• Indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

    Indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo

    The Mbuti, the Baka, and the Batwa peoples are the indigenous peoples of The Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the concept of “indigenous peoples” is accepted and endorsed by the government, the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples remain challenged in relation to their ancestral lands and natural resources, ethnic conflicts and violation of human rights.
  • Peoples

    2,000,000, or 3 per cent of the population, are indigenous, according to civil society organisations’ estimates
  • Rights

    It is noteworthy, that The Democratic Republic of Congo’s climate change-related programmes refer to indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Challenges

    Land rights and poverty are among the main challenges

Update 2011 - Democratic Republic of Congo

Indigenous Peoples is the term accepted by the government and civil society organisations when referring to the Pygmy people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Pygmy presence pre-dates that of other ethnic groups and they represent a vulnerable and threatened minority with human and socio-economic characteristics distinct from those of other local populations. They are thus also Indigenous Peoples within the meaning of international law.

The government estimates that there are around 600,000 Pygmies in the DRC (1% of the population), while civil society organisations argue that there are up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population). They live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups in ten of the country’s eleven provinces and are divided into four main groups: the Bambuti (Mbuti), the Bacwa (Baka), the Batwa (Twa) of the west and of the east.

The life of indigenous peoples in the DRC is closely linked to the forest and its resources, but in the face of external pressure, especially from logging and ongoing forest reforms, the indigenous peoples are increasingly being stripped of their ancestral land and forced to adopt a sedentary life under marginal conditions. This is leading to a weakening of their traditional economy, the irreparable abandonment of their cultural practices and increasing poverty.

There is no law or policy for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in the DRC. However, in 2009, a report delineating a strategic framework for the preparation of a Pygmy development programme and suggesting the creation of an Indigenous Peoples Act, was validated through a national workshop organised by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. The DRC is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There is no law or policy for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in the DRC. However, in 2009, a report delineating a strategic framework for the preparation of a Pygmy development programme was validated through a national workshop organised by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism (MECNT). This report suggested the creation of an Indigenous Peoples Act. The DRC is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Forest zoning

he DRC has been engaged since 2002 in a process of forestry reform, with the support of the World Bank. This commenced with the adoption of a new Forest Code regulating the forestry sector, which was to be followed by forest zoning and community forestry. However, since the adoption of the Forest Code, indigenous peoples have been in favour of continuing the moratorium on the allocation of new forest titles until the issue of indigenous peoples’ land rights has been taken into account, particularly in the process of forest zoning. Forest zoning is a method that will help the Congolese government to produce a detailed plan of the national territory in order to clarify land rights, establish a new policy for land allocation, recognise and conserve community spaces, and classify and declassify forest in protected areas and parks. This zoning process is defined in the context of the forest sector recovery programme, included in the priority agenda and law implementing the 2002 Forest Code.

The indigenous peoples support the moratorium because they want to see this process commence with participatory micro-zoning (mapping) aimed at identifying and recognising existing property, management and use rights, including customary rights or those based on the traditional practices of indigenous peoples. It could then move on to a macro-zoning process (detailed planning of the territory), bearing in mind all the elements collected during the participatory micro-zoning. The decision to use any given plot of land for a particular purpose would thus be the result of a combination of all this information and would require the consent of the people affected.

In 2011, indigenous peoples’ organisations unsuccessfully called on the government to enact the Decree and Order on local community forests, developed in 2008 by the Ministry of Environment Conservancy, Nature and Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Mining, in collaboration with the international organisation Forest Monitor. This issue is currently at the heart of the discussions between indigenous peoples and the political-administrative authorities. The Decree and Order on local community forests would be a very useful legal instrument in recognising the traditional land rights and customary use rights of indigenous peoples and local communities over ancestral lands. It defines the communities’ right of ownership over lands they have long occupied and continue to occupy and also defines how these spaces will be managed according to tradition and custom. If enacted, it should enable indigenous communities to preserve their lands, which have long been ravaged by government land allocation policies and logging companies. So far, the government has responded by stating that an enactment is not a priority on its agenda.



Discussions on the traditional land rights and customary use rights of indigenous peoples to ancestral land, mainly forest, are essential before pilot projects can be put in place for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) process and the Forest Investment Programme (FIP). After producing its REDD Readiness Preparation Plan (R-PP), the DRC this year embarked on the experimentation phase accompanied by case studies on, for example, factors and engines of deforestation and forest degradation and the institutional framework. The DRC also established thematic groups, including one on indigenous peoples.

