DRC: ideological lock on decentralized governance

The Belgian Congo was an amalgam of peoples united by colonialism between 1984 and 1960, now called” ethnic” or” tribes”. To organize these people by matting them, colonialism created ” native” zones. Colonialist cut up the DRC’s territory into three levels: ”Provinces” (level 1), ”Districts” (level 2) and ”Territories” (level 3), directly responsible for supervising those created ”native zones”.

But there was another subdivision if the territory – that of the Catholic Church – into ”ecclesiastical districts” responsible for penetrating ”native souls to make them bondsmen to thank you and at the service of colonization. The Catholic Church was intimately bound to colonialism. This approach called” Indigenous Policy” has not been replaced by any Community policy in this postcolonial time’. Now, there are ”Terrible ambiguities” within the ”decentralized governance” of the territory which are blocking any endogenous development in DRC.

Table 1: The politico-administrative subdivision in 1997

Congo en 1997

1. Indigenous zones of the colonial era

Today, these pre-colonial peoples are wrongly called” ethnic” or” tribes” according to their traditions and language. The Congolese people today is composed of hundreds of ethnic groups – some say that there are 200, 250, 400 or 450 groups forming Congolese people. If we take into account ”specific groups” in those” people” we could reach 1000 ”ethnic groups” or” tribes”. Currently, we readily speak of ”Congolese communities”.

Sometimes, it is used some notions – without nuance – like ”Bantu”, ”Sudanese”, ”Nilotic” and ”Pygmy” to define geographical, linguistic or morphological groups! This classification falls mainly a poor scientific heritage due to intellectual inadequacies of colonialism of our communities at he early nineteenth century. It is often – now – used to rank linguistic groups but in – colonial era – the purpose was to divide African people.

The least we can say human Congo is a multi- community of people !

The colonialist Belgium created native zones by organizing pre-colonial peoples trough in skintight manner ! The mission of supervising Congolese communities of those indigenous zones was vested to ”Territorial boards” composed of white people and black junior staff, their ”agents”. Indigenous of those ”constituencies” were thus organized under the supervision of ”Territory”, ”Districts” and ”Provinces”, all of them in the hands of leaders, convinced in their mission of colonization !

In fact, the ’’native zone’’ was the lower administrative unit of any administrative organization of the Belgian Congo. But colonialist trick was enacted as follows:” The native districts feature an organic structure that respects and recognizes the traditional political and social organization to the extent consistent with the evolution and the deep aspirations of the population.”

Indigenous Districts were threefold:

  • • The ”Chiefdom”was organized on the basis of the traditional custom group. The chief was appointed by custom and invested by the District Commissioner.
  • • The ”Sector” was an administrative district formed by the union of traditional custom groups, but each of them numerically too weak to be ”harmoniously” developed in all aspects. The chief was appointed by the District Commissioner among those leaders or out of hem .
  • • The ”Extra Customary Centre” was an administrative zone formed by people grouped around towns but not organized on the basis of a traditional custom and which were sufficient to be taken in account! The Chief was appointed by the District Commissioner among members of the Board of the Centre.

The African civilization norm of ”clan solidarity” was turned into a technique of minimizing social costs of management of indigenous peoples. It became a social security mechanism …in a context of extreme hardship for people.

For Baadikko Mammadu, ”The native chiefdoms and sub-chiefdoms were established to serve as transmission belts for Administration. The system, inspired by the British policy of” indirect rule”, rose very effective. Indeed, it allowed the colonizer to control a vast territory with a minimum intake of financial and human resources. Until 1940, there were in the Congo altogether eight-six hundred Belgian colonial administrators from Belgium”. Today, this colonial policy of ” economic” development has not been replaced by a community development policy in the DRC.

2. Catholic Church intimately linked to the colonial state

The Catholic church was closely linked to the colonial state:” The mission activity is directly and exclusively to hasten the progress of the indigenous society by giving people the true meaning of life and improving their moral condition and material. Also, the consistent policy of the colonial administration has been elaborated to support the work of missions and promote its expansion” [2].

Thus, two types of territorial division existed in the Belgian Congo, the Catholic Church fixed – more or less – to endogenous realities of black people and the colonial government based on colonial and exogenous concerns ! To understand the scope of the question, we must analyze with detail the role of religious missions in the Belgian Congo in relation to ”native zones”!

