POPULAR REACTION TO IMIDUGUDU
It is impossible to know how many Rwandans
favored the habitat policy when it was established because there was no
open debate or public participation in making the decision. Incomplete
data indicate that attitudes towards the policy varied according to a number
of circumstances. A Dutch NGO found that more than 50 percent of a group
of genocide survivors in Cyangugu, the prefecture abutting the Congolese
border, favored moving to imidugudu; most were widows apparently concerned
with security. But the same agency found that only 7 percent of a sample
group in the central prefecture of Gitarama were willing to leave their
homes and move to imidugudu.48
A Rwandan government poll in the northwestern prefectures of Gisenyi and
Ruhengeri in 1998 found that 41 percent wanted to remain in their own homes
and not move to imidugudu.49
Special representative for Rwanda of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
Michel Moussalli sampled opinions of residents in three imidugudu in 1999:
in two settlements, residents expressed no complaints, but in the third
a significant number said they had been moved against their will.50
One poll of people now residing in imidugudu
found that 74 percent generally favored the settlements, although many
immediately qualified this response by mentioning changes that they believed
were needed to make life in the imidugudu satisfactory. When asked whether
they had gained or lost by the move, 55 percent of the same sample stated
that they had lost-economically, in terms of quality of life, or in other
Whatever the exact range of opinion, it
is clear that a significant minority of rural-dwellers in some places and
a majority in others did not or do not want to live in the settlement sites.52
According to the current policy, they have no choice and if they do not
now live in the settlements, they will sooner or later have to move there.
Some who are dissatisfied protest the way
the policy was imposed by national officials without consulting those most
affected by it. One person remarked:
People don't see the advantages
of the imidugudu although there have been a lot of
"persuasion" meetings with local and higher
government authorities. It is being
imposed on us. We have nothing to say.
It has been decided, that's it. . . .
The authorities did an opinion poll [in
the northwest], so they know people don't want this,
especially with no means to build new
homes. . . . They say there are
many problems here: not enough schools,
poverty, sickness. Now they are creating
yet another problem. Now we will settle
in plastic sheeting. . . . After all these
meetings, I don't know if I'll ever really
understand why they made this policy. We
have a tradition of living apart, having
our own space. To move to imidugudu, we find that harassment.53
Others are most concerned about the
economic losses connected with the relocation. Homeowners or renters who
had improved their previous residences lost their investment when they
abandoned these homes to move to imidugudu. Those who took mortgages to
build or improve their houses are supposed to continue paying their debt
although they are no longer permitted to reside in the houses. At the same
time the large number of persons who received little or no assistance must
find money or materials for the new construction. Some had to pay officials
in order to receive what they consider to be a desirable place in the umudugudu.
Some had to give up all or part of their fields to serve as sites for the
Most residents still live primarily if
not solely from the produce of their fields and worry about getting to
their land, maintaining its fertility, and protecting the crops. One study
concluded that imidugudu residents now must travel about 2 kilometers or
over one mile further to reach their fields than when they lived in their
previous homes. The time and energy needed to travel the additional distance
each day must be subtracted from the resources t
hat the cultivator can devote to his or
Cultivators say that the greater distance from home to fields makes it
impractical to continue the well-established practice of using household
waste to fertilize the land. They worry too that being distant from their
fields makes it impossible to protect the crops against animals or thieves
who could come at night to steal the harvest. One poor woman widowed during
the genocide said, "My field is the land where my parents lived, about
thirty minutes away from here. Thieves now steal the crops I planted there."56
Many who lived from the land also raised
livestock at their old homes, at least chickens and rabbits, if not the
more valuable goats, sheep, pigs or cattle. Because imidugudu allot such
small parcels of land, many now find it impossible to keep farm animals.57
One man from Cyangugu explained that in his previous residence, he and
his family owned some small livestock which formed their reserve to deal
with unexpected needs, such as repairing the house. This they no longer
Some residents have expressed worries about
hygiene and disease. Many imidugudu lack latrines, clean water, and health
According to UNDP studies, the country-wide average distance from home
to clean water is 1.2 kilometers while residents in some imidugudu in Byumba
and Cyangugu must walk between 20 and 25 kilometers to find water. Similarly,
the national average distance from home to health facility is 4.6 kilometers,
but residents in some imidugudu must travel more than 8 kilometers for
the most basic health assistance and more than 20 kilometers to a health
With people living in such close proximity, diseases can spread rapidly.
In one umudugudu in Cyangugu, twenty-seven people fell seriously ill the
same day and all had to be hospitalized.61
One man who now lives in an umudugudu situated in a dry, barren stretch
of the southeast commented, "Life in the umudugudu is all right, except
for the sun, hunger, and sickness."62
Many who did not initially oppose the habitat
policy have since become dissatisfied with the way it has been implemented.
