October 13, 2020

Family of Powerful Colonial Chief Blocks Land Compensation Program in Southern Rwanda

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Back in September 2017, a parliamentary delegation was in Busanze sector for Umuganda, a community action program. But at this meeting, and many others before and after, the local villagers want the authorities to save them from Chief Sehene’s family. The meeting was addressed by senior regional police commander

A colonial chief who grabbed a large portion of land, forcefully displacing entire villages, is long gone. But his family has become a nightmare for helpless villagers living there today.

This family, represented by four descendants, have blocked a government program to compensate locals for their land before the Kibeho road and power project, are constructed. The road is by the infrastructure ministry and the power project is by Ngali Holdings Ltd, a private contractor.

Mid last month, a group of five elderly men and women put together money to buy phone credit which they used to call The Chronicles. In the conversation with each of them, they said they were worried they may not receive their compensation money.

This group is part of more than 150 families in Nyaruguru whose land was forcefully taken by the colonial chief when Rwanda was still a monarchy.

The family at the center of the longstanding land controversy is that of chief Sehene. When Rwanda was still a monarchy, Chief Sehene, from Sovu in current Huye district, was appointed as the King’s representative in Nyaruguru district, several dozen kilometers away.

On arrival, people settled on the land were displaced by Chief Sehene. Immediately Rwanda became a republic, followed by independence in 1962, the new government gave back the land to those who had lost it to Chief Sehene, who was no longer in the area.

The Chronicles explored the battled over this land in our special report on brewing land wars in Rwanda published in January.

READ: Ethnic Undertones, Bribery, Courts are Reversing RPF Land Sharing Scheme

When the monarchy was abolished, Chief Sehene, like tens of thousands, fled. The post independence government returned the land to those considered the “rightful owners” who had initially been forced off it.

Fast forward, after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, four descendants of Chief Sehene surfaced. They have since been doing all in their power to reclaim the land, spanning several hectares and an entire hill.

The family includes former Chief Sehene’s elderly son Ntaganda Paul, elderly nephew Ruyonza Assouman and grandchildren Rwabutanga Raymond and Twagiramungu Yohani. This family owns more large pieces of land in Huye district as well.

The issue around this land is known to President Paul Kagame himself. Different cabinet ministers have been to the region, as well as the Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi.

The fight over this land has gone to different courts, all ending up rendering verdicts that never solve the wrangling over this land.

Since the phone conversation we had with the group from among the affected community, The Chronicles has since established that Ngali Holdings was to compensated some of them as it set up power plant and line.

The compensation from Ngali Holdings for the villagers has been blocked for two years by the continued claim over the land by Chief Sehene’s family.

The land both sides are fighting over spans over a large area located in Runyombya cell of Busanze Sector, Nyaruguru district.

This Tuesday afternoon, the same group of elderly men and women again phoned The Chronicles to complain that some of them were due to get their compensation money for their land taken as part of the Huye-Kibeho-Nyaruguru road construction.

The group told The Chronicles they were notified on Monday by Sector officials via WhatsApp message to some of them, that their compensation money was due to be transferred to the local SACCO.

However, they were surprised to learn today that the money will no longer come to the SACCO because their land is still subject of court process launched by Chief Sehene’s family.

Above is the Kibeho Holly site where thousands travel to every year as it is where the Holly Mary made apparitions in the early 1980s. Government is constructing a long-awaited highway to the region. The road will pass through or besides some pieces of the contested land in Busanze sector. The affected villagers cannot be compensated because of the intervention of the powerful former Chief Sehene family

Basically, as the situation stands now, Chief Sehene’s family considers the land which their ancestor grabbed from ordinary villagers many decades ago, as their own land.

At the same time, the current villager who are settled on the land since 1962 when they recovered it after Chief Sehene fled, cannot do anything on the land because the colonial chief’s family assisted by local officials do not allow them.

The current act to block their compensation is one of those acts in which Chief Sehene’s family seems to hold powerful influence on the local and central government authorities.

The Chronicles has been unable to speak to any of former chief Sehene’s family members who want the Nyaruguru land. They have avoided any media appearances and seem to prefer to pull the strings behind the scenes.

The affected villagers suspect that local officials at the Busanze Sector notified Chief Sehene’s family of the impending compensation, and they managed to stop the transfer of the monies.

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