The colonial state was supposed to be neutral in terms of religion. Legal texts and agreements such as the General Act of Berlin of February 1885, the Colonial Charter and the Convention of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of 10 September 1910 were edited to guarantee freedom for all religions in the Congo.

The relationship between the colonial state and the Catholic missions had been governed by a special agreement with the Holy See on 26 May 1906. And since 1929, the Holy See was represented in the Congo. But in fact, a strong alliance was made between the colonial government and Catholic religious missions. And the colonial government was only conceived as a territorial organization to accomplish all ing ” economist”, not to supervise actions of true development of Congo and its ”Districts” and ”Territories”.

In 1956, there were 567 Catholic stations served by 2,167 European missionaries and 314 native priests. Note that there was at the same time 255 Protestant stations served by 587 pastors and 925 European and American missionaries and 1,003 members of indigenous religious personnel. A population of 12,843,574 and a non-Congolese Congolese population of 107,413 residents, there were 3,902,334 Catholics and 667,436 catechumens, with bonus 704 European brothers and 104 indigenous brothers and 2,449 nuns and religious 606 European natives.

Many works (education of youth, education, medical care, lutte against epidemic and endemic diseases, ..) were held by Catholic missions. In principle, the missionary associations obtained legal personality to better ensure the stability of their work and better manage their assets. The realization of these works and the acquisition of assets required a detailed knowledge of the manners and customs of indigenous peoples and a permanent and ever-depth monitoring of the black soul.

To do this, the Congo was divided into 36 ecclesiastical districts and Catholic church had freely fixed their boundaries and designated their holders (Apostolic Vicars and Prefects) Now, those ecclesiastical districts are – more or less- ”independent dioceses” of Congo. Today, there are 47 in the DRC.

.Colonial ecclesiastical districts were actually set according to ethnic and sociological realities and in view of evangelization in local tribal languages as a task of ideological control of indigenous in DRC. This is why the Catholic missions were effective aids to the administration of colonial “districts” “territories”.

In fact, the Catholic Church held the black soul of the people and the colonial administration took their bodies in a colonialist exploitation symbiosis. Today, there is an urgent need for the state to regain the function of conciliation of souls and bodies, but in a dynamic collective autonomy and endogenous development!

Today, only the Vatican – to which heads of dioceses routinely send all current information on the Congolese authorities – has a perfect knowledge – comprehensive and detailed – on our local realities! Why Congolese governments prevent to themselves to get it ? Mystery ! National policy makers and local people should be the political recipient of these collected information : essential information to local decentralized governance.

3. The fault of the Administration of the Territory postcolonial era

In 1956, the Belgian Congo was divided into six provinces headed by governors, each assisted by two provincial commissioners and provincial secretary. Any major metropolitan area could be erected in the city, divided into communes, Sometimes, common areas were schedules.

The provinces were – overall – subdivided into 26 districts which – in turn – were subdivided into 141 politico-administrative entities called ” Territories”! In fact, today, these are the” colonial” districts that are considered as future provinces and recognized in the Constitution of 18 February 2006. So they all date – almost – of the colonial era! Without the former political dimension of the colonial Catholic Church !

We should take into account ethnic groups, risk of having tribal provinces (1960-1964) and their economic viability ! If we only take into account the fiscal variable, there will have huge provinces whose administration will be to distant from administered people (1967-2014) !

It is therefore important to create a ”mix” of several criteria, including local language, demographic and economic viability of the administrative entity and sociological affinities of people … as envisaged by the Commission of Political Divisions during of the Round Table held at Leopoldville in February 1961

The main permissive condition of such decentralized governance is a certain homogeneity of language in a given territorial entity. That is why we must be ”innovative” by accepting the principle of creating a new configuration of territorial entities !

Failing to identify and implement a relevant sociological criterion for territorial division of the Congo to clarify consciences and for greater transparency with respect to the actors themselves, it has been developed political behaviors here summarized in the table below.

Table 1: Influence of maladministration on political leadership

Ideplogical lock


DRC is living in a structural organizational chaos at the level of its local governance and knows a huge blocking of its endogenous development due to a lack of effective administration of its vast territory.

Jean Munyampenda, Economist

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