Officials promised that imidugudu residents would have greater access to
basic services and would be well-placed to benefit from new efforts at
economic development. Such has not been the case for most. According to
a study by UNDP, 81 percent of the sites still lacked water in late 1999.63
Another study concluded that among the imidugudu residents sampled, the
average person must travel some four kilometers or nearly two and a half
miles further to reach fields, school, water and source of firewood than
when he or she lived in his or her previous home.64
One resident of Bicumbi commune, Kigali-rural
prefecture, expressed his discontent:
We have been here [in the umudugudu]
for seven months. . . . But for my family, the situation is not good. Our
field is very far. The cows [belonging to others] come and ruin our crops.
We have no water. They said that life in the umudugudu would be extraordinary-with
water, school, electricity, a good road! But here we are under plastic
sheeting. They promised houses but I see nothing. You find me under this
sheeting with holes in it that the rain comes through.65
In August 1999 the Catholic bishops
wrote the Rwandan president to protest against the use of force in moving
people to the sites, but this criticism was not made public.66
Although the press occasionally published information about individuals
who have suffered from the policy, it rarely aired more general opposition.
When rural-dwellers spoke against forced movement to imidugudu in their
own communities, they were sometimes punished, as described below. In an
exceptional case in August 2000, people in Kibungo profited from the rare
visit of President Kagame to their area to complain about the habitat policy.
Their comments were heard on national radio, perhaps encouraging further
criticism. In October, the radio broadcast a meeting during which one person
took to task members of the national commission on unity and reconciliation
and the national human rights commission. He remarked that people in Kibungo
were forced to leave comfortable homes and to go live under plastic sheeting
in imidugudu and asked if these national human rights defenders found this
"normal," meaning acceptable. A commission member replied that they had
no legal powers to halt abuses and could act only by denouncing abuses.
He did not explain why the commission had not yet publicly denounced abuses
related to rural reorganization.67
Small numbers of insurgents who appeared
again in the northwest in 2000 tried in one case to increase popular resentment
and fear of the imidugudu. When they attacked in Rwerere commune, Gisenyi
prefecture, in May 2000, they launched a mortar at an umudugudu and they
left tracts accusing the Rwandan government of regrouping Hutu in "concentration
camps" in order to "eliminate" them.68
Rather than openly opposing the habitat
policy, most Rwandans who found it unjust treated it as one more burden
to be endured. "You can't expect us to sleep with an empty stomach and
then have the strength to complain," said a Tutsi widow whose husband was
slaughtered in 1994. "We need to deal with living in the umudugudu just
like we deal with losing members of our family."69
Anonymous, "Imidugudu," pp. 15, 24.
United Nations. Economic and Social Council. Commission on Human Rights.
"Report on the situation of human rights in Rwanda submitted by the Special
Representative, Mr. Michel Moussalli, pursuant to Commission resolution
1999/20," E/CN.4/2000/41, February 25, 2000, p. 32. It is not specified
if all the remaining 59 percent favored a move or if they expressed other
Ibid, pp. 32-33.
Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de la Personne
et des Libertés Publiques (ADL), Etude sur la Situation des Droits
Humains dans les Villages Imidugudu (Kigali, 2000), pp. 37, 42. Hereafter
cited as ADL, Etude.
In addition to data presented below, see Hilhorst and van Leeuwen, "Villagisation
in Rwanda,"pp. 35, 43 and Rwandan Initiative for Sustainable Development
(RISD), "Land Use and Villagisation in Rwanda," September 1999, paragraph
3.3.1. Hereafter cited as RISD, "Land Use."
Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, December 3, 1999
Human Rights Watch interviews, Karago, Gisenyi, October 30, 1999; RISD,
"Land Use," paragraph 22.214.171.124. For the issue of land appropriated for housing
sites, see below.
ADL, Etude, p. 32.
Human Rights Watch interview, Muhazi, Kibungo, November 30, 1999; also
interviews at Nkumba commune, Ruhengeri, November 18, 1999; Mutura commune,
Gisenyi, November 22, 1999; Umutara, March 16, 2000; Bicumbi, Kigali-rural,
March 17,2000; and Cyimbogo, Cyangugu, May 16, 2000.
ADL, Etude, p. 37.
Human Rights Watch interview, Cyimbogo, Cyangugu, May 16, 2000.
Human Rights Watch interviews, Rutonde, Kibungo, April 15, 1999.
Common Country Assessment, Working Paper no. 3, Resettlement and Reintegration,
January 2000, p. 12. (Hereafter cited as CCA Working Paper.)
Human Rights Watch interview, Cyimbogo, Cyangugu, May 16, 2000.
Human Rights Watch interview, Nyarubuye, Kibungo, June 23, 2000
PNUD, Rapport, p. 18; Human Rights Watch interviews, Nyamugali,
Ruhengeri, November 18, 1999.
ADL, Etude, p. 32.
Human Rights Watch interview, Bicumbi, Kigali-rural, March 17, 2000.
Human Rights Watch interview, Gisenyi, December 8, 1999.
Radio Rwanda, "Kubaza Bitera Kumenya," October 8, 2000
Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 5, 6, and 7, 2000.
Human Rights Watch interview, Muhazi, Kibungo, November 25, 1999.