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Evaluating the impact of land reform programme in Rwanda

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Saltanat Rasulova

Ensuring land rights is crucial for stability and economic growth, as effective land use helps to create jobs, and thus raises living standards. However, many low- and middle-income countries struggle with weak land rights, leading to a limited land use and investment. Among them is also Rwanda, which struggled with various land disputes in the past – more than 80% of all court cases in the country dealt with disputed property rights. To help improve the situation, the Government of Rwanda carried out a comprehensive land registration programme between 2009 and 2013. We evaluated the impact of the land tenure reform programme in Rwanda to assess its performance and identify lessons for future application.

The challenge

In 2004, the Government of Rwanda started to reform the land tenure system, to finalise the move from customary tenure to organic land law. The implementation of this policy was supported through the strategic road map for land tenure reform, which was introduced in 2009. The core of the programme included a mass land demarcation, titling, and certification programme across the country, aiming to identify all citizens with current or potential land rights for either arable, residential, or commercial land. In addition, the programme helped to raise awareness and build capacity to ensure that the new land titles and associated database are maintained and updated as land users engage in various forms of exchange, subdivision, and inheritance.

The land reform programme covered all of Rwanda in a relatively short time period, with the land regularisation process proceeding systematically from district to district and full certificates being issued to most title holders nationwide during 2013. However, the success of the programme depended not only on completing land registration, but also on ensuring the new system was understood, accepted, and operational across the country.

Our approach

In line with the challenges, we designed an impact evaluation that would provide insights into how the new law was put in practice and the wider impact it had in reducing social inequalities and improving economic outlook in Rwanda.

Our evaluation combined quantitative and qualitative data from a wide range of sources to assess the likely impact of the reform programme alongside other policies, trends, and interventions affecting land use and economic activity. We compared identified causal relationships between the intervention (the programme) and the results (in fields such as poverty, livelihoods, gender, and social harmony) with evidence from other government programmes.

Outcomes and wider impacts

The results of our evaluation provided insights into the benefits of land registration and identified wider lessons on implementing such programmes. Our findings and recommendations will help support Rwanda’s broader strategic vision for sustainable urban development and socio-economic transformation, backed by effective social protection.