Peacebuilding in Rwanda through Planned Settlements – Part 1

Photo: It is the middle stages of an IDP being built; taken by author.

To truly grasp the extent of control the Rwandan government has on its population is difficult.  Traveling through Kigali and more remote parts of the country for three weeks this summer, I am struck by the outward portrayal of the country, but also try my hardest to be deeply critical of the façade it paints for me.  The politics of Rwanda are complex and nothing about the country’s reported progress in creating lasting peace is black and white.  The country once dominated by Tutsi/Hutu dialogue is now absent of discussions around ethnicity.  In fact, to identify or mention either of the two ethnicities outside of the government approved narrative can bring about charges of trying to incite ethnic divisions, and any questioning or critique of government policies are forbidden.  In an effort to create positive peace, the current Tutsi-led government claims to be blind to ethnicity, and post-genocide reconciliation rhetoric provides little recognition of the vast array of experiences from 1994 through the aftermath of the genocide.  Genocide survivorship status is only granted to Tutsis, although hundreds of thousands of Hutu were also victims in the 1994 genocide.  This status offers benefits to only a small portion of the population and national narratives create a “victors truth” by keeping Tutsi victimhood at the forefront, but subtly and consistently implicates the role of Hutus as the sole perpetrators.  The political control and ethnic considerations are imperative to understand while conducting research in Rwanda.  This summer, I am examining the very political allocation of resources from the government to its rural population via the Integrated Development Program.  This program, known as the IDP Model Villages program, is quickly becoming one of the biggest rural resettlement programs in Africa, and is one of the purported solutions to a number of factors that currently affect the country.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 promotes that at least 70% of households living in rural areas to settle in integrated viable settlements by 2024.  These planned settlements (IDPs) are intended to offer increased economic opportunities, favor rational land use and management, and accelerate servicing with basic social economic and physical infrastructures in rural areas.   The emphasis on land management in Rwanda is especially important as population density is the highest in Africa, yet the vast majority of the population relies on its land for sustenance and economic viability.

Coupled with the need for land management is a desire by the government to lift the poorest and most vulnerable population out of poverty.  The government uses “Home Grown Solutions” that include a categorization system known locally as ubudehe to ensure the most vulnerable residents (widowed, orphan, disabled, survivors of the genocide) receive government support and resources.  These resources may include, metal sheeting for roofs, subsidized or free seeds for fields, free health insurance, water storage tanks, and sometimes even a small plot of land or housing materials if their current structure is unsafe or built in a location in danger of the frequent rainy season floods and/or mud slides.

The combination of addressing poverty and land use come together in the building of IDP model villages.   Model villages are grouped settlements where 20-100 families are provided a 2-3 bedroom home (often with water, electricity, gas), a garden, as well as social and economic amenities such as markets, schools, clinics, churches and a cow. All of this is contingent upon the new residents unquestioning compliance to move off of their land and out of their former homes when told to do so by their local leaders – often based on their ubudehe category or the vulnerability of their home to natural disaster.  But is the population truly getting the amenities and resources that the program intends and reports to be providing?  How are these villages being distributed in Tutsi dominated areas versus Hutu dominated areas of the country and why?

My field research began with a week of meetings in the capital of Kigali where I was able to meet with the head of the nation’s rural resettlement program as well as officials in the Rwandan Housing Authority, Ministry of Infrastructure, Ministry of Local Government as well as officials in the US Embassy and the US Agency for International Development.   Here I was able to better understand the government-led narrative of what was trying to be accomplished in the IDP program. However, the stated goals coupled with the government’s reported success stories left me wondering if the outputs and outcomes reported by the government married up with what was happening on the ground.  In 1999, Human Rights Watch[1] reported the mass forced relocations of people across Rwanda as the first villagization policies were implemented.  Was this still the case?  Who were the beneficiaries of this program and how is this contributing to sustainable peace?


[1] Uprooting the Rural Poor. Human Rights Watch Report 1999.

Author: Tara Heidger is a 2018 AC4 Graduate Student Fellow pursuing a dual degree with a M.S. in Urban Planning (at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation), and a M.I.A. in International Affairs (at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs). Tara’s research focuses on the Rwandan government’s efforts to resettle its rural farming population into grouped settlements following the 1994 genocide. By way of historical research as well as interviews and observations from field research, her project aims to determine the level of ownership and participation resettled persons feel as they move(d) into new communities. 

Read Peacebuilding in Rwanda through Planned Settlements, Part 2.

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