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Assessment for Ngbandi in the Dem. Rep. of the Congo

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Ngbandi in the Dem. Rep. of the Congo, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Dem. Rep. of the Congo Facts
Area:    2,345,410 sq. km.
Capital:    Kinshasa
Total Population:    49,000,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Because of the relative isolation of the Ngbandi in the vast forests of the northwest, they have not been affected by the horrific violence that has plagued the DRC since the beginning of "Africa's First World War," which has pitted the government forces of Laurent and now Joseph Kabila, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. There is currently no evidence suggesting that political organizations supporting Ngbandi interests are making a pitch for national power, nor is there recent substantiation of protest or rebellion in the Equateur province (PROT98-03 = 0; REB98-03 = 0). Yet, the legacy of Mobutu still remains intact within the DRC, and although Equateur has been relatively quiet, even in these times of great upheaval, the future is uncertain for the Ngbandi. This relative quiet comes on the heels of the usurpation of power from Mobutu, a member of the Ngbandi tribe, by Kabila in 1997 with the help of Rwanda and Uganda.

Analytic Summary

The Ngbandi of the DRC live mainly in the Equateur Province in northwestern Zaire (GROUPCON = 3). They speak a language of the same name (LANG = 1), and the Ngbandi traditional homeland spills over porous borders into the neighboring Central African Republic. The Ngbandi had little influence within the colonial Zairian social structure, but gained favoritism from 1965 to 1997, when Zaire was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko, who was a Ngbandi from Gbadolite and the head of the army under Zaire's first president. Under Mobutu, the Ngbandi could be classified as a political elite because of their strong association with the President. When Mobutu came to power, he favored his own ethnic group, and the Ngbandi were disproportionately represented in the elite Special Presidential Division (DSP) that acted as Mobutu's personal security force. While the remaining and largest segment of the military was comprised of many other ethnic groups, they were generally underpaid and undisciplined.

Historically, the peoples of the far North, including the Ngbandi, have stood on the sidelines during competitions that characterized the pre- and post-indepence eras between larger ethnic groups. Living far removed from urban centers and exposed to missionaries and modern education later than much of the rest of the country, they have only recently become involved in the political and economic affairs of Zaire. The exception to this has been their participation in Mobutu's armed forces.

Until Mobutu's fall in May 1997, the Ngbandi could be classified as a political elite in Zaire because of their strong association with the President. When Mobutu came to power, he felt the need to be surrounded by loyal soldiers, and members of his own ethnic group were favored for these positionsand thus, the Ngbandi were disproportionately represented in the elite Special Presidential Division (DSP) which acted as Mobutu's personal security force. Existing under the patronage of Mobutu, the DSP was well-paid and well-looked after. The rest of the national forces under Mobutu, on the other hand, were made up of many other ethnic groups and were underpaid and undisciplined. The national forces engaged in rioting on several occasions in response to the government's inability to pay them.

Mobutu also arranged access to higher education to favor people from his own region of Equateur. Under Mobutu's system, each region could send only a certain number of their students to university. Each region had the same number of entries to the university available, so regions such as Equateur, which is sparsely populated, were favored, while regions that are densely populated, such as Bas-Zaire, were at a disadvantage.

Mobutu's rule was based on bonds of personal loyalty between himself and his close followers who included members of the MPR (Popular Revolutionary Party), which was, for a long time, Zaire's only legal political party, and certain key people in his security forces. His control over the government was absolute, and institutions were of little consequence in explaining how power was distributed. He managed to retain the loyalty of the DSP and other key military units, which allowed him to continue to rule. The DSP was first trained by the Israeli military in 1983 and it was responsible for several attacks against Mobutu's opposition, including the killing of students in Lubumbashi in Shaba Province in 1990 and blowing up the opposition presses of Elima in 1991. It was known for its fierceness and for using excessive violence. The DSP was also accused of using torture. Its forces numbered between 7000-10000.

When political power was seized by Laurent Kabila in 1997, decades of Ngbandi dominance in the special forces ended, as did their political supremacy (POLDIS03 = 3; ECDIS03 = 0). Although one would suspect that the Ngbandi past as Mobutu's loyal soldiers would have subjected them to harsh government repression, this was largely avoided as the Ngbandi complied when Kabila called for the former government soldiers to put down their arms and surrender peacefully. For more recent years, there is simply not enough specific information available to speculate on potential repressionary tactics (REP98-03 = 0 for all categories, although Amnesty International provides general information claiming repression in Equateur Province).


African Research Bulletin Political, Social and Cultural Series. 1980-1994. Published monthly in Exeter, England.

United States Department of State. "Congo, Democratic Republic of the: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Various resources Lexis/Nexis (through 2003). News reports from Africa News, BBC, Reuters...

Zaire: Collapsing Under Crisis. February 1994. Amnesty International.

Zaire, A Country Study. 1994. Published by American University for the U.S. Government.

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