The commitment of the Government of Rwanda to open data has helped to successfully deliver a nationwide digital based land registry system. It is online and machine readable. The project began in 2008 and offers a valuable service for individual citizens and for national planning.
It has improved income security for many rural citizens, while opening the door to a new wave of rural development, allowing many, often for the first time, to apply for credit against the value of their property and
to invest in new business. Because the national registration system is online, it connects quickly and efficiently to the Mortgage Registry and Rwanda’s main banks. The data contained in the registration system speeds up land transactions, avoiding the need to search for physical records which were previously housed in offices around the country and could take days to find and send out.
The new digital system automatically records a mortgage approval and other details linked to land occupation so a decision about ownership, tenure or liabilities can be dealt with quickly. The Rwanda Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Justice also have access to the registration process, helping to streamline the country’s tax gathering and justice system.
In its 2013 Annual Report, Rwanda Land Tenure Regularisation Programme, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) heralded Rwanda’s digitization process as the first large-scale land registration programme of its kind in Africa, demonstrating the use of open source software and open data as the first of its kind based on digital technology.
The Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA) reports that the immediate result of the process was its ability to record 84% of all land with identifiable owners and establishing approved title. The Rwandan Government’s objective was to provide registered titles for every landholder in the country, supported by the international development organisation, DAI in its Land Tenure Regularisation Programme, 2005-2009. DFID has confirmed that because the land registry is publicly available on an open database it ranks the achievement as outstanding in its 2013 Annual Review. The endeavour proved fundamental in unlocking a transparent method of registering land and encouraging sustainable economic growth in Rwanda.
More than eleven million individual parcels of land are now defined and all those records are accessible online by banks, tax offices, courts and at local council offices. The digital process plays an important on-going rolein offering better administration for tracking legitimate landholding into the future. Land can now be treated as an asset which can be lent against, enabling ordinary citizens to get involved with new commercial ventures, investing and enhancing their properties or building rural enterprises.
At a more fundamental level the country’s digital registration system plays a key role in creating social cohesion and helping to increase agricultural productivity. In publically defining each plot it has reduced number of conflicts around tenancies and property boundaries, freeing up officials to concentrate on strategic development rather than spending time adjudicating on disagreements between neighbours. The RNRA estimates that, “...given a population density of 407 inhabitants per kilometre, the highest density in sub-Saharan Africa,” land registration was a critical component for successful rural development.
The RNRA states that ninety percent of those now registered represent predominantly low income households occupying only small parcels of farm land. This creates opportunity for a vast majority of families who can successfully apply for small scale loans supporting development. Looking at the bigger picture, now that property ownership and tenancy is registered digitally, the new data helps secure longterm social stability and harmony – important factors for a country which is only two decades away from the devastating inter-communalmviolence that resulted in a genocide that killed 800,000 members of the Tutsi community and moderate Hutu.
Many argue that the conflict was ignited by issues linked to land so the regularisation of land ownership, openly available in a digital registry, is crucial for Rwanda’s future peace and development. But behind the obvious economic benefits and its role in supporting reconciliation within rural communities the registration system offers potential to improve gender equality, allowing women to formally register as landholders, gaining rights to buy and sell land and to assert their entitlement to inheritance after the death of a spouse or father.
The RNRA reports, thanks to the open data available in the land registry, that by the end of 2015: “There are a significantly higher number of unique female holders of real rights on land compared to male counterparts.”
This is a remarkable transformation from twenty years ago when few women owned land and found it extremely difficult to inherit or purchase land. The digital registration process has helped opened up information about women’s increasing involvement in the rural economy and supports gender land rights.