• 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.

The Indigenous World 2024: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is inhabited by four major ethnic groups: the Bantu, the Nilotic, the Sudanese and the Pygmy. The concept of “Indigenous Pygmy people” is accepted and approved by the government and civil society organizations (CSOs) in the DRC and the term refers to the Mbuti, Baka and Batwa peoples.

The exact number of Indigenous Pygmy people in the DRC is unknown. The government estimates it to be around 750,000 (1% of the Congolese population)[1] but CSOs give a figure of up to 2,000,000 (3% of the population). They are widely acknowledged as the first inhabitants of the national rainforests[2] and live in nomadic and semi-nomadic groups throughout virtually all of the country’s provinces. Indigenous Peoples’ lives are closely linked to the forest and its resources: they practise hunting, gathering and fishing and treat their illnesses through the use of their own pharmacopoeia and medicinal plants. The forest lies at the heart of their culture and living environment.[3]

There is, however, little recognition that their traditional knowledge and practices have significantly contributed to preserving the Congolese forests. Worse, Indigenous Pygmy peoples’ customary rights are blatantly ignored and Indigenous groups are often evicted from their traditional territories with neither consent nor compensation. This tenure insecurity has dramatic socioeconomic consequences – from loss of ethnic identity to lethal conflicts, as has occurred in Tanganyika and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Nevertheless, there is hope. On 15 July 2022, DRC President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi enacted the first national Law No. 22/030 on protecting and promoting the rights of Indigenous Pygmy peoples,[4] which started to take effect in 2023.

Entry into force of the Indigenous Peoples Law and follow-up

The enormous progress made in 2022, as seen in the enactment of Law No. 22/030 on protecting and promoting the rights of Indigenous Pygmy peoples in the DRC, has been hailed by the Congolese nation and the international community. The law officially came into force in February 2023, and marked the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their cultural identity, as well as the exercise of rights to their lands, territories and resources. Their contribution to protecting forests and biodiversity, forest and marine ecosystems is also recognized.

It is important to note that over 1,200,000 Indigenous Pygmy peoples are found in 21 of the DRC’s 26 provinces, living in areas that are conserved and protected in accordance with their way of life, using traditional knowledge and practices.

Over the years, Indigenous Peoples have repeatedly been evicted from their lands without their free, prior and informed consent or compensation. This is due, among other things, to the expansion of national parks and protected areas as well as the granting of titles by the government to artisanal and industrial companies in the mining, timber and agriculture sectors.

In the DRC, the government has, with the help of civil society organizations, developed a legal, institutional and operational framework to support community forestry.  In February 2016, DRC finally completed the legal framework for community forests, 14 years after it adopted the 2002 Forest Code. After a Ministerial Order on the management of community forests was signed, a 2014 Presidential Decree followed which laid out the process through which Indigenous Peoples and communities could apply to secure these community forests,[5] through community forest concession titles (CFCLs), which give them perpetual legal rights over the land and its resources. By 2023, through the community forestry process, more than 3,298,270 hectares in 14 provinces of living space, territories and land of Indigenous Peoples and local communities  have been mapped, secured and recognized by the Congolese government, by means of 166 CFCLs.[6] The aim of this process is to secure the land and living territories of the Indigenous Pygmy peoples in order to guarantee their land, social, economic and cultural stability.

A national dialogue was organized from 9 to 11 May 2023 in Kinshasa focused on capitalizing on the achievements and taking into account the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The dialogue was attended by a number of key players and stakeholders involved in promoting initiatives that have a positive effect on biodiversity conservation outside of conventional protected areas. A roadmap has been drawn up, contributing to the government’s determination to achieve the goal of conserving at least 30% of the national landscape in different ways by 2030.

Human rights defenders

Adopted in June 2023, Law No. 23/027 on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders was enacted and published in the Official Gazette on 17 October 2023. This law is also important for Indigenous human rights defenders, who suffer many violations of their rights on the part of, among others, the government, companies, armed groups, poachers and rangers.

Literacy centres for Indigenous Peoples

On the social front, literacy centres were set up in 2022 and continued to operate in 2023:

  • 6 literacy centres are operational, i.e. all of the centres set up in Walikale territory;
  • 193 learners took part in the courses, 190 of whom were women (98%) and three men (out of a total of 210 learners initially enrolled);
  • 11, or 5% of learners, hold positions of treasurer and secretary in the mutual solidarity groups (MUSO);
  • Learners are able to read the Bible without difficulty in the Mothers’ services and morning services; 
  • Ongoing monitoring and supervision is provided by all parties involved in the literacy activity.

Armed conflict

Despite this progress, peace in the eastern part of the DRC remained a major concern for the Indigenous Pygmy peoples in 2023, particularly in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru, Nyiragongo, Beni, Tanganyika, Kalehe and Kabare. Thousands of Indigenous Pygmies have been forced to flee their homes and live in camps for the displaced with little or no assistance. In 2023, malnutrition and lack of access to quality health care resulted in the deaths of more than 20 leaders in Kanyaruchinya camp alone, along with 43 Pygmy children and 23 women.

As a result, Indigenous Pygmy peoples are being deprived of their right to exercise their traditional knowledge, as some have become displaced in their own country. Those from Rutshuru and parts of Nyiragongo and Masisi are not registered, and consequently denied the right to vote. If this situation persists, there is a high likelihood of statelessness for this segment of the population, who have no ID cards and are not known as Congolese. Conflicts between Indigenous Pygmy peoples are not always resolved.

In light of all of the above, we recommend the application and implementation of Article 30 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples together with Articles 42 to 48 relating to land and natural resources. The return of Indigenous Pygmy peoples to their homelands would guarantee their stability.



Diel Mochire is an Indigenous activist and Provincial Director of the Programme Intégré pour le Développement du Peuple Pygmée (PIDP), a vocal Indigenous organization based in North Kivu.


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] World Bank. “République Démocratique du Congo; Cadre Stratégique pour la Préparation d’un Programme de Développement des Pygmées.” December 2009. http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/394761468247843940/pdf/511080ESW0FREN1Strategy0Egl0version.pdf

[2] Busane, Wenceslas Ruhana Mirindi, Jean Paul Mashugalusa Rwabashi, Innocent Bashizi Balagizi, Innocent Ntakobanjira Bisimwa, Jean Marie Bantu Baluge, and Jacob Kaluka Muhagarhe. L’expulsion des populations pygmées du Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega: Faits, conséquences et perspectives. ERND, 2017, pp. 25- 27.

[3] Barume, Albert K. “The Indigenous World 2017: The Democratic Republic of Congo”. In The Indigenous World 2017, edited by Katrine Broch Hansen, Käthe Jepsen and Pamela Leiva Jacquelin, 470-477. Copenhagen, IWGIA, 2017. https://www.iwgia.org/images/documents/indigenous-world/indigenous-world-2017.pdf

[4] Journal Officiel de la République Démocratique du Congo. “Loi No22/030 du 15 Juillet 2022 Portant Protection et Promotion des Droits des Peuples Pygmées.” 14 November 2022. https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/cng213451.pdf

[5] Rainforest Foundation UK. “Securing Forest: participatory mapping and community forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. Briefing January 2019 https://www.mappingforrights.org/MFR-resources/publications/Securing%20Forests%202019.pdf

[6]Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development Forest Management Directorate Community Forestry Division. Community Forest Database. https://rdc.geocfcl.org/applications/

Tags: Land rights, Human rights, Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders, Conservation



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