Will anyone battle these little village gods? Anyone at all?

I’m sorely tempted to write about the arrival (finally) deported linguist, Leon Mugesera. I was avidly observing his legal gymnastics in the Canadian court system and, truth be told, I was kind of impressed by his sheer refusal to face the music. Here was man who simply refused to take “no” for an answer. His stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds are lessons to us all; ‘don’t rest until you get what you want’. Of course, we should cleave too closely to his moral beliefs though. After all, this was a man who thought that it was smart to attempt to make long distance swimmers of a huge part of this country’s population. I mean, didn’t he know that the vast majority of us will drown in a kiddy pool, never mind the mighty Nyabarongo River? Throw in the fact that it would have been physically impossible to swim all the way to Ethiopia, even if you were the long child of US Olympic legend Micheal Phelps and South African Penny Heynes, and you have a man who was ripe for the looney bin. All I can say to him, as he contemplates the four walls of his holding cell is this, “thank whatever god you pray to that Rwandans aren’t as mean and vindictive as you were to them. Plus, this you can look at this return, forced or not, in a positive way; at least you won’t have to suffer the truly awful Canadian winters you’ve inflicted on your tired, old body. Our sunshine will surely warm your heart and tan your skin.

So, that’s enough about Mugesera. In the grand scheme of things, his return doesn’t really change much for a muturage (villager) in Kirehe District. But when ‘little god’ (local authority leader) refuses to execute a court decision granting or returning land to a small landowner, it becomes a life changing event.

Reading the Sunday Times, I learnt that residents of Nyarubuye Sector, Kayonza District voiced their frustration to the Eastern Province Governor Odette Uwamariya over the refusal of local leaders to execute court rulings, especially when it comes to land disputes. As I read the article, bile rising in my throat, I was taken a few years back when, as a law student at the National University of Rwanda, I dealt with village issues during Clinique Juridique.

This ‘Clinique’ or legal clinic helped us budding lawyers deal with real issues instead of fictional ones, while it helped baturage, unable to pay for legal advice, to pick the brains of the next generation of Rwandan legal eagles. I remember a case that absolutely drove me insane.

An elderly widow went to court to force an unruly neighbor off her property. The fellow, with a smile and wink from some little god, loped off a piece of the old woman’s land and started cultivating crops on it, all the while cutting and selling off the trees on her land. Because she had supporting documents and plenty of witnesses she easily won the case. The judges ruled that she was well within her rights to demand her land back, with damages as well.

When the poor woman went back to her village, which was quite a distance from the district court, she was astonished to find that the local leaders, who actually act as court bailiffs, refused to act on the decision. No matter what she did, she was frustrated at every turn and, finally at the end of her tether, she walked for over ten hours to Butare town where we were holding the legal clinic. It was up to the good people of the Faculty of Law to give the old lady some justice. Me ,in particular. As she told me her story I could barely believe what she was telling me was true. After I ascertained that she was being truthful, the Faculty penned a letter to the offending local leader, demanding that he do his job, and sent her on her way. A week later, she was back. The local leader told her, and I remember what he said word for word, that “only President Kagame could make me do anything. What will the University do”? What hurt me the most was that he was right. No one was going to spend precious fuel driving to Nyaruguru to solve a little, old woman’s problem.

I don’t have solutions to this issue, and honestly it isnt my job. Someone better though. Land issues can actually lead to conflict, something we’ve honestly had too much of.

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