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When the Cabinet met on December 13, 1996, RPF representatives decided to push ahead with the program of re-organizing rural life that they had espoused since the time of the Arusha negotiations. Over the strong objections of some ministers, they adopted a National Habitat Policy requiring all rural-dwellers to change their way of living. By this time, the vast influx of refugees had begun, but as the text of the decision shows, the ministers adopted the policy to deal with long-range issues of land distribution and economic development, not to resolve the immediate housing crisis of the returnees.

The introduction to the document focuses on issues of population growth and urban migration in the "Third World" and only once, at the end, briefly mentions the "tragic events" of war and genocide as circumstances aggravating housing problems in the Rwandan case. The return of the refugees is referred to only once fleetingly in the twenty-two page document to explain the need to deal with issues of habitat. The Arusha Accords, later cited by authorities erroneously as the legal basis for requiring Rwandans to live in settlements, is not mentioned at all.

The text cites economic development as the reason for imidugudu and says they will serve the following functions:

* to create non-agricultural employment and so reduce pressure on the land;

* to regroup residents to counter the dispersion which makes it difficult to "persuade" them [to follow government policy] (rend difficile la sensibilisation de la population);

* to resolve the problem of land scarcity by redistributing the land and creating terracing;

* to protect the environment;

* to improve the transportation and distribution networks.17

The policy seems to have been designed for gradual implementation. The text proposes, for example, that authorities establish markets and services at the sites before trying to attract residents to them. Even with such attractions, the text remarked, people would not move "spontaneously" and might need considerable time before being persuaded to accept a new system of settlement and land tenure. The text also foresees the need to compensate persons whose land was taken to serve as settlement sites.18

Three weeks after the December 13 decision, Rwandan authorities linked the new habitat policy to efforts to deal with the housing crisis provoked by the return of the refugees. On January 2, 1997, the minister of the interior and communal development required all Rwandans to provide "mutual assistance" to the homeless in constructing new houses. The order focused largely on organizing this assistance through the long-established practice of obligatory labor for the public good, known as umuganda. But the minister alsoused this directive to explicitly prohibit landowners from building homes on their own holdings if these were outside imidugudu. He said rural-dwellers "...should live apart from the fields."After enumerating several of the groups that would be henceforth living in imidugudu, he wrote, ". . . in brief, everyone is required to take a lot [for housing] in the settlement."19

On January 9, 1997 the minister of public works ordered that all Rwandans would receive land to build houses in the imidugudu and that it was henceforth forbidden to build any house outside such a site. He directed local authorities to promptly list all existing houses in their areas to ensure that no new ones were built outside the settlement site. He concluded by making all relevant authorities responsible for "mobilizing people to comply with the policy."20

By these two orders, authorities grafted the National Habitat Policy onto programs for housing the homeless. They went beyond the Arusha Accords, which had agreed to provide housing in settlements but which had not excluded returnees from making their own arrangements to build homes elsewhere.21 Authorities now prohibited such construction-and not just by returnees, but by any Rwandan.

Just as insisting that all new houses be built in the settlements offered a way to hasten rural reorganization, so drawing on international assistance for housing provided resources needed for implementing the habitat policy. Apparently to make it easier to exploit this opportunity, government officials began describing the establishment of imidugudu more as a response to the housing crisis than as a longer-range program to improve land use and stimulate economic development. In a presentation to foreign donors at the end of January 1997, Minister of Rehabilitation and Social Integration Patrick Mazimhaka claimed that imidugudu would promote peace and reconciliation and that they would provide security.22 These supposed objectives, missing from the December 13 text and apparently first unveiled at this time, coincided perfectly with the rationale of "prevention [of further conflict]" and

"protection" used by UNHCR to justify supporting the housing construction program.23 UNHCR was the most important channel of funds to housing programs throughout the whole period.

17 République Rwandaise, Ministère des Travaux Publics, Politique Nationale de l'Habitat, December 1996, p. 20.

18 Ibid., pp. 17, 21-22.

19 Republic of Rwanda, Instruction du Ministre de l'Intérieur et du Dévéloppement Communal No. 001/97 du 2/1/1997 Relative à l'Entraide Mutuelle, article 4 (a), Journal Officiel de la République Rwandaise, p. 3 Hereafter cited as Republic of Rwanda, Instruction. . . Relative à l'Entraide Mutuelle.

20 Instruction Provisoire No. MINITRAPE 01/97 sur l'Habitat, articles 11, 15, and 19, Journal Officiel de la République Rwandaise, p. 6.

21 Protocole d'Accord, articles 3, 4, 13, and 28.

22 Anonymous, "Imidugudu," p. 4.

23 Chantal Laurent and Christian Bugnion, "External Evaluation of the UNHCR Shelter Program in Rwanda 1994-1999," UNHCR, Reintegration and Local Settlement Section, 2000, pp. ix-xi, 29.

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