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Land Tenure Reform: Rwanda

How land titling prevented conflict, increased women’s land ownership, and reduced corruption in Rwanda

June 6, 2023
Author: Paula Sevilla Núñez

In 2008, the Land Tenure Regularization (LTR) program was established to register and administer land ownership in Rwanda in order to resolve and prevent conflicts over land. Trained local para-surveyors used satellite imagery to register plots of land onto the new national land registry. They also mediated disputes to grant titles to the rightful owners, as well as ownership to women for the first time. Between 2008 and 2012, the program mapped 10.4 million parcels of land, recognized and secured women’s land rights, and improved the transparency of land transactions.

Following the 1994 genocide, the return of refugees to Rwanda and population growth (7.3 percent in 1999),1 caused an increased demand for already scarce land, 90 percent of which was governed under customary law (communal) and mostly acquired through informal practices.2 After 1994, land prices increased by rates of up to 25 percent per year, and competing claims over land resulted in an increase in conflicts such that 80 percent of court cases involved land disputes.3 The genocide also left many women widowed, yet women were not allowed to own nor inherit land.4

Into the 2000s, lack of land registration contributed to citizen dissatisfaction, widespread perceptions of corruption, and concerns of land expropriation, whereby the state took control of the land for public use or benefit.5 Hence, the Land Tenure Regularization (LTR) program was established in 2008 to allocate a title to every plot of land and develop a national land registry in order to prevent conflict and help reduce poverty and gender inequalities, by providing citizens with titles that could be used as collateral, facilitate transactions, and have security for agricultural activities.6

The National Land Policy of 2004 and the Organic Land Law of 2005 set the land use guidelines and legislation for formalizing and expanding land ownership across the country.7 It also built on the 1999 Succession Law8 and the 2003 Constitution, which introduced women’s right to own, use and transact property.9


Following trials in four out of 30 districts in 2007, the land mapping and titling process took place between 2008 and 2012.10 Starting in 2008, registration by the Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA) followed a series of steps:

  • Following the training of local para-surveyors to work with land committees and the communities, the disputed parcels were identified via a participatory process involving claimants, neighbors, village leaders, and the use of satellite imagery to demarcate the boundaries of the parcels.
    Any claimants or objections were recorded into the Land Tenure Regularization Support System.
    A time was given following the publication of the records and maps to mediate and resolve disputes before registration and the issuing of the final title.
    Trained mediators called Abuzi mediated land disputes with the community, preventing a longer court process (Read more about the Abunzi Mediation: Rwanda).11

From 2012 onwards, to overcome distrust in the program and ensure the collection of registered land titles by citizens, the RNRA invested in a public awareness campaign that included broadcasting messages on the radio, newspaper, and social media.12 Teams of lawyers and land officers visited areas every year to register transactions and provide legal assistance.13


The total cost of the project by 2013 amounted to about USD 70 million, with more than half contributed by the UK government’s Department for International Development [now the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)].14 Securing funding for the maintenance of the land registry has proven challenging, though in 2014-15, an additional USD 10 million had been provided by donors and the government of Rwanda.15


By 2012, the RNRA had recorded 10.4 million land parcels.16 Between 2012 and 2017, the number of landowners who had collected their titles increased from around 924,000 to 7.16 million,17 and the number of transactions recorded increased ten-fold.18 The program was considered cost-effective, with a total registration cost of about USD 5 per parcel of land.19

The program also had a considerable employment impact, as 110,000 people were employed (approximately one percent of the Rwandan population), 99 percent of which came from the local communities, including the para-surveyors trained to undertake the registration and moderate disputes.20 Women filled 70 percent of staff field manager positions and 40 percent of para-surveyors.21

The LTR proved successful on several fronts, including in promoting women’s ownership of land through the change in the Constitution, reducing perceptions of corruption, and improving the ease of doing business. In 2016, 63.7 percent of titles were owned by women or co-owned by men and women.22 In surveys and focus groups, more than 90 percent of respondents reported greater awareness of their land rights, and 74 percent of women believed that land registration had enhanced their security.23 The use of land as collateral also improved respondents’ ability to access credit.24

By increasing the transparency over land ownership and transactions, the country also scored considerably better in Transparency International’s 2014 measure of corruption in land services (12 out of 100) than neighboring countries like Burundi (42), Kenya (55), Tanzania (36) and Uganda (60).25

Nevertheless, the LTR program has struggled with maintenance of the registry and ensuring the formalization of transactions. In 2015-16, transactions were recorded in only 1.8 percent of the parcels, suggesting a large number of informal sales and a widening gap between the records and real ownership.26 Securing funding for the maintenance of the land registration system has also been a challenge.

Additional Information

It is unclear about how much money owners would have to pay. One source claimed that owners of the parcel paid registration fees of RWF 1,000 (USD 1.76) in rural areas and RWF 5,000 (USD 8.82) in Kigali.27 Another mentioned a price of RWF 27,000.28

The new registry could be used by local governments for land use planning, land valuation, and surveying, ensuring transparency as landowners are able to check online what plans may affect their parcels, and city authorities are also able to determine whose rights are going to be affected when planning and building big urban infrastructure.29 This was particularly useful for banks in processing mortgage applications.30 A web-based portal (Agricultural Land Information System or ALIS) has also been set up as a resource to support any investor interested in investing in agriculture.31