Within the REDD+ process, the DRC’s indigenous peoples are striving to guarantee their effective involvement and ensure respect for their free, prior and informed consent before any pilot or sector project is implemented that could affect their natural forest environment. The aim of this preliminary work on REDD+ is to enrich the DRC’s National REDD+ Strategy, which is to be produced in 2012.


National indigenous Peoples’ Forum

Aware of the challenges, opportunities and risks facing them, influential indigenous individuals from all over the DRC decided to organise a National Forum on 20 November 2011 in Kinshasa, with the following aims: “Placing the protection and promotion of indigenous Pygmy rights at the heart of the Head of State’s action, along with official recognition of their rights, as given in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their traditional right to their lands, territories and natural resources”. The meeting had the following specific objectives:

  • To offer influential Pygmies from all provinces an opportunity to meet and discuss their common problems, and come up with a message and appropriate recommendations for decision makers;
  • To bring eminent political figures and other civil society actors together to reflect on and discuss the issue of the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples in the DRC;
  • To explore ways and means of consolidating the Head of State’s personal involvement in protecting and promoting indigenous peoples, ensuring respect for their rights as full citizens of the DRC;
  • To reflect on the experiences of some Central African countries with regard to the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples and to explore the possibilities of drawing on these experiences and adapting them to the DRC context.

By the end of this National Forum, a clear message and recommendations had emerged for the Head of State, which included:

  • Placing the decree and order on local community forests, which are already with the Prime Minister’s Office, on the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Ministers for their enactment.
  • Deciding that the forest zoning process being undertaken by the country under the direction of the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism should adopt a methodological approach based on recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (“micro-zoning”).
  • Beginning to draft a national law on the rights of indigenous peoples in the DRC, on the basis of national consultations of Pygmies and the involvement of the ministries in question.
  • Supporting and guiding the country towards ratifying ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
  • Establishing a specific Ministry on Indigenous Peoples.
  • Creating a post of Special Advisor to the Presidency on Indigenous Issues.
  • Organising a multi-donor round table to review the National Indigenous Peoples’ Strategy developed in 2009 by the Ministry of the Environment, with World Bank funding.

After the National Forum, a joint commission of indigenous organisations and relevant ministries was established to monitor and ensure achievement of the recommendations. The government promised to consider indigenous issues during 2012 and to propose appropriate solutions to each problem identified. A subregional workshop on indigenous peoples’ rights will be organised in 2012 to define a common sub-regional strategy, under the auspices of the Head of State, in order to raise awareness among all political-administrative actors with regard to the living conditions of indigenous peoples. 


Stratégies d’Investissement Forestier de la RDC (DRC Forest Investment Strategy Document), June

– July 2011

dGPa, Rainforest Foundation Norway, 2011: Etude sur la gestion traditionnelle de la Forêt par les peuples autochtones (Study on indigenous peoples’ traditional forest management), Rainforest Foundation Norway, Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA), May 2011

dGPa 2011: Analyse des us et coutumes fonciers des Peuples Autochtones, cas d’Ifomi province de l’Equateur (Analysis of indigenous peoples’ land habits and customs, case of Ifomi province in Equateur Province). DGPA, September – November 2011

dGPa 2011: Rapports sociaux entre les Peuples Autochtones et les autres communautés bantous, Etude de cas village Bafwakobi, province Orientale (Social relations between indigenous peoples and other Bantu communities, Case study of Bafwakobi village, Orientale Province). DGPA, October – November 2011.

dGPa 2011: Report of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Forum. Operational Guide, Rules on Forest Zoning, 20 May 2010 DRC’s REDD Readiness Preparation Plan, June 2010 World Bank 2009: Strategic Framework for the Preparation of a Pygmy Development Program, Report No. 51108-ZR December 2009, World Bank Document. dGPa 2010: Revue Africaine des Peuples Autochtones (African Review of Indigenous Peoples), Volume 1. dGPa 2011: Atlas sur la localisation des Peuples Autochtones (Atlas on the Location of Indigenous Peoples). DGPA’s web site: www.dgpa.cd, 2011 

Patrick Saidi Hemedi, development activist and minority rights defender, is head of the Planning and External Relations Department of the Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones de la RDC (DGPA), Coordinator of Congo Watch, Technical Advisor on climate with the Réseau des Populations Autochtones et Locales pour la Gestion durable des Ecosystèmes Forestiers de la République Démocratique du Congo (REPALEF RDC), President of the Measuring, Reporting and Verification Committee (MRV) of the REDD Climate Working Group of Congolese Civil Society and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Revue Africaine des Peuples Autochtones (RAPA).


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

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