Assessment for Ngbandi in the Dem. Rep. of the Congo
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 then 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. Subsequently, the Ngbandi lack key factors indicating a risk for rebellion, such as past protest, group organization and governmental repression. However, they do exhibit several factors that have potential for putting the group at risk such as territorial concentration and a lack of regime stability.
The group has not carried out protest in the recent past, but does faces a new and unstable democratic regime coupled with recent repression, namely a wave of arrests of Ngbandi members in 2004.
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.
The Ngbandi of the DRC live mainly in the Equateur Province in northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo and are thought to have descended from Sudanese groups (GROUPCON = 3). They speak a language of the same name, but also speak Lingala as a second language (LANG = 1). 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 favor from 1965 to 1997, when Zaire was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko, who was 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 felt the need to be surrounded by loyal soldiers and consequently, he favored his own ethnic group by recruiting the Ngbandi disproportionately for his elite Special Presidential Division (DSP and the intelligence sector). The DSP 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. This disparity led the national forces to engage in rioting on several occasions.
Historically, the peoples of the far North, including the Ngbandi, have stood on the sidelines during competitions that characterized the pre- and post-independence 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 the DRC. The exception to this has been their participation in Mobutu's armed forces.
Mobutu also arranged access to higher education in a way that would favor people from his own region of Equateur. Under Mobutu’s system, each region could send only a finite number of their students to university. Each region had the same number of entries to the university available regardless of overall population. Therefore, regions such as Equateur, which is sparsely populated, were favored, while regions that are densely populated, such as Bas-Zaire, were at a disadvantage. Despite this remedial policy favoring the Équateur inhabitants, few sent students to the universities due in part to geographic isolation from the universities.
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, whose forces numbered between 7000-10000, was first trained by the Israeli military in 1983 and was responsible for several attacks against Mobutu's opposition. Some of the organization’s attacks include the killing of students in Lubumbashi in Shaba Province in 1990 and the explosion of the opposition presses of Elima in 1991. It was known for its fierceness and for using excessive violence as well as having been accused of using torture.
When political power was seized by Laurent Kabila in 1997, decades of Ngbandi dominance in the special forces ended, as did their political supremacy (POLDIS06 = 3; ECDIS06 = 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 upon former government soldiers to put down their arms and surrender peacefully. In more recent years, there is only one recorded incidence of repression in which around 200 Ngbandi were arrested on suspicion of having attacked civilians (REPVIOL04 = 3). Other acts of government repression have not been specific to the Ngbandi in recent years but only to the region of Équateur.
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