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Indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The concept of "indigenous peoples" is accepted and endorsed by the government and civil society organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The term "indigenous peoples" in the DRC refers to the four main groups:

• The Mbuti (Bambuti)

• The Baka (Bacwa)

• The Batwa (Twa) of the west

• The Batwa (Twa) of the east

These peoples consider their generic appellation of "pygmies" as derogative and discriminatory.

The exact number of indigenous peoples in DRC remains unknown. However, the government estimates that there are around 600,000 indigenous persons in the DRC (1% of the Congolese population), while civil society organisations argue that there are up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population)

The Indigenous Peoples and the Surrounding Environment

The indigenous peoples live in nomadic or semi-nomadic groups in ten of the country’s eleven provinces.

The life of indigenous peoples in the DRC is closely linked to the forest and its resources: they live from hunting, gathering, collecting and fishing and they treat their illnesses with the help of their pharmacopeia and medicinal plants. The forest forms the heart of their culture and their living environment. 

Expropriation of Indigenous Peoples' Lands

65% of the DRC is covered in forest. However, as a direct result of historical and ongoing expropriation of indigenous lands for conservation and logging, many have been forced to abandon their traditional way of life and culture based on hunting and gathering and become landless squatters living on the fringes of settled society in extreme poverty.

Furthermore, some have been forced into relationships of bonded labour with Bantu “masters”.

Problems of land access are acute in the east of the DRC, particularly in North and South Kivu where there is a high population density.

In Orientale, Equateur and Bandundu provinces, the indigenous peoples are victims of the industrial operations that are invading their living spaces.

Furthermore, the creation of protected areas also represents a real problem for the indigenous peoples, particularly given the strict policing of conservation areas that have been established in all national parks.

The Current Overall Situation

The Indigenous peoples’ overall situation is considerably worse than the national population: they experience inferior living conditions and poor access to services such as health and education.

Discrimination

Their participation in the DRC’s social and political affairs is low, and they encounter discrimination in various forms, including racial stereotyping, social exclusion and systematic violations of their rights.

Unless their rights, as guaranteed under international standards, are duly protected, indigenous peoples living spaces will shrink yet further, depriving them of the resources on which they depend for their survival and resulting in the disappearance of their culture and traditional knowlegde.    

Legislation Concerning Indigenous Peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In the DRC there is no law or policy for the promotion of and protection of indigenous peoples rights.

However, over the last few years, new legal texts have had an influence on advocacy work for the promotion of indigenous rights.

These relate, for example, to the 2002 Forest Code, the new 2006 Constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which the DRC is a signatory.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo to learn about major developments and events during 2015