Land Reform for Peace? Rwanda’s 2005 Land Law in Context


Pottier, Johan. 2006. “Land Reform for Peace? Rwanda’s 2005 Land Law in Context.” Journal of Agrarian Change 6 (4): 509-37.

Author: Johan Pottier


A decade ago, Rwanda embarked on a major land reform programme. The government envisaged a new land law, supported by a land policy, and claimed that the new tenure system would contribute to enhancing food production, social equity and the prevention of conflict. The Land Law was finally passed in the summer of 2005. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has taken on significant responsibility for monitoring the reform programme. This article provides a contextualized reading of the new Law. It argues that its emphasis on the obligation to consolidate fragmented family plots and register them will exacerbate social tension, but that some of the potential for social strife may be reduced because the state will allow flexibility in how the Land Law is implemented. 

Keywords: land reform, social inequality, new elites, land scarcity, local government, aid policy



“While the inheritance law is undeniably a positive step towards institutionalizing gender parity, three caveats must be noted. Firstly, in the absence of proper marriage contracts (legal or customary), children are deemed illegitimate. Since the majority of unions in Rwanda are common law unions ‘not legally registered,’ young women and girls are easily labelled illegitimate, which disqualifies them from the new-style inheritance provision…many rural women, including repatriates say they are confused about the legislation.” (519)

“Secondly, the Inheritance Law cannot be applied retrospectively. The Law does not apply to the tens of thousands of so-called legitimate daughters whose fathers and husbands died in the genocide.Thirdly, whoever controls the family council can decide whether or not a woman inherits land."  (519-520)

"[Article 4 of the 2005 Land Law] addresses gender imbalances in customary land tenure and connects with the Inheritance Law (1999), confirming that any form of discrimination in matters of land ownership, including gender discrimination, is prohibited. Further in the text, however, the Land Law reminds us that only legally married women and their children can inherit (Article 36). Although written some five years after the new legislation on inheritance was passed, neither the Land Policy nor the Land Law offer any reflections on gender above and beyond what the Inheritance Law (1999) has proclaimed.” (521)

“Authors of the National Land Policy and Land Law may have overlooked that the cultural aspects of land access are highly significant from a conflict prevention point of view.” (526)

“Threatens to make a vast number of Rwandans landless, either because they have insufficient land to consolidate or because they cannot meet the registration fee, or because in one way or other they risk being labelled unworthy farmers. If expropriation is extensive, the army of landless people thus created will have the potential for generating significant conflict, especially when, as is most likely, alternative livelihood strategies are not forthcoming.” (527)

“Today, land scarcity also has a strong gender dimension. Although the Land Law refers to the Inheritance Law, it does not spell out what women can expect to gain from the new law and tenure system. The sceptical answer – women should not expect anything – seems borne out in Article 87 of the Land Law, which declares in rather lofty fashion that the state has a duty to pass on confiscated lands ‘to those who have been deprived of their right to land.’ The absence of an explicit reference to the social categories the Law has in mind will make many Rwandans fear that Tutsi 59-ers are the preferred social category […].” (528)

“Finally, it remains to be seen whether the pro-women inheritance legislation (1999) will find champions – among politicians and administrators – willing and able to take on the full force of the language of public morality; a discourse condemning those ‘not properly’ married. This may not happen. Although the Land Law declares a commitment to gender equity with regard to land ownership (Article 4), the rest of the Law is silent on gender and land.”(531)

“Their [international actors'] attention will need to focus on the plight of women farmers. While women’s rights in land may seem guaranteed by the Inheritance Law (1999), women continue to face serious struggle when attempting to actualize their rights. The 2005 Land Law is not offering women any relief or reassurance in this matter, and may in fact be making them once again more invisible.” (533) 

Topics: Conflict Prevention, Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Land Tenure, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Peacebuilding, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2006

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at