigns about vulnerable group’s land rights RISD carried out through community radio call-in shows and community theatre to accompany the training in Rwaza really sensitized people on this important topic and gave voice to people who usually struggle to be heard”.

The fact that the LDMP, besides resolving land related disputes, has a big impact on increasing awareness of women’s land rights is also stressed by Mariam Dushimimana, the Vice Executive Secretary of Mbati Cell in Mugina Sector of Kamonyi District, where RISD also trained: “People were not fully aware about this particular issue, because they were lacking access to certain information. RISD helped to bridge this gap by carrying out public information and awareness campaigns focusing on women and other vulnerable groups”.

The participants are happy that the LDMP strengthened their own capacity in such a way, that they can now easily share their experience and train other community members in land related issues. Mr. Mimi says he benefited a lot from the mediation training which helps him to resolve disputes in a fair and peaceful manner and disburdens him from the land related disputes, because he has now got more time to engage in other developmental activities of the sector since after the LDMP more local leaders have got the capacity to resolve disputes: “The affected people in Rwaza now do not have to rely just on me when it comes to resolution of their land related problems any more”, he said.

Trainees performing in a role-play on land dispute during the LDMP 
For Mr. Mimi it is clear that RISD should continue the LDMP in his District and even expand to other areas of the country. Rwaza has significantly benefited from its LDMP participation and he can only advice other Sectors to also join in this programme: “Land is central for the livelihoods of the majority of Rwandans and the LDMP helps to solve problems in this very important area of our society. Thus LDMP contributes to sustainable peace and development in Rwanda and consequently should expand to as much areas as possible”.

Also Mrs. Dushimimana had very good experience with the LDMP so far and can only recommend other local leaders to participate: “They and their communities would certainly benefit from the LDMP, especially in terms of awareness on women’s land rights provided by the current laws, which still needs to be addressed clearly”.

RISD believes that the communities will benefit from this training if local leaders can manage and resolve land related disputes. This directly leads to increased tenure security, effective land registration, increased awareness of land rights and hence ultimately fights poverty.

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