In 2009, at least every Rwandan started seeing a small blue single rotor helicopter hovering over their villages and some curious citizens asked local leaders what was going on- and the answer was that government was conducting a land mapping exercise.
After the Helicopter aerial mapping, there followed teams of people in every village that walked from plot to plot asking about demarcations and ownership and how it was acquired.
Rwanda has 26,338 square Kilometer of surface and is divided into 4 Provinces plus the City of Kigali 30 Districts 416 Sectors 2148 Cells. Before the land mapping, it was initially estimated that there were about 7.9 million parcels of land in Rwanda in 2148 cells.
Land mapping cost a total of U$60million contributed by government of Rwanda (25%), DFID: 55%, SIDA: 8%, Netherlands: 8%, European Commission: 3% and IFAD: 1%.
At the end of 2014, 10.67 million parcels of land had been demarcated and 8.6 million land titles issued to owners.
The land mapping idea was one of the best decisions the government had thought about and implemented because it resulted in the registration of land and thus vastly reducing on land disputes and resultant crimes connected.
Almost every Rwandan that owns land also has been Issued a land lease and certificate of land registration. For the first time, Rwandans expressed joy of full ownership of their land.
However, the enjoyment of land ownership has seemingly ended and whoever has land has begun to see it as not theirs because of the property tax levied on it annually, and when one fails to pay, the fines keep adding and could lead to a risk of losing it via public auction.
This new law was a result of ambitious deliberations during the 12th National Leadership Retreat (1-2 March 2015) at the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Combat Training Centre in Gabiro in Gatsibo district.
It was being argued that most districts relied on 90% funding from central government, thus the review of land tax law proposed to promote efficient land use and increase district revenues to enable them to provide basic infrastructure and other services to citizens.
By then Rwanda’s current fixed asset tax rate of 0.1% was considered too low compared to other countries in the region and beyond. The new law proposed an increase by 50% for each extra square meter beyond the set standard rate.
In January 2020, the government through a ministerial order issued new property tax arrangements which generally indicated increased prices of a square meter of land.
Considering that the largest population lives in rural areas, farming land is being charged from Rwf2 -10 per square meter while residential plot the owner has to pay between Rwf8-15 for every square meter.
For other areas depending on the zoning, a square meter of land is being charged from Rwf50-300 depending on your location.
For a rural Rwanda, living on a small parcel of land for their entire life cultivating crops to provide basic food for home consumption, this is going to be a very difficult situation to raise an annual tax for their land alongside other annual expenses such as Health insurance, security and home expenses.
Precisely every Rwandan has to pay Rwf1000 monthly to facilitate community night patrols (irondo), health insurance for majority (Rwf 3000). For a residential plot of 30meters by 20meters equivalent to 600 square meters means the resident would pay 600 X 15 = Rwf9000, if the resident has the standard farming land of 80meters by 100meters means will pay (80 X 100) X 10 = Rwf80,000.
On average every rural Rwandan with standard farming land, residential plot requires to pay a minimum total amount of Rwf80,000 + Rwf9000 + Rwf3000 = Rwf92,000.
However, it should be noted that Rwf92,000 is for property tax and health insurance for one person. This if one adds the family expenses, tuition for students and other miscellaneous expenses, the average Rwandan would not afford to keep the property.
On Monday President Paul Kagame addressed the nation and discussed several issues ranging from property tax, security, Covid-19 pandemic, the economy and many others.
The interactive session digitally linked the President to Rwandans across the country- they complained about the increment in property tax and requested him to intervene.
“This recent increase on land taxes is too high. Many citizens may not be able to pay and fear this could result to loss of their property through auction as a result of failure to pay,” Salton Niyitanga told President Kagame.
“It should be clear that land comes with a tax, and at this level we can look into the matter considering citizens incomes, the economy, and reasons why the tax was put in place then we find what is workable for many instead,” Kagame responded.
President Kagame said that his government will find a solution but without necessarily taking away the land tax regime.