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A Surveyor in Rwanda
Monday, 28 May 2012 Written by Žana Hrkač

A Surveyor in Rwanda - Žana HrkačAs a member of the Surveyor Society of Herceg-Bosna, during my trip to Rwanda I was also curious about survey work in that country. I found out that, essentially, there are hardly any differences from European, i.e. Croatian, measurement and surveying methods, except that we are technologically more advanced.

Real-estate ownership is registered in the cadastre the same way, and it’s always been known who the owner of what was, so even there it’s impossible to buy any real-estate without the registered document.

The procedure is the same: you submit a request for the surveyor to get out on the field and do the preliminary work for construction or registration of new ownership. After that, and after all the necessary fees have been paid (which are not small, considering their living standards), you receive the deed. All disputes, if they cannot be resolved differently, are resolved in court. Most surveyors are private practice and not associated with any particular municipality.

One thing that caught my attention was the fact that (except in just one place) there were no cemeteries to be found anywhere. I was taken aback a bit when they told me that Rwandans don’t bury their dead in cemeteries. In their culture, they consider that to be “other people’s” land, so when a person dies, he or she is buried on his or her own land. The Rwandan authorities are currently trying to bring some order to that, so they are donating state-owned land for the creation of communal cemeteries.

I was fascinated with the way they parcelled the hills in that small but beautiful country. Parcels are narrow but long, and with that they try to tackle the problem of erosion (i.e. the washing-away of soil due to heavy rains), so that planted crops can grow, even during the dry season. It only takes one look at it to see the amount of work necessary to accomplish this. Let me remind you that, in Rwanda, everything is done by hand and hoe. I haven’t seen a single “cultivator,” let alone a tractor. Parcelling was first begun by late fra Vjeko Ćurić before the Rwandan genocide, not far from the friary in Kivumu.

After the genocide, some parcels were allotted to widows – the genocide and AIDS had ruined many families. I don’t know where fra Vjeko got the idea, but very soon the same practice of hill cultivation was introduced throughout Rwanda. To me they look like stairways to heaven. Rwanda is a land of many water springs; although there is plenty of water, it is unusable due to soil composition. Fra Vjeko brought water to the village from a nearby source by building a waterworks system. However, the capacity does not meet the current needs of the inhabitants. I have to point out that water is brought to reservoirs by free-fall, so there is no need for pumps or generators.

Roads consist of a series of climbs and descents with extended sidewalks because they have lots of pedestrians and cyclists. Due to heavy rains and, of course, the terrain, the drains on the roadsides (especially at the high points) are a bit deeper than ours. Only the main roads are paved and the moment you get off them it’s all dirt. It’s the same in somewhat better parts of Kigali, where only the main road is paved and the side-roads to villages are dirt.

Most houses are quadrangle-shaped and so a real treat for surveyors – four points and that’s it! I haven’t seen any parcel boundaries except on the rice fields. Of course, there are places - the poor slums - where surveyors have never set their foot, and so it’s all “illegal construction.” Talking to fra Ivica, I learned that the Rwandan government gave a three-month deadline to one of Kigali’s neighbourhoods; the entire population had to move out of their shabby houses and was given property outside the city with money to build new homes for themselves. All the new houses were identical because plans for them were also supplied by the government.

Along the road to the Akagera National Park (to the east) I noticed that electric poles were not aligned, but went astray; a little bit to the left, then a little bit to the right, and so on. I was told that the reason for that was either property rights (i.e. people didn’t allow poles to be placed on their land) or just pure ignorance on behalf of those who did the measuring. You should have seen it!

In Akagera National Park, concrete pyramids mark the boundary between the national park and privately-owned land.  If you take a look at the map of Rwanda, you’ll notice that almost one third of the land belongs to national parks and, therefore, is under government control. The population of around 11 million, packed into a country half the size of Nova Scotia, leaves very little arable land. The national park itself is heaven for nature lovers. To see all those animals in their natural habitats is priceless. I doubt that I’ll be able to look at zoo animals through the same eyes again.

Due to such a short stay in Rwanda, I have given only tiny details of what I was able to learn or notice by myself. The land of thousand hills and a million smiles, as well as a land of numerous contradictions, has given me a sense of security and enjoyment of an untouched nature. When I returned to Croatia, I understood the meaning of the words: “my Africa”!

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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