The Rwandan state is highly centralized and intensively administered. Local officials are accustomed to passing on policies decided at the national level to the people of their districts. Speaking of the habitat policy, one local official said, "The national government gave the rules. We report back on the progress. . . ."24 Prefects supervised implementation in their prefectures, but often left such decisions as the location of the imidugudu to the administrative heads of communes, known as burgomasters, who were supposed to be advised by a committee which was composed exclusively of government officials.25 Councilors (conseillers), who head sectors within the commune, and cell leaders (responsables), who head the cells that make up the sectors, carried out the policy at the grass roots level.
The December 13 text gave no deadline for executing the policy, but once implementation began, some officials stated that all Rwandans were to move to imidugudu within five years and, in some regions, the deadline was set for two years.30
Although rural life was to be reorganized everywhere, officials began the effort first and carried it through most rigorously in the eastern and south-eastern prefectures of Kibungo, Umutara, Kigali-rural. It is understandable that authorities acted first in the region with the greatest need for housing, but they clearly meant to push forward rural reorganization as much as to provide new homes. In some cases, local officials even halted on-going housing repair programs that could have provided housing relatively rapidly and cheaply. According to the Ministry of Planning in early 1997, some 84,000 damaged houses nation-wide could have been made habitable by repairs.31 Making repairs was much faster than building anew and, according to housing experts, cost only one quarter to one third as much. But repairing houses, most of which were located outside imidugudu sites, would have enabled residents to continue living in dispersed homesteads in violation of the habitat policy. So officials ordered CARE-UK and several agencies funded by U.S. assistance as well as UNHCR to halt repair programs and to direct their efforts to the slower and more costly process of building houses in imidugudu. A housing rehabilitation program at Murambi, Umutara, funded by the German government also encountered official opposition, although it is unclear if the work there was actually halted. Similarly authorities discouraged NGOs from continuing to build new homes in scattered locations.32
Authorities hastened the implementation of the habitat policy as much to control land as to provide housing. As they regrouped the population rapidly, they also took land forredistribution to Tutsi returnees or permitted them to take land for themselves. Officials also appropriated land to constitute larger holdings for private exploitation, as discussed below.33
survivors. Local authorities permitted ever shoddier houses to be built. As the resouces which had paid salaried workers were exhausted, the new residents-many of them Hutu- received no help and were told to build their own houses. Many lacked the time and resources to build solid, mud-brick homes and they settled instead for wood-and-mud daub structures.38 The weakest and poorest of the new residents could manage to build only fragile shelters of wood, leaves, and pieces of plastic. Rwandans call such a make-shift shelter a blindé, from the French word meaning tank or armored personnel carrier. The term, which ironically contrasts the fragility of the shelter to the solidity of a military vehicle, apparently refers to the shape of the shelter-something like a small hangar-or to the blue plastic sheeting sometimes used to cover it. Some Rwandans first saw the sheeting used to covermilitary tanks of U.N. peacekeeping troops which arrived in Rwanda in 1994. Some residents of imidugudu have inhabited blindés for two years or more.
Officials expected the northwestern prefectures of Ruhengeri and Gisenyi to be among the last where the habitat policy would be implemented. Largely Hutu in population, this area constituted the power base of the former regime. It was suspected of continuing hostility to the RPF-run government and its residents were thought likely to resist the order to move to settlements.39 Relatively few Tutsi returnees had settled there so the need for housing and land was limited and it seemed unlikely that the powerful would seek to establish large landholdings in the area.
In other prefectures local officials carried out the habitat policy in a more relaxed fashion. With fewer returnees in these areas, they had both less demand for housing and, often, fewer resources available to build settlements. They may also have anticipated-and in some cases actually encountered-substantial resistance to imidugudu in parts of centralRwanda.42 Authorities in these other prefectures, such as Byumba and Gitarama, sometimes permitted the construction of houses outside imidugudu or, at least, the repair of existing structures.43
31 Omar Bakhet, UNDP Resident Representative and U.N. Resident Coordinator, Memo to Ambassadors, Charge d'Affaires and Heads of U.N. Agencies, January 23, 1997.
32 Human Rights Watch interview, by telephone, Washington, September 14, 2000; Anonymous, "Imidugudu," pp. 5, 7, 8, note, p. 27; Hilhorst and van Leeuwen, "Villagisation in Rwanda," pp. 34, 37; Minutes, Meeting of diplomats regarding housing policies of the Rwandan Government, February 21, 1997, p. 2. Hereafter cited as Minutes, Meeting of diplomats regarding housing policies, February 21, 1997.
33 Republic of Rwanda and United Nations Population Fund, Socio-Demographic Survey 1996, pp. 28-29; Juvénal Nkusi, "Problématique du Régime foncier," pp. 26-27; Human Rights Watch interview, by telephone, Washington, September 14, 2000.
34 Minutes, Meeting of diplomats regading housing policies, February 12, 1997; Minutes, Meeting of diplomats regarding housing policies, February 21, 1997; and European Community Humanitarian Office-Rwanda, Note for the File, Shelter funding criteria, February 5, 1997.
35 Hilhorst and van Leeuwen, "Villagisation in Rwanda," p. 37.
36 Ibid., p. 37.
37 Ibid., p. 42.
38 Ibid., p. 34.
39 Anonymous, "Imidugudu," p. 10.
40 Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Affairs, "Guidelines on the Settlement of IDPS in Northwest," November, 1998, pp. 1.
41 Ibid., pp. 1-2.
42 Anonymous, "Imidugudu," p. 10; Minutes , Meeting of diplomats regarding housing policies,, February 12, 1997, pp. 2-3 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, May 23, 2000.
43 Human Rights Watch interview, by telephone, Washington, September 14, 2000.
44 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, October 23, 2000.
45 Human Rights Watch interview with the Minister of Lands, Human Resettlement, and Environment, Kigali, December 18, 1999.
46 Human Rights Watch interview, Prefect of Ruhengeri, Ruhengeri, February 25, 2000.
47 Nations Unies. Programme des Nations Unies pour le Développement (PNUD), Rapport d'Etude sur les Sites de Reinstallation au Rwanda, September-November 1999, pp. 6-8. Hereafter cited as PNUD, Rapport. See below for further discussion of statistics.