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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Bakongo in Angola

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Angola Facts
Area:    1,246,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Luanda
Total Population:    10,865,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Bakongo have factors that encourage rebellion: a history of rebellion (the civil war ended in 2002) and an unstable democratic regime. Previously, serious armed conflicts in the area also contributed to regional instability. However, since the 2002 ceasefire, there has been no evidence of serious rebellion carried out by the Bakongo nor of repression against the group. Factors that could further inhibit rebellion include efforts made towards the implementation of the ceasefire agreement that was signed in 2002 and transnational support for peace. In addition, there is immense war-weariness among Angolans.

The probability of protest will increase if political and economic discrimination remain. Though levels of repression fell in 2003 in the aftermath of the civil war, it is possible that the authoritarian regime will revert to its earlier ways. Elections in 2008, the first since 2002, were described as chaotic. The ruling MPLA is currently the only group in the country capable of organizing and winning an electoral contest, which they did with nearly 82 percent of the vote. Continued underrepresentation of the Bakongo, whose party is UNITA, may increase tensions given UNITA’s recent history of rebellion prior to 2002. An unstable democratization process might create conditions ripe for protest. Most importantly, if the chronic poverty in the resource-rich country is not addressed, the probability of renewed conflict will rise.


Analytic Summary

NOTE: The Bakongo in Cabinda are coded separately as Cabindans.

The Kikongo-speaking Bakongo are the third largest ethnic group in Angola, and they populate mainly the northern regions of Cabinda, Zaire, and Uige. The Bakongo have migrated throughout Angola, Zaire, and Congo during periods of rebellion and repression from the 17th century to the present. They have kin in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa). When Europeans reached Angola in the 15th century, the Bakongo had a centralized kingdom, the Kongo Empire. The kings of the Kongo maintained an uneasy independence until 1665 when the Portuguese defeated them. The Kongolese submitted to Portuguese rule and the Portuguese henceforth controlled appointments to the Kongo throne. As a result of war and internal dislocation, there has been a considerable amount of integration among the different groups. Nevertheless, they are distinct in terms of language (LANG = 2)

In the mid-20th century, the Bakongo established the Union of Angolan Peoples (UPA) whose original aim was to unite all the Bakongo people in one state. Eventually, the UPA dropped the goal of a separate state for the Bakongo people and adopted a goal of independence for all Angolan peoples. UNITA, supported by the Ovimbundu people, and MPLA, supported by the Mbundu people, also fought for independence from the Portuguese. The Bakongo people were active participants of the Angolan independence struggle and the UPA became the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) in 1962. Much of the FNLA's traditional Bakongo constituency, however, fled into Zaire during the war for independence.

Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. With the ascendancy of the MPLA after independence, both the Bakongo and the Ovimbundu were discriminated against. More important than systematic, group-specific discrimination was the fact that the government ruled by patronage -- and met its match in Jonas Savimibi, the charismatic leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola or UNITA. The UNITA-MPLA civil war broke out shortly after independence and continued until Savimibi’s death in February 2002 (GOJPA06 = 2).

By the late 1970s, the FNLA was unable to continue its guerrilla activity because of lack of popular support outside the northern regions. By 1979, the fighting was concentrated away from the northern homelands of the Bakongo, and many of those who had fled to Zaire returned home. As the FNLA became less important and eventually virtually defunct, the Bakongo came to be associated with UNITA.

Angola has been ruled by a Portuguese-speaking urban elite descended from Portuguese and Dutch buccaneers who came down the coast hundreds of years ago. Most of them are of mixed-race descent. Savimbi alleged that these elite were not real Africans. His belief that Angola belonged to black Africans resonated with both his own Ovimbundu tribe and other Angolans, including the Bakongo. Over time, the civil war in Angola became a function of both the Cold War and the machinations and ambitions of Savimbi and the leaders of the ruling government. The Bakongo, like other Angolans, became trapped in a vicious cycle of unending violence and destruction.

Because of the impact of the civil war, the situation of the Bakongo in Angola is difficult to determine. However, it is almost certain that large numbers of Bakongo were internally displaced because of the conflict prior to 2002. However, following the ceasefire, there has been no evidence of new displacements (DISPLACE04-06 = 0). In the absence of remedial policies, it is difficult to see how they would get access to the civil service, military/police and high office. However, little evidence exists on policies of systematic discrimination against the Bakongo, although MPLA dominance suggests continued underrepresentation of Bakongo in the central government (POLDIS06 = 2; ECDIS06 = 2). The civil war has also contributed to immense demographic stress. Health problems and malnutrition associated with the war have hit the Bakongo, who have also been tortured, killed and forcibly recruited to fight. These atrocities were committed both by government forces and UNITA. As of 2003-2006, military hostilities have ceased completely (REB01-02 = 7, REB03-06 = 0). This has led to some improvement in conditions for the group. At the same time, the Bakongo, like other groups in the country, continue to suffer from chronic poverty and have little access to economic or political opportunities.



British Broadcasting Corporation.

CIA World Factbook 2003-2008.

Collelo, Thomas, ed. Angola: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1991.

Graeber, David. Dec. 2005. “Fetishism as social creativity.” Anthropological Theory. 5(4): 407-438.

Human Rights Watch.

Le Monde. 09/05/2008. “Elections ‘chaotiques’ en Angola.” [accessed 01/23/2009]

LexisNexis. Various reports. 2001-2006.

Romandie News. 09/07/2008. “Elections en Angola: 81,65% pour le parti au pouvoir. ”

US Department of State. 2004-2006. Country Reports of Human Rights Practices : Angola